It is brisk and chilly in New York this morning. As I walked to the subway I couldn't help but think of playoff baseball. It's not cold enough for a frost, so we'll probably get local tomatoes and corn for one more week (the last, delicious reminders of the summer), but the leaves are starting to turn here and there, and the kids are back in school. The Yankees are not a lock for the post-season yet but they are getting there...
When Melky Cabrera reached second base with two out in the ninth inning, he slapped his hands together, nostrils flaired. Perhaps he was amped because his ground ball double play helped squash a Yankee rally in the fourth inning. As it was, his double was only the team's fourth hit of the night (A fifth hit--a single to center by the next batter, Johnny Damon--was nullified by an extremely poor call by the second base umpire, Jim Wolf). The Yankees, however, had the lead and won the game, 4-1. An 8th inning error by Alex Rodriguez put an end to Joba Chamberlain's scoreless inning streak, but Mariano Rivera got the last four outs of the game, and that was that. The Tigers (Mags) and Red Sox (Ortiz) and Mariners also won, so there was no change in the playoff standings as far as the Bombers are concerned (the Tigers did gain a game on the Indians who lost).
Hideki Matsui has been slumping but in the first inning he drove a fastball on the outside corner to deep left for an RBI. The YES broadcast showed side-by-side replays of Matsui's RBI single with an at-bat from the previous game where he was pulling off the ball, his head jerking up in the air toward first base. Last night, he kept his rear and his head steady and drove the pitch. (Matsui also walked twice later in the game.) Rodriguez--who reached base on a check-swing walk (he got a favorable call on that one)--then scored on a wild pitch by Dustin McGowan. Robinson Cano added a two-run single in the fourth which was all the runs the Yanks would need.
Mike Mussina was not vintage, but nobody expects to see the old Moose again. He was effective enough, pitching into the sixth inning. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
When Mussina is off, he describes his pitches as being stale, simply reaching the plate instead of arriving there crisply, with action. He induced only two swinging strikes among 87 pitches Wednesday, but his stuff was better, and the late life helped him get eight of his first nine outs on grounders.
"The ball had some movement at the end; whether it was my release or whether my body had more life to it, I don't know," Mussina said. "But the ball at the end seemed to have some movement to it. There has to be a reason I got those ground balls today because I'm not a ground-ball pitcher. I was able to throw whatever I wanted to throw for strikes, pretty much."
A fine fielding play by Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi helped Mussina's effort. The veteran pitcher left the game with runners on base in the sixth, but Edwar Ramirez, after issuing a walk, got out of the jam. Chamberlain breezed through the seventh but labored some in the eighth. Yet with two men out and two out he got the ground ball he needed. Rodriguez, who robbed Alex Rios of a base hit earlier in the game with a diving stop, fielded the ball cleanly, but shanked the throw to first.
It was another winning night for New York, their seventh consecutive victory. For the Jays, it was their fifth-straight loss. It wasn't an exciting game--home plate umpire Jim Joyce's strike calls, which sound like a car horn sound effect from the old Warner Brothers cartoons, was the only thing keeping me awake at certain points--but it was a win. And I ain't complainin, as the Yanks will face a hot pitcher in A.J. Burnett tonight.
"It was a long game for not a whole lot of action," Jays manager John Gibbons said of the three hour 18 minute game. "That's how they whip you, that's how they beat you. They make you bring it over the plate and when you're forced to do it (enough times), they kill you. The (Boston) Red Sox do the same thing." (Toronto Sun)
"[Today] will tell a lot," Clemens said yesterday. "I feel good." Clemens, 45, worked in the bullpen Tuesday and said afterward he has ligament damage.
"It's more important," Joe Torre said of today's test. "[Tuesday] was a good workout but not all out. This time it will be a shorter version with more effort."
Just a couple more things. Mariano Rivera's ERA is now under 3.00 for the first time in a loooong time. It's 2.95 to be exact. Several weeks ago I wrote about how this is Rivera's worst season since becoming a closer. However, his strikeout and walk-ratio is excellent, better than it has been in several years. So while it's been an off-year for him in terms of ERA, it's still not horrible is it?
Also, has anyone else noticed how tired Derek Jeter's body looks? He made a nice diving play in the field last night, but his bat looks slow and so do his legs. Jeter's worst month of the season, across the board, was in August (.301/.368/.398). In September so far--just eight games--he's struggling (.167/.306/.200). I wonder if his body will be able to bounce back this fall?