One of the baseball adages oft-repeated by grizzled third-base coaches and Little League parents alike is “it all evens out.” Those screaming liners that were caught, robbing a hit, even out by those soft dribblers that the infield can’t get to.
Well, Yankees fans and Red Sox fans alike know that the disparity between the two teams’ championships is unlikely to ever “even out.” A popular shirt in the Bronx reads “Got rings?” and points up the difference between 26 and 6. But this is little consolation to citizens of the pinstriped empire as their team as of this morning had lost seven in a row, including four meetings in a row now with these same Boston Red Sox.
In the opener of this three game set in the Bronx, the Yankees did everything wrong. Their one so-far reliable starter, a man with an ERA under two and what would have been a 3-0 record had the bullpen not blown two leads (one against These Same Boston Red Sox a week ago), was Andy Pettitte. Was. Pettitte spit the bit and did not make it through five innings. The bullpen was not much better, with Sean Henn being the only one to put in an effective performance.
The sight of Joe Torre going out to take the ball from Mariano Rivera was shocking for its rarity and demoralizing to the crowd, who–like Red Sox fans of the past–seemed determined to sit through every slow minute of the excruciating loss. The offense provided very little to cheer about, their only “rally” coming courtesy of Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had a bout of wildness in the fourth and walked three men in a row.
In other words, although the rain stopped during the night, it was a very dark day for Yankees fans on the morning of the second game. Don’t forget Bobby Abreu’s slump, Johnny Damon’s balky back, and Derek Jeter’s sore leg from being hit by pitch in Tampa Bay. Alex Rodriguez had to come down from the stratosphere sometime. You know it’s bad when the one good thing the offense can talk about from the past few days is that Jason Giambi is taking the ball the other way.
The Yankee starter was slated to be youngster Jeff Karstens, coming off of arm stiffness that had kept him from the Opening Day Roster, against Sox veteran Tim Wakefield. Veteran may be a bit of an understatement in Wakefield’s case. He currently has won more games in a Red Sox uniform than anyone but two men: Roger Clemens and Cy Young. Karstens meanwhile still counts his major league service in innings (47). He faced These Same BRS last week, didn’t get out of the fifth, and earned seven runs for his trouble.
It was with all these clouds of doom and gloom, both metaphorical and literal as rain showers threatened, that Karstens took the mound for a nationally televised Saturday game. At least the temperature was pleasant, and any weekend day at the Stadium is a treat whether the team is winning or losing. The cheers were long and loud as the starting lineup was introduced. Ice cream and beer were served in copious quantities to Sox fans and Yankees fans alike as the stands filled up.
Given the overworked state of the bullpen–leading the American League in relief innings thus far–the Yankees hoped for a long start from Karstens. Unfortunately, on the very first pitch of the game, Julia Lugo hit a line drive back and Karstens, who took the shot off his leg and fell off the mound looking as though he had been shot. Infielders, team trainers, coaches and umpires gathered around. After a bit, Karstens stood up, threw a few test pitches, and was allowed to pitch to the next batter, Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis got a hit, and Torre came to take Karstens out. It was later revealed that Karstens had faced Youk with a broken leg. (For those of you who watch ER and love your medical jargon: cracked fibula.)
Embattled Japanese import Kei Igawa came on to relieve. It was only a few days before he had been told he was being demoted to the bullpen while Karstens, whose control had been better than Igawa’s, would be in the rotation. Fate, though, placed Igawa on the mound against the Sox anyway, but this time with a two-runner handicap.
Igawa was at his best. Although he did walk three in his first three innings, he held the Red Sox scoreless through six, departing in the seventh with the game in much the same state as it had been at this entrance. Two men on, no outs, and no score. He induced Big Papi to ground into two double plays and to pop to first. And he dealt out six strikeouts, three of which came on three pitches.
But no pitcher can win without offense. The Yankees had their usual spasticity against Wakefield, putting various men on by the walk and scratching some hits, but having trouble cashing them in as the ball fluttered unpredictably toward the plate again and again.
Leave it to Jorge Posada to make the difference. Even though Jeter reached base five times (three singles and two errors by Mike Lowell), Giambi and Abreu had four more walks between them, it was Jorge who finally squared up a Wakefield pitch, sending the ball into the upper deck in right field. Matsui was on at the time (also by base on balls), making it a two run shot. Jorge was responsible for the insurance run, as well, walking to lead off the sixth, moving to second on a comebacker to Wakefield that might have been a 1-6-3 double play if the pitcher had handled it cleanly. Melky Cabrera followed with a pop fly remarkably similar to one the Trot Nixon hit in an extra innings game at the Stadium in July 2004. That one Derek Jeter raced over to catch just shy of the foul line and then fly into the stands to save the game. This time, three Sox converged toward the ball, but it hit the grass untouched and bounded into the stands–a ground rule double. Jorge therefore scored, and Wakefield’s day was done.
The Sox got a run back off Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth, but although he put the first two men on, after a mound visit from Gator, Farnsworth threw strike one consistently and managed to escape the inning giving up only one, setting the stage for Mariano Rivera in the ninth.
Rivera is to the Red Sox as Pedro is to the Yankees, a dominating pitcher who has an outsize number of losses to the rival team for no explicable reason. The Sox have beaten Mo numerous times, including once just last week.
Not this time. Mariano returned to form, aided by one truly great defensive play from Alex Rodriguez. If the night before, they had done everything wrong, this afternoon the Yankees did everything right, including a terrific catch of a foul pop off the bat of Big Papi by Jason Giambi, who was only playing the field so that Johnny Damon could have a day at DH. Giambi reached into the seats to snare the ball, off balance but determined not to give Ortiz another swing.
It would turn out to be Mariano’s first save of the year. Igawa would be awarded the win and a spot in the rotation. The only person who went home unhappy was Jeff Karstens, whose broken leg will keep him on the shelf indefinitely.
Someone should tell him that it will all even out.