Commentary

Solid start takes bad turn for Colon

After finding a groove early on, a rough sixth inning doomed the veteran pitcher

Updated: May 24, 2011, 7:57 AM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon was magnificent for the bulk of his start at Yankee Stadium on Monday night.

But the beginning was shaky, and the ending was far worse.

All in all, Colon surrendered a season-high six runs on seven hits in six innings of work -- and that was more than enough for the Toronto Blue Jays, who cruised to a 7-3 victory in the opener of a three-game series.

Colon was coming off his best start of the season, five days ago in Baltimore, where he posted eight scoreless innings, allowing just three hits. He did not get a win -- Mariano Rivera blew the save in the ninth, before the Yankees eventually won in 15 innings. Still, there was plenty of reason for optimism with Colon taking the ball Monday in the Bronx.

But it did not take the Blue Jays long to strike. With two outs in the top of the first, Jose Bautista -- the major league leader in homers -- drilled the second pitch he saw into the visiting bullpen in left-center, his 19th round-tripper of the young season.

"[Bautista's] a tough out -- every at-bat, it seems like he's zoned in," Yankees catcher Russell Martin said. "It seems like everything's slowing down for him right now at the plate."

Following that at-bat, Colon gave up back-to-back singles to Yunel Escobar and Juan Rivera, and you wondered whether the pitcher might implode right there in the opening frame. But he was able to escape further damage, inducing Aaron Hill to fly out to center field.

For the next four innings, Colon was simply masterful, pumping his fastball as high as 95 mph on the radar gun. The only two baserunners he allowed were via a walk and an infield single, striking out six batters along the way. The Yanks had at least managed to tie the game at 1 by that point, and we were smack in the middle of an old-fashioned pitchers' duel.

But then Colon gave up a leadoff double to Corey Patterson to start the top of the sixth, and everything unraveled from there.

[+] EnlargeBartolo Colon
AP Photo/Paul J. BereswillBartolo Colon gave up six earned runs against the Blue Jays. Should the Yankees be concerned?

Joe Girardi was responsible for two of the runners who subsequently got on. The skipper called for an intentional walk of Bautista immediately following the Patterson double, and ordered up another one after Escobar bunted Patterson and Bautista to second and third -- showing quite a bit of confidence in Colon's ability to get a strikeout or induce a double play.

"I went out there and told [Colon] what I wanted to do. And he said, whatever you want to do here, let's do it," Girardi said. "We've got a ground-ball pitcher on the mound; the next three guys were 0-for-6 with four strikeouts. We took a shot, and it didn't work."

The next batter, Hill, singled in the go-ahead run with a hard grounder between third and short. "I was trying to throw a pitch outside so he can hit a ground ball for a double play, and I couldn't do it," Colon said through a translator.

"We got in a situation where we needed a ground ball to turn two, and we got the ground ball we wanted, just not in the right spot," Martin said. "Sometimes things like that happen."

Next came a puzzling four-pitch free pass to Eric Thames, pushing another run across. And then came the biggest hit of them all, on the very next offering from Colon -- a three-run double into the gap in right-center by No. 8 hitter J.P. Arencibia.

"You get behind in the count, you still don't want to make a mistake over the plate, and with one swing [they] get a big lead," Martin said when asked about the walk. "And then the next hitter came up, and I think right there he's in a situation where he didn't want to throw another ball. He threw a four-seamer over the plate, and [Arencibia] put a good swing on the ball."

The Yankees' offense certainly shares the blame in this loss. Their lineup could muster only three runs and six hits against Toronto's replacement for the injured Jesse Litsch, Carlos Villanueva -- who hadn't made a major league start in two years -- and four relievers.

But the bigger issue is Colon. The veteran righty, who turns 38 years old Tuesday, has been a godsend for a starting rotation that lost Andy Pettitte to retirement before the season and Phil Hughes to injury soon after it began. After sitting out all of 2010 due to injury, through seven starts this season, Colon has a very respectable ERA of 3.77, despite a record that just dropped to 2-3.

But as Girardi said before Monday's game, Colon isn't just a pleasant surprise anymore. He's being counted on as a vital member of this unusually fragile Yankees starting rotation -- at least until general manager Brian Cashman starts wheeling and dealing to add some reinforcements. And you can't help but wonder, with his age and injury history, when Colon's good stuff might disappear.

"Sometimes it happens that quick, and you don't even know," Colon said of his blowup in the sixth. "All I've gotta do is think about [my] next outing."

As for this outing, it showed us that with Bartolo Colon, you never know in what game, or what inning, things could fall apart.

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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