Commentary

Davis' offspeed repertoire baffles Yanks

The Bombers' habit of struggling against an unfamiliar pitcher showed again Friday

Updated: June 18, 2011, 7:54 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

CHICAGO -- There aren't too many days anymore when Freddy Garcia is the hardest-throwing starter in the ballgame.

And there probably are even fewer days when Garcia, who has spent most of his career in the American League and has had all of 80 at-bats spread over 12 seasons, says, "I couldn't wait to hit."

The only thing that happens less often than either of those two events, it seems, is a New York Yankees visit to Wrigley Field, which energized the old ballpark in a way it probably hasn't been all season with the Chicago Cubs struggling 12 games below .500.

Well, all three of them took place Friday afternoon. The Yankees came to the park where Babe Ruth either did or didn't call his shot for the first time since 2003. Garcia's 89 mph heater positively blew away his Cubs counterpart, Doug Davis, who lives about 5 mph slower.

[+] EnlargeDoug Davis
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDoug Davis gave up just three hits to the high-powered Yankees offense Friday.

And Garcia was disappointed when, for both of his at-bats in this interleague contest, he was given the bunt sign from third-base coach Rob Thomson.

He did his job, laying down two successful sacrifices, which is more than he could say about any of his teammates not named Nick Swisher, which explains why he was dying to grab a bat and swing away at the tantalizing offerings of Davis, who, by the way, hadn't won a start since May 5, 2010.

But that was another rarity on display at Wrigley on Friday afternoon. Once again, the Yankees showed they can be among the most courteous and accommodating guests in all of professional baseball.

As usual, they attracted a full house to the ballpark, 42,219, Wrigley's largest crowd of the season.

And once again, facing a soft-tossing lefty against whom they had had limited exposure, the powerful Yankees lineup went down meekly, managing just three hits against Davis and not mounting a real threat until the ninth inning against Carlos Marmol, a guy with a mid-90s fastball who throws more to their liking.

But by the time Marmol came into the game, it was too late, and the Yankees went down to a 3-1 defeat that was as comfortable as their (futile) at-bats against Davis.

Swisher, who collected an eighth-inning double and scored the only Yankees run of the game, summed up his philosophy of hitting thusly: "I just look for the fastball, man.''

He was speaking for himself but might as well have been speaking on behalf of the entire team. As Alex Rodriguez grimly agreed, "It's a problem, and we have to find a fix for it."

He meant the tendency of the fastball-devouring Yankees to look utterly clueless against guys such as Davis, who live on the edges of the plate with the kind of stuff that couldn't squash a grape in a food fight.

"This was just one of those games that kinda baffles you a little bit," Swisher said. "He was mixing and matching, he used his cutter effectively, his changeup, his breaking ball, got some calls here and there, and we never got anything going. I think when you have a guy on the mound who's not throwing 95, he gets some more calls; the umpire can see the ball better.''

Swisher was referring to his second at-bat, when he got punched out looking at an 84 mph "fastball'' at the knees that looked good to just about everyone in the ballpark but him.

But Davis, who came in 0-5 with a 5.90 ERA, seemed to keep all the Yankees off balance with his assortment of sliders, cut fastballs and changeups. He held the Yankees hitless until Robinson Cano singled to center with two out in the fourth and allowed just an infield single to Eduardo Nunez in the fifth before Swisher chased him by belting a cutter off the ivy-covered wall in the left-field corner.

Swisher scored on Mark Teixeira's RBI single off Marmol, but, with a chance to tie the game, Alex Rodriguez ended a disappointing at-bat by swinging through a fastball after having started out ahead 2-0.

"He's funky,'' Rodriguez said of Marmol's whip-like three-quarters delivery. "It's the first time I've faced him, I believe. He's probably a guy you feel a little more comfortable with if you face him four or five times.''

But A-Rod looked no more comfortable against Davis, who had been his teammate in Texas and against whom he had batted 10 times, with one hit and four walks. "He really had no pattern,'' Rodriguez said. "He has a little bit of hesitation in his delivery and kept us off balance.''

Teixeira likened the experience of hitting against Davis to facing a knuckleballer, and we know how well that has turned out this year. "You don't really know where the ball's going to go,'' he said. "He threw me some changeups that went up and away today. His ball just moves everywhere. If he doesn't know where it's going sometimes, then hitters aren't going to know where it's going.''

The futility of the Yankees' hitters made a loser of Garcia, who shook off a rocky start -- the Cubs got two first-inning runs on a double by Starlin Castro that skipped past Curtis Granderson and an RBI single by Aramis Ramirez and added another in the third on three straight hits -- to settle down and retire 11 straight Cubs, which would have been 15 straight had Cano not failed to cover first on Tony Campana's bunt, causing Garcia to flip the ball, rather comically, to no one.

"I go after the bunt but I don't see Tex, I don't see Cano,'' Garcia said. "I don't see any other players so I just stop and ..."

There was no harm done when Campana was thrown out stealing with the help of a great sweep tag by Nunez on the upraised leg as Campana attempted a head-first slide.

But enough damage had already been done. Asked who the soft-serving Davis reminded him of, Garcia said, "Jamie Moyer.''

When the questioner suggested Davis' pitching style also resembled Garcia's, the big righty looked wounded. "Not me,'' he said. "Not me. No, no, no. I couldn't wait to hit.''

As opposed to his teammates, he just couldn't hit.

The Yankees mounted a ninth-inning rally, which was hurt tremendously when Reed Johnson made a sliding catch inside the left-field line to rob Cano of a leadoff double.

They still managed to get the tying runs on base after Russell Martin walked and Brett Gardner singled with two out. But with the crowd, all of which seemed to remain in the park to the very end, on its feet, Chris Dickerson, hitting for Nunez, let two strikes from Marmol go by before swinging through a fastball to end the game.

"If Johnson doesn't make that catch, it changes the whole complexion of the ballgame,'' Joe Girardi said.

But the complexion of the game had been set two hours earlier, when a pitcher whose fastball pales in comparison with Freddy Garcia's went out and lulled the mighty Yankees offense to sleep.

On a day when a lot of rare things happened, that last seemed all too familiar.

• • •
Notes: Garcia had never lost to the Cubs before, bringing a 4-0 career record and 1.47 ERA into the game in six previous starts. ... Granderson had a miserable day, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. ... Cano made up for his failure to cover first with a spectacular play on a bouncer that went off Garcia's glove, snatching the ball with his bare hand and firing to get Kosuke Fukudome at first ... Nunez (1-for-3) has been a more-than-capable fill-in for Derek Jeter since the latter went down with a calf strain, batting .357 (5-for-14) in the four games since assuming the starting shortstop job. ... A.J. Burnett, who like Garcia before Friday, has never lost to the Cubs (3-0, 4.21), faces RHP Ryan Dempster (5-5, 5.48) at 4:10 p.m. ET Saturday.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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