Commentary

Yankees let one get away in Tampa

One day after stealing a win against the Rays, the Bombers returned the favor

Updated: July 20, 2011, 11:26 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The New York Yankees had no business beating the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday and no business losing to them on Tuesday.

But as they like to say around the ballyard, in this game, everything eventually evens out.

The Yankees stole a win in the first game of this series when they had the good fortune to face a kid making his first major league appearance in a pressure-cooker of a situation and pulled out a bases-loaded walk.

And they gave away a win in the second game of this series when their center fielder couldn't catch a routine fly and their pitcher couldn't turn a routine double play.

And just like that, what should have been a 4-2 loss Monday turned into a 5-4 win and what seemed certain to be a 2-0 win Tuesday degenerated into a 3-2 loss.

Joe Girardi was more than happy to accept the gift but uncharacteristically incensed about returning the favor a day later.

Right after the key moment of the game, a one-out, bases-loaded comebacker that glanced off Boone Logan's glove, allowing the tying run to score in the seventh inning, the stoic Yankees manager, normally about as emotional as a totem pole, was spied in the dugout angrily tearing a wad of gum out of his mouth and firing it against the wall.

Later, realizing his rare show of anger had been seen, Girardi was sheepish but candid.

"It was just kind of the way the inning went,'' he said. "We kind of gave them a game. You're going to have physical errors and you're going to lose balls in the lights; it's gonna happen. It doesn't mean that I'm happy about it. You don't like these type of losses.'' It was an especially galling loss, on several levels and for various reasons. For one, the Yankees wasted a superior performance by Bartolo Colon, who bounced back from his worst start as a Yankee to post one of his best, 6 1/3 innings of five-hit, nine-strikeout ball, only to come away with a loss.

For another, the Boston Red Sox were in the process of losing to the Orioles in Baltimore, meaning the Yankees could have shaved a game off the Sox's 1 1/2-game lead in the American League East.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Granderson
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonCurtis Granderson's misplay in the seventh inning opened the door for the Rays' rally.

And for a third, a second win over the Rays would have put a 7 1/2-game cushion between the two teams in the race for the AL wild card. Instead, this four-game series stands at one game apiece, and the Rays haven't even used their two best starters yet, David Price, who goes Wednesday against Freddy Garcia, and James Shields, who pitches Thursday against CC Sabathia. This one had blown opportunity stamped all over it, and the storyline that is buried beneath the comedy of errors that this game became is that once again, the Yankees did not hit. On the surface, the game was lost in that miserable seventh inning, when Girardi chose to pull Colon after 105 pitches and back-to-back one-out singles. (In hindsight, that decision might be another reason the manager tossed his gum.)

He brought in Logan, his "left-handed specialist'' who for the longest time couldn't get out left-handed hitters but has done better of late, to face the lefty-hitting Sam Fuld. Joe Maddon replaced Fuld with the righty-hitting Justin Ruggiano. He hit what should have been a routine fly ball to medium center, but it became a nightmare when Curtis Granderson lost track of it and then bailed as the ball dropped to the turf about 10 yards in front of him.

That loaded the bases for Elliot Johnson, who on a 1-2 pitch hit the ball back to Logan, a high-hopper the 6-foot-5 lefty only had to reach up to field, fire home for the force and head for the dugout as Russell Martin completed the double play. Only he didn't field it. It glanced off his glove and rolled behind him, allowing Robinson Chirinos to score the tying run of the game.

The next batter, Johnny Damon, lofted a fly to short center that Granderson had to make a sliding catch on, allowing Sean Rodriguez to tag up and easily score the go-ahead run from third. Granderson then overthrew the cutoff man for an error that allowed the two other runners to advance, but that's just bookkeeping. The fatal blow had been landed.

After the game, the predictable excuses were trotted out and, admirably, rejected by the Yankees. No, it wasn't the fault of the lights or the catwalks or the Trop's architects, who thought it would be a good idea to paint the ceiling the same color as the baseball. No, there wasn't a bad hop on the Logan ball.

"There's always a little issue picking up the ball here,'' Granderson said. "But I just missed it.'' "There was nothing quirky about my error,'' Logan said. "I got to make that play. And if I make it, we're winning the game.''

It was just an all-around bad inning, added to eight bad innings of offense against Jeremy Hellickson, a young right-hander whom -- you guessed it -- the Yankees had never faced as a starter before.

To their credit, they didn't use that as an excuse, either. They praised Hellickson's changeup, which accounted for seven strikeouts. They said he kept them off balance.

But the hard fact was, with the exception of one two-batter stretch in the third inning -- a one-out double by Mark Teixeira followed by Robinson Cano's 16th home run -- the Yankees' bats did absolutely nothing until the seventh inning, when a single by Brett Gardner broke a string of 12 straight batters retired by Hellickson, and a walk to Eduardo Nunez, followed by a double steal, gave the Yankees two runners in scoring position.

But with a chance to extend the Yankees' lead to 4-0, Derek Jeter grounded weakly to first to end the inning. Then came the bottom of the seventh, and the end of the game.

"They caught a break. Actually, they caught two breaks,'' said Martin, who caught the biggest break of all Monday night facing the rookie Alex Torres with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. "We lost that game. I don't feel like they actually won it.''

Martin, of course, didn't feel that way Monday night, when he drew the walk that stole a game for the Yankees.

"We kinda stole one last night,'' Girardi said. "And we gave it back tonight.'' He didn't seem the least bit happy with the trade.

•••

The last time Colon struck out nine batters in a game was April 26, 2007, and the opponent was, you guessed it, the Rays. But Colon was in the uniform of the Los Angeles Angels. Colon's 105 pitches were the most he has thrown in a game all year. ... Granderson had a large bag of ice attached to his left foot, courtesy of a foul ball off his foot in his first at-bat of the game. He admitted it hurt throughout the game but insisted he will be fine for Wednesday ... Just across the bay in Tampa, Rafael Soriano and Eric Chavez played in their first rehab games after lengthy stays on the disabled list. Soriano, out since May 17 with elbow inflammation, pitched 1 1/3 innings for the Class A Tampa Yankees against the Jupiter Hammerheads and allowed two runs on two hits, including a home run by Kyle Jensen. Chavez, out since May 6 with a broken left foot, was the DH in the game and went 0-for-3 with a walk ... In Scranton, Ivan Nova, optioned to Triple-A on June 29, left a game against the Columbus Clippers after turning an ankle in the second inning while trying to field a grounder. Girardi said he did not know how serious the injury was or how long Nova would be sidelined, if at all. ... Garcia (7-7, 3.43 ERA) is 8-2 lifetime against the Rays with a 3.56 ERA but has faced them only once in the past four seasons -- last year as a member of the Chicago White Sox, he beat them 4-2.

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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