Commentary

Yankees split despite great starts

Bombers squander super outing from Javier Vazquez vs. Tigers

Updated: May 13, 2010, 9:16 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

DETROIT -- If you had told the Yankees before a pitch was thrown that by the end of Wednesday, they would have gotten two seven-inning pitching performances out of their starters, would have used only three relievers in 18 innings of baseball -- and one of them only because he really needed the work -- and held one of the two best hitting teams in the game to just two runs over two games, they no doubt would have been overjoyed.

They also would have been sure that such a scenario meant they had swept a doubleheader from the Detroit Tigers.

Well, one out of two ain't bad. But dang, it could have been so much better.

"I think any time you give up only two runs in a doubleheader, you feel like you have a great chance to [sweep]," manager Joe Girardi said after the Yankees had salvaged their day with an 8-0 victory in the nightcap. But it was the 2-0 loss in the first game, despite an outstanding performance by Javier Vazquez, that the Yankees wish they had back.

"We'd have loved to have won that game," Girardi said. "But it's gonna happen."

In some ways, this might have been the most encouraging day of the season for the Yankees. Not only did they finally get the kind of game out of Vazquez they had been hoping for since they traded for him in the offseason, but they also got more evidence for the growing file on Phil Hughes that insists he belongs, in only his first full season as a starting pitcher, among the game's elite starters.

Vazquez and Hughes each worked seven full innings, and each limited the hot-hitting Tigers to just five hits. Vazquez fanned seven Tigers, Hughes eight. If not for one lapse by Vazquez and a couple of seeing-eye hits off him in the sixth inning of the first game, both pitchers might have shut the Tigers out.

But the two runs the Tigers scratched across in that sixth inning were enough to spoil what could have been a pivotal day. And when you're playing .667 ball but chasing a team that is playing .706, you can't afford to give away games or squander outings like the one Vazquez had in the first game. In fact, the Yankees wound up losing a half-game in the AL East race to the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Angels 4-3 to move 1½ games ahead of New York.

"Our starters gave us exactly what we needed today," said Girardi, who came in with a thin bullpen and left with an almost fully rested one. "What did we use today? Three relievers in a doubleheader?"

And one of those, Mariano Rivera, came into the ninth inning of the second game only because he hadn't pitched since April 30, due at first to some tightness in his left side, and later due to the Yankees' lack of need for a closer.

"I got a little map to get out there," Rivera joked. "It was a long time, man. But the good thing is, everything feels good."

Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve the eight-run lead achieved when the Yankees busted the second game open in the top of the ninth on five hits, three walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch off old buddy Phil Coke and Alfredo Figaro.

"Don't matter how many runs they scored," Rivera said. "I was going in there."

Rivera was preceded by Joba Chamberlain, who pitched a dominant eighth, but the night belonged to Hughes, whose record is now 5-0 and his ERA a microscopic 1.38.

"I may not have expected those exact numbers," Hughes said, "But I felt pretty good coming into the season."

Once again, Hughes did it by mixing his two mid-90s fastballs with a wicked curve and occasional changeup to keep the Tigers off-balance. Over the first two innings, his pitch count was high -- 41 pitches -- but he settled down quickly after that. A key at-bat came in the sixth when he jammed Miguel Cabrera, batting with two runners on and none out in the fourth, inducing a soft liner to shortstop. After allowing a single to Brennan Boesch that loaded the bases, Hughes struck out Alex Avila with a fastball and got Don Kelly to pop out to second.

That was as tough as things got for Hughes, who allowed only two singles the rest of the way. "We envisioned him being a very good pitcher for us," Girardi said, "and he's probably gone beyond that."

So, too, did Vazquez on Wednesday, considering how poorly he'd pitched in his previous five starts and how long the Yankees avoided using him again before finding the right spot for him in Detroit.

In the first game, Vazquez did everything the Yankees could have asked of him but win. And this time, it wasn't Vazquez letting down the Yankees, it was the Yankees letting him down. They managed only four hits off Rick Porcello, and the $76 million worth of ballplayers that made up the first four spots in their lineup -- Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez -- went 0-for-15 with a walk.

"It was a shame that we didn't score any runs for Javy," Jorge Posada said. "If we get him some runs, he's gonna win the game."

But this one wasn't about Vazquez, who took a step in the right direction. It was about the Yankees, who stumbled over what should have been an easy path to a sweep. You can say it's early if you like, but at the end of the year, the numbers are the numbers and every loss, whether in May or September, weighs exactly the same.

"There's some things in this game that are just gonna happen," Girardi said. "This was one of those days."

A day to remember for Vazquez and Hughes. For the rest of them, maybe a day to forget.

Game notes


The day wouldn't be complete without some disturbing injury news -- Nick Swisher, among the lineup's hottest hitters, left the second game after seven innings with what Girardi called "some irritation" in his left biceps. "I just felt a little tug," Swisher said. "I don't think it's that big of a deal. I feel fine right now." But Swisher acknowledged he had felt the same sensation a couple of weeks ago and again while taking batting practice before the second game. Then it happened again in his last at-bat, a fly out against Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman in the seventh. "I hate coming out," Swisher said. "But we only got what, 130, 140 games to go? Better to be safe." Girardi said Swisher is day-to-day ... Derek Jeter had his first DH day of the season and went 0-for-4 with a walk. He is in the midst of a 4-for-39 slide, his average down to .270 ... Greg Golson, recalled from Scranton-Wilkes Barre earlier in the day to replace the DL-ed Alfredo Aceves, got his first major league hit in the six-run ninth inning, a bloop single off Coke ... the Yankees signed RHP Tim Redding to a minor league deal after he was released earlier in the day by the Colorado Rockies. Redding has already made one disastrous appearance as a Yankee, allowing six runs in the first inning as an emergency starter in a 17-1 loss against the Red Sox on July 15, 2005. He was released the next day ... Thursday's pitching matchup is CC Sabathia (4-1, 3.04) vs. Justin Verlander (3-2, 4.50) but the forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of rain all day. Since this is the Yankees' only trip to Detroit this season, no doubt every effort will be made to get the game in, regardless of how long it takes.

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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