Commentary

Yankees, A's play Bizarro Baseball

A triple play, a feud, six walks for CC -- and, oh yeah, the Bombers actually lost

Updated: April 23, 2010, 12:04 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Yankees play two-hour baseball games about as often as they turn a triple play, and CC Sabathia walks six batters -- four of them lefties -- in a single game about as often as Alex Rodriguez has the etiquette of the game explained to him by a pitcher with all of three major league wins.

All of those things, and more, happened in a tidy, 127-minute package of Bizarro Baseball in which the Oakland A's beat the Yankees, 4-2, to grab the last game of a three-game series and snap the Yankees' winning streak at six.

"We had some weird things happen today," said Joe Girardi, a man very much given to understatement, and the surrealism began before the game, when the manager decided to shake up his lineup by starting Nick Johnson at first base and using Mark Teixeira as his DH in an attempt to get his dormant 2 and 3 hitters moving.

In one case, it worked -- Teixeira hit a bomb of a home run and had what he called his "four best at-bats of the season" -- but Johnson, mired at .125, went hitless in four trips and struck out looking again, for the 11th time this season.

The game started with Sabathia, whose control is ordinarily impeccable, missing the strike zone with 10 of his first 12 pitches before grooving a fastball that Kurt Suzuki belted into the left-field seats to give the A's a 3-0 lead.

[+] Enlarge Alex Rodriguez
Kyle Terada/US PresswireA-Rod helped turn the first Yankees triple play since 1968.

With Dallas Braden, a journeyman left-hander pitching for the A's, the Yankees had no way of knowing that was game, set and match.

And yet, even though the Yankees could muster only two runs all day, on solo home runs by Teixeira and Marcus Thames, there was plenty of entertaining baseball yet to be played, and lots of stimulating talk to be heard, on the field and in the clubhouses.

The fun began just after Teixeira's home run in the top of the sixth when, with Rodriguez at first, Robinson Cano fouled off Braden's 1-0 pitch. On his way back to first, Rodriguez took a detour across the pitcher's mound, much to Braden's displeasure. The 27-year-old pitcher with the 16-21 career record began lecturing the slugger with the 585 career home runs on proper baseball behavior. The slugger cocked an ear, did a "Who, me?" routine, and on the next pitch was retired on a double play, which turned out to be Braden's last pitch of the game.

But not his last heater. First he fired his glove at the wall of the dugout, and later, in the A's clubhouse, delivered a dissertation on A-Rod's manners, or lack thereof.

"He told me to get off his mound," a wide-eyed A-Rod said in the Yankees clubhouse. "I didn't know what he was talking about. I thought it was kind of funny, actually. I had never quite heard that before, especially from a guy who has a handful of wins in his career."

Things got weirder in the bottom of the sixth, when the A's got runners on first and second with none out on a single and Sabathia's fifth walk of the game. With Suzuki batting again, Sabathia tried to get over with a changeup, only to see it pulled sharply along the third-base line.

And then, suddenly, it was in Rodriguez's glove, and then his foot was on the bag, and then the ball was in the process of being whipped around the horn, Rodriguez-to-Cano-to-Teixeira and just like that, the inning was over.

The last time the Yankees pulled a off a triple play, LBJ was the president, not a single player on their roster had been born and their manager was barely out of diapers. It was June 3, 1968, to be exact, and the names were Dooley Womack, Bobby Cox and Mickey Mantle.

"That's pretty cool," Teixeira said when told how much time had passed between triple plays by the Yankees.

"I was thinking bunt, to be honest with you, because when CC's pitching teams try to scratch out runs any way they can," Rodriguez said. "So I was even with the bag, and when the ball was hit to me, I just flipped a Hail Mary to Robbie and let him do his thing."

"It felt like a double play," Cano said. "Same thing, only when we come off the field the fans were standing and cheering so we know we do something good. We talked about it before the pitch, that we could do it if the ball was hit to third."

Girardi, too, was impressed. "I didn't think it was going to be a triple play," he said. "You don't often see them like that, where a guy has to take a few steps to get the ball and step on the bag."

The triple play was a special highlight of a game that flew by, baseball as it used to be. Even though the Yankees lost for the first time since April 14 at Yankee Stadium, they had won yet another series, their 11-4 record tied with their divisional rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays, for the best record in baseball.

"You'd like to leave here on a winning note," Girardi said. "But the bottom line is, we won the series and we'll try to win another one in Anaheim.

About the only glum face in the losing clubhouse belonged to Sabathia, who was trying to follow Phil Hughes' Wednesday night gem with one of his own. Without the first inning, he actually pitched quite well, going the distance and holding the A's to just four hits. But the six walks, the most he has allowed since a 2004 game in this very ballpark, proved to be his undoing.

"I was just all over the place," he said. "I didn't have command of anything. I walked their lefties four times, and that's just ridiculous."

Asked if he could take anything positive from the experience, Sabathia (2-1, 3.00) just shook his head. "No, man," he said. "We lost."

That, of course, is going to happen 60 times a year, minimum, to the best of teams. You might not see what happened between the Yankees and A's on Thursday for another half-century.

If ever.

GAME NOTES

Cano's throwing error in the fourth inning snapped a 12-game errorless streak for the Yankees. ... The Yankees begin a three-game series against the Angels in Anaheim Friday night, A.J. Burnett (2-0, 2.37) facing Ervin Santana (1-2, 4.35).

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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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