Commentary

Cure for Yankees' bats is eleven-sent

Opportunity knocks, Bombers finally answer -- all at once -- in third-inning outburst

Updated: July 3, 2010, 7:16 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Vernon WellsAP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe scoreboard tells the story after the Yankees broke the game open in the bottom of the third.

NEW YORK -- In the first inning of their game Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees had a runner at second base, one out and the heart of the order coming up.

But Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez couldn't get the run home. That ran the Yankees' streak of futility with runners in scoring position, a benchmark statistic for measuring how well teams capitalize on their advantages, to 0-for-23.

In the second inning, they had another runner at second with one out. This time, it was Curtis Granderson and Chad Huffman who failed to come through. That ran the streak to 0-for-25.

In the third inning, they had bases loaded, nobody out, and once again their numbers 3-4-5 hitters -- representing about $60 million in salary and, in 2009, 300 RBIs -- coming to the plate.

If you felt like you had seen this movie before, you had, on Friday. That day, a bases-loaded, none-out threat became the key failure of the game when Rodriguez and Robinson Cano struck out and Jorge Posada bounced to second.

But on Saturday, a troubling, familiar script had a different ending. This time, there would be no wasted opportunities, no stranded runners, no lonely ducks on the pond waiting for someone to welcome them in.

Three times in that third inning, the Yankees loaded the bases. Three times, they cleared them, in three unique ways.

And by the time the inning was over, 37 minutes later, the Yankees had scored more runs in that half-inning than they had in their previous four games combined, and more runs than they had in all their previous four meetings with the Blue Jays this season.

A day that started out looking like "Here we go again," turned into "Now that's more like it."

It was Teixeira, with a double, and Rodriguez, with a ground out helped greatly by the interference of pitcher Ricky Romero, who drove in the Yankees' first three runs of the game.

Next, it was Brett Gardner, affectionately known as Slappy to his teammates, spanking a 3-2 pitch from Romero into the right-field seats for what he said was the first grand slam he had ever hit, at any level of baseball.

Finally, it was Rodriguez again -- with a big assist from Mr. Sunshine, dropping a pop fly in front of a cowering Josh McDonald in left -- getting the carousel spinning. When it stopped, an inning that began with the Yankees trailing 2-0 ended with them having settled the argument at 11-2.

And the team that had been 0-for its previous 25 with runners in scoring position was suddenly 5-for-7 with 11 RBIs.

"A lot of times things in this game just don't make sense," said manager Joe Girardi, who had seen his team struggle to score nine runs over the previous four games, and predictably enough, lose three of them. Through it all, he has insisted that his $200 million-plus team would hit, and of course over time it would. But not even an eternal optimist like Girardi could have predicted the Yankees would bust out the way they did Saturday.

It was tough to determine what was more unlikely, the sight of the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Gardner crushing Romero's fastball for a no-doubt-about-it grand slam, or of Rodriguez piling up four RBIs in one inning on two balls that should have been routine outs.

But it was easy for Girardi to pinpoint what he thought was the key to the big inning -- Huffman, starting in right in place of Nick Swisher (who was the DH), falling behind to Romero 0-2 with two out and then getting plunked in the shoulder, bringing Gardner up with the bases loaded.

"I don't know if he could have gotten out of the way of that pitch or not," Girardi said. "But it set up the grand slam."

Actually, Huffman's heroics began in the top of the first, when his belly-flopping catch of Aaron Hill's liner to the warning track in right helped Andy Pettitte through a rocky inning in which he allowed a two-run homer to Jose Bautista. "That catch might have been the difference in the game," Girardi said.

It began a string of 14 batters set down by Pettitte before Alex Gonzalez led off the sixth with a home run. Pettitte finished out the inning to earn his 10th win and a likely berth on the AL All-Star team, a game he might actually get to start since the day of the All-Star Game -- Tuesday, July 13 -- falls on his scheduled day to pitch.

"I haven't allowed myself to think of that," he said. "But it's been nine years since my last one and it would be a great thing to be able to do."

That third inning dragged on so long, Pettitte found himself wandering from the dugout to the indoor cage, where he played some catch and ran in place to keep his 37-year-old legs loose.

"It was great to see us score some runs," he said. "But way before they got to 11, I was dying to get back out there."

Not Gardner, who also had a single in the 15-batter third inning and wouldn't have minded hitting a third time that frame.

"What were we, 0-for-150 or something?" he asked. "Our offense has been really struggling lately so the more runs we could score there, the better. It's a weird game and it's weird the way things turn out sometimes. Hey, we scored 11 runs in one inning and we didn't score any in the other seven."

For the Yankees, no matter how good things seem to be going, there's always room for improvement.

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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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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