Sunday, May 24, 2009

Not Quite Enough Magic

For a little while, it looked like the Yankees would do it again.

Alas, they ran out of magic.

Melky Cabrera's RBI single tied the score in the ninth, but Mark Teixeira grounded into a double play to thwart a potential winning rally in the 10th, and Brett Tomko allowed Carlos Ruiz's RBI double in the 11th as the Yankees lost to the Phillies 4-3 Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees finished their homestand at 8-2 with four walk-off wins. It looked like a fifth walk-off was in their grasp.

CC Sabathia had a fourth consecutive solid start (3-0, 1.69 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 24 Ks, 32 IP), allowing three runs on nine hits in eight innings. He struck out four, walked none and threw 75 of 11o pitches for strikes. But when he left the game, he was trailing, 3-2.

Of course the Yankees were confident heading into the ninth. Right now they believe if the game is close, they will rally and win. Sure enough, they did rally.

Robinson Cano led off against struggling closer Brad Lidge with a single and pinch runner Ramiro Pena stole second. Cabrera then hit a topper through the middle that eluded the reach of shortstop Jimmy Rollins and went into center, easily scoring Pena. But that's all the Yankees would get.

Hideki Matsui followed with a strikeout, and after Cabrera stole second, pinch hitter Nick Swisher grounded out to second and Brett Garnder grounded out to first.

Still the Yankees were in good shape. Jose Veras pitched a scoreless ninth and the bullpen was nearly back to full strength with Alfredo Aceves and Chien-Ming Wang available after missing the last two games.

Meanwhile, the Phillies were in a hole. Starter Cole Hamels pitched well, allowing two runs on eight hits, but he had to leave after the sixth after throwing 109 pitches, 68 strikes. That forced manager Jerry Manuel to use Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, Ryan Madson and Lidge to get through the ninth, leaving Clay Condrey, Chan Ho Park and Jack Taschner for extras.

It looked like it would be only a matter of time before the Yankees would pull this one out.

And they had a great chance in the 10th against Condrey. Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon led off with singles, putting runners on first and second for the heart of the order. Teixeira then did the worst thing possible, hitting in to a 4-6-3 double play. Even a strikeout would have been better. At least the Phillies would have been forced to pitch to Alex Rodriguez with runners still at first and second instead of walking him intentionally. Pena ended the inning by lofting an easy fly to center.

Deflating, yes. But you figured the Yankees should still be in good shape.

But instead of turning to Aceves, Joe Girardi went to Tomko. Now, Tomko hadn't pitched in five games -- partially because he had bronchitis -- and needed some work, but this was not yet the spot for him.

Ace has been a revelation in the bullpen and he has been terrific when called on in spots just like this. He was the next most reliable option once Rivera was used, and he would have given some the Yankees some length while the offense waited out the Phillies' bullpen. Condrey likely would not have pitched beyond the 11th, and Taschner and Park don't even scare a rec league team.

Tomko, Wang and Phil Coke all could have come on after Aceves if the game continued that long, but this was the spot for Ace and no one else.

But Tomko was the call and after getting the first two outs, he pitched carefully around Chase Utley, ultimately walking him. Utley then stole second and scored on Ruiz's double. And with that the Yankees' magic had run out, going down in order against Condrey in the bottom half.

And as disappointing as the ending was, it's not like that was the ninth and 10 were the Yankees' only opportunities. They went 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left eight on base.

The biggest missed chance was in the second. After the Phillies scored two in the top half, the Yankees had a shot to tie up in the bottom half. Francisco Cervelli led off with a double and after Gardner lined out and Jeter struck out, Damon doubled in Cervelli. Teixeira, who homered leading off the sixth, followed with a single to left. Damon tried to score, but Jayson Werth made a perfect throw home and Ruiz blocked the plate and tagged out Damon.

It was a good send. The only way the Phillies were going to get Damon was to execute perfectly, and they. Tip your hat to them.

But let's not get too disappointed in this loss. It was a great homestand and by winning 10 of their last 12, the Yankees are in third in the AL East, a game behind the Red Sox, and half-game behind the Jays.

Now the challenge is continue this stretch of good play on a six-game trip that takes them to Texas and Cleveland.

Runners In Scoring Position
Sunday
3-for-12 (.250)
Season
104-for-384 (.271)

Up Next
Monday at Rangers, 2:05 p.m., YES
Phil Hughes (2-2, 7.06 ERA) vs. Matt Harrison (4-3, 4.71)

Hughes has steadily improved over his last three starts, but he need to put forth a better effort than three runs over five innings. He need to take another step in his development.

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