Saturday, June 20, 2009

Damon: I've Been Brutal

Alex Rodriguez is expected to return to the lineup today.

Just don't expect to see Johnny Damon on the field.

Not after the game he had Saturday and not with the defense he's been playing of late.

Damon committed a two-base error, allowing a run to score in the sixth, and couldn't come up with a clutch hit in the eighth as the Yankees lost to Josh Johnson and the Marlins 2-1 in Miami at Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphin/LandShark Stadium. (This stadium has had more name changes than P.Diddy and Prince combined. Can't they just go back to Joe Robbie already?)

Leading 1-0 in the sixth, the Marlins had a runner on first with one-out when Jorge Cantu lifted a fly ball into medium left-center.

Damon raced over and seemed to be in position to make a nice running play, but he whiffed, the ball seemingly glancing off his glove. Hanley Ramirez, who reached on a walk, raced around to score and Cantu ended up on second, giving the Marlins a two-run lead.

"I had a good read on the ball. I knew what the ball was doing," Damon
said. "He kind of inside-outed the ball and it was going to center. I ended up
missing the ball by a foot and that’s totally unacceptable. It’s amazing.
There’s been a lot of plays that I’ve messed up this year.

"I’m definitely a much better defender than that. It comes in bunches. For
a while, I was pretty good out there, and then lately, I’ve been brutal."

And that brutal play ruined what was a terrific outing for A.J. Burnett. Coming off seven scoreless innings in a win over the Mets Sunday, Burnett was sharp again, allowing two runs -- one earned, of course -- on five hits and three walks in 6-1/3 innings. He struck out eight and threw 59 of 98 pitches for strikes.

He made just one mistake, an 0-and-1 fastball that Dan Uggla hammered over the wall in center in the second. His fastball was lively, his changeup effective and his curve deadly. He deserved much better than a loss.

After the win over the Mets, Burnett praised the game-calling of Francisco Cervelli, saying he and the young catcher were on the same page. Some in the media took that as a shot at Jorge Posada, further implying there was a lot of dissatisfaction with Posada among the starters.

We saw none of that dissatisfaction Saturday.

Before Burnett walked off the mound in the seventh, he gave Posada a big fist-bump. Afterward he was effusive of the job Posada did, saying Posada's efficient use of Burnett's change made the curve and fastball that much better.

“He did a great job tonight," Burnett said. "He was on page. I didn’t shake him all night. “I told him he did an exceptional job back there.”

It was pretty good night for Posada, who threw out two would-be base stealers.

But as good as Burnett was, Johnson was better.

Understand this about Johnson (7-1, 2.66 ERA), he's no yeoman fighting for a spot in the majors. This guy is the real deal. He's the ace of the Marlins, but he would be the ace of most other teams as well, including playoff contenders such as the Phillies, Brewers, Dodgers, Twins, White Sox and Rangers.

Saturday he didn't give up his first hit until Burnett singled with one out in the third. He allowed one run on three hits and two walks in seven innings, the only run scoring on Nick Swisher's two-out single in the seventh to make it 2-1. Johnson threw 67 of 103 pitches for strikes and finished his outing with a flourish, striking out Melky Cabrera on a 96 mph fastball.

Once Johnson left, the Yankees seemed to have hope. Unfortunately, they couldn't find the clutch hit and were burned by the double play ... twice.

Hideki Matsui pinch hit and led off the eighth against Leo Nunez with a single. After pinch runner Brett Gardner stole second, A-Rod, pinch hitting for Phil Coke, walked, bringing up Derek Jeter, the Yankees' top hitter with runners in scoring position at .311. Problem is Jeter is also among the most likely Yankees to ground into double plays.

Jeter showed bunt twice, fouling off the second attempt to make the count 1-and-2. After fouling off a pitch, Jeter then rolled a ground to second, hitting into his seventh doubleplay of the season.

Damon followed with a chance to redeem himself, but struck out on a check swing against Dan Meyer.

Then came some puzzling strategy from Joe Girardi.
Mark Teixeira led off the ninth with single against closer Matt Lindstrom, and Girardi elected not to pinch run with Ramiro Pena and try to steal second to move the tying run into scoring position. Instead, Posada popped to short and Robinson Cano grounded into his team-leading ninth doubleplay to end the game.

I know taking out Tex there would have weakened the defense -- Posada would have had to play first and Cervelli would have caught -- but the Yankees had already stolen twice in the game with Marlins catcher John Baker making poor throws.

Girardi had to try to get the tying run into scoring position there. Even with first base open, the Marlins still would have pitched to Posada and Cano because walking either would have put the go-ahead run on. The only downside would have been that the hole on the right side of the infield would have closed, and that would have been a worthwhile trade off because a single then ties the score.

But let's understand that's not why the Yankees lost this game.

For that goat, look no further than Damon and his glove.

Runners In Scoring Position
1-for-5 (.200)
164-for-623 (.263)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
98-for-355 (.276)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Sunday at Florida, 5:05 p.m., YES
CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.67) vs. Chris Volstad (4-7, 4.75)

Yes, that 5:05 time is in fact correct. Yanks need to take this one. Don't want lose a second consecutive series against the weaker teams of the NL East.

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