Saturday, June 6, 2009

Yankees Lose A Game To Forget

All right. All right. Calm down.

It was an ugly loss, the first one like that in a long, long time, but it's no reason to panic.

Mariano Rivera allowed four runs in the ninth inning and the Yankees couldn't complete the comeback in a 9-7 loss to the Rays Saturday at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees dropped a half-game behind the Sox for first in the AL East.

It was the second time this season Rivera has entered with score tied against the Rays and not only given up the go-ahead runs, but failed to complete the inning.

Of course, anytime Rivera gives up a big run it's stunning, much less allowing four in less than inning. But let's not draw any ridiculous conclusions here: It was a bad outing. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Over his previous 10 outings (11 IP), Mo had allowed one run. He's fine and I have supreme confidence that if called on Sunday, Rivera will deliver like he normally does.

But it was an ugly inning, one I'd like to forget.

Ben Zobrist led off with a triple and Joe Dillon knocked him in with a single. Dioner Navarro's weak grounder to first moved Dillon to second and Matt Joyce's fly to right sent Dillon to third.

Then Joe Girardi elected to have Rivera intentionally walk pinch hitter Evan Longoria. Rivera never wants to intentionally walk anyone, believing his stuff is good enough get anyone out.

But Girardi, looking at a small sample, saw Longoria was 2-for-6 against Mo and the next batter, B.J. Upton was 1-for-7 with six strikeouts.

The move didn't pan out as Upton singled in a run. Phil Coke replaced Mo at that point and allowed an RBI single to Carl Crawford before Willie Aybar hit a grounder to third that Alex Rodriguez booted, allowing the fourth run to score.

The Yankees responded by scoring two quick runs with no outs, highlighted by Mark Teixeira's two-run double, but that's all they would get.

It was tough loss to swallow -- one that just creates a pit in your stomach. But we can't get too down about it.

That said there are some reasons for concern.

Despite scoring seven runs, with the help of four errors -- three by Navarro -- and powered by homers from A-Rod and Teixeira, the Yankees went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, stranding eight. Over the last eight games, the Yankees are 22-for-89 (.247) with RISP, a major drop from their production over the recent hot streak, and reminiscent of their troubles prior to A-Rod's return.

In addition, the Yankees have made at least one error in four straight games, coming on the heels of their record 18-game errorless streak. In addition to A-Rod, Johnny Damon's throwing error in the fifth led to the run that tied the score at 2.

Finally, the starting pitching has fallen off over the last three games. CC Sabathia had pitched five straight brilliant games, going 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA, but couldn't maintain that excellence. Saturday he allowed five runs, four earned, on five hits and three walks. He struck out two, but allowed two big homers, a solo shot to Zobrist in fifth and a three-run homer to Aybar in the sixth that gave the Rays a 5-3 lead.

Sabathia threw only 101 pitches, 64 strikes, and might have been able to pitch the ninth. But in scoring two runs to tie the score at 5, the Yankees hit for about 25 minutes in the eighth, which Girardi felt was too long a wait for Sabathia to overcome at that point.

Over the last three games, Yankee starters have allowed 13 earned runs in 17-2/3 innings (6.62 ERA and an average of slightly more than 5-2/3 innings per start). That's not going to get it done for this team, which needs its starters to go deep in order to minimize its problems in the bullpen.

Basically, the Yankees have lost a little bit of an edge, become a little flat over the past week, likely just the ebb-and-flow of the season. Of course this in not a great time to be ebbing, with the Rays in town and a trip to Boston looming, but it doesn't take much to turn things around.

Joba Chamberlain, coming off a brilliant eight-inning performance Monday, will start Sunday. Another strong start like that will solidify his status as a starter and go a long way toward helping the Yankees forget about this bitter loss.

Runners In Scoring Position
1-for-9 (.111)
140-for-515 (.272)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
74-for-247 (.300)

Up Next
Sunday vs. Rays, 1:05 p.m., YES
Matt Garza (4-4, 3.67) vs. Chamberlain (3-1, 3.71)

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