Monday, July 6, 2009

It Ain't The Umpires' Fault

Don't the blame the umps for this one. Yes, they made three horrific calls that didn't exactly help the Yankees, but only bad teams and losers blame umps when they lose.

Nope, the Yankees lost this one on their own.

Mind you, while this was a game the Yankees could have won, it was a game the Blue Jays deserved to win.

Rookie Ricky Romero allowed three runs in 6-1/3 innings, Alex Rios and John McDonald homered and the Blue Jays flashed a lot of leather to beat the Yankees 7-6 at Yankee Stadium Monday.

Meanwhile Andy Pettitte allowed six runs in 6+ innings, Brian Bruney pitched ineffectively in the seventh and the Yankees went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, stranding 11.

No, the blown calls didn't help, but the Yankees lost this on their own merits.

So don't blame the umps for the loss ... but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be held accountable. They are professionals, after all.

Things got strange one out of the gate.

Romero entered the having pitched 20 consecutive scoreless innings, going 4-1 with 1.91 ERA in his last six games. But he was clearly nervous in his first start at Yankee Stadium. In the first, he walked one, hit a batter, balked, threw a wild pitch and allowed a hit .. and yet the Yankees failed to score.

And the Captain takes the hit for that.

Derek Jeter led off with the walk and advanced to second on the balk. Then for some inexplicable reason, he decided to try to steal third ... WITH NO OUTS! The ball beat Jeter to the bag, and though Jeter avoided Scott Rolen's tag, he was called out by Marty Foster. And, Dave, just in case you don't believe Jeter was really safe, click the link above.

Jeter immediately and uncharacteristically popped up to vehemently argue the call. He was held back by third base coach Robby Thompson, but Joe Girardi took up the debate and was tossed.

It would have been one thing if Foster simply blew the call, but that not what happened.

"I was just baffled by the explanation," Jeter said. "I was told I was out, because the ball beat me, and he didn't have to tag me. I was unaware they had changed the rules."

If that is indeed what Foster told Jeter, the Foster needs to be disciplined. The rule is the runner has to be tagged and Foster essentially admitted that Jeter was in fact safe, but was called out anyway. It's unlikely to happen, but -- again if Jeter's version is true -- Foster should be suspended at least one game. That's just a blatant disregard for the rules.

Blown calls happen, there was even one later in this game. Umpires are human and Jeter, Girardi and everyone in baseball can live with that. But when an ump tells a players he's basically intentionally getting it wrong, that crosses boundaries. And crew chief John Hirschbeck acknowledged as much.

“It would make (Jeter’s) actions seem appropriate if that’s what he was told,” Hirschbeck said. “The best way I can answer it is to talk to Marty about it. Not here at the ballpark, but if I see him tonight, or if not, we’ll have lunch tomorrow and we’ll discuss it. Getting a play right is one thing, but how you handle it is also important. Nowadays, with the cameras, ESPN and the reporters, I say the media, I actually mean television — it used to be if the ball beat you, you were out, but it isn’t that way anymore. It’s not a reason to call someone out. You have to make a good tag.”

But Foster's call didn't cost the Yankees there. Jeter did. Everyone knows you don't ever make the first or last out of an inning at third, especially not in the first and particularly against a nervous rookie. If you try to steal there, you better make it easily because there is very little to gain.

Girardi, after the game, even called Jeter's blunder a bad baserunning play without being prompted. And sure enough, Nick Swisher followed with a single to left that likely would have driven in Jeter.

Then the trouble for Pettitte began. With two outs in the second, he walked Kevin Millar, before Jose Bautista and Rod Barajas singled to make it 1-0.

It got worse in the third. Marco Scutaro led off with a walk and after Aaron Hill grounded into a force out, Vernon Wells grounded a ball into the hole at short that Jeter fielded before making an acrobatic throw that beat Hill to second. Unfortunately second base umpire Wally Bell blew the call. He ruled Hill safe.

This time it was just a bad call. Bang-bang play and a wrong decision. And it's something that's happened to Pettitte plenty of times before. He's overcome bad calls before, but not on this day.

After Rolen struck out, Alex Rios lofted a shot the just cleared Melky Cabrera's glove and settled into the front row in left for a three-run homer and a 4-0 Jays lead.

Meanwhile, Romero settled down after the first and cruised, extending that scoreless streak to 24 innings.

Eric Hinske, who in his first Yankee start made a brilliant diving catch in right in the first, finally got the Yankees on the board in the fifth with homer to right.

Pettitte battled, but he just wasn't sharp. He allowed five hits and five walks, while striking out only three. He threw only 58 of 109 pitches for strikes and was at about 100 pitches after the sixth.

Still Girardi tried to squeeze one more inning out of him. Bad decision. John McDonald led off with a homer and Scutaro walked before Girardi brought in Bruney.

It's been a rough stretch for Bruney and Monday was no better. After striking out Hill, he allowed consecutive doubles to Wells and Rolen to bring in two runs to make 7-1.

Bruney's velocity was back to normal in this game, hitting 95 mph. He also threw 10 of his first 15 pitches for strikes, but he didn't have command. That tells me physically he OK, but there is just something off mechanically. Not that I have much faith in Dave Eiland to fix the problem, but Bruney's just going to have work and battle through it. The Yankees need this guy, there are no two ways about it.

After Bruney walked Millar with two outs, Girardi had enough and brought in David Robertson, who struck out Bautista to end it.

The Yankees finally got to Romero in the seventh, but were again bitten by another bad call. Cabrera and Hinske led off with singles before Brett Gardner rolled a grounder to second that Hill fielded, but made a bad throw that Scutaro fielded well off the bag. Hinske was called out.

Now I understand about the neighborhood play and umpires trying to protect middle infielders from injury. I have no problem with that. But the only neighborhood Scuataro was in on this play was the one in the ballpark sitting across the street. He was that far off the bag. Don't believe me, Dave? Check the link above.

Jeter followed with a walk to end Romero's day before Swisher singled in two with a single off Brandon League.

Yes, the inning could have been much bigger if not for that call, but let's remember, the Yankees went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11.

That's been a huge problem for the Yankees all year. Consider this: The Yankees entered the game first in the majors in runs (451), homers (124), OBP (.356), slugging pct. (.471) and OPS (.827) and second in batting average (.273). But with RISP, they're a middle of the pack team, entering the game at .260.

Imagine where this team would be if it actually hit well in scoring situations. Imagine if they had done that in this game.

Here's and example from the eighth: With one out, Robinson Cano doubled, and after he moved to third on a Cabrera groundout, both Hinske and Johnny Damon, hitting for Gardner, were hit by pitches from Jeremy Accardo. Jeter then drew a walk against Jason Frasor to make it 7-4, but Swisher couldn't deliver the big hit, flying out to center.

The Yankees made it interesting in the ninth with two outs. Jorge Posada singled and Cano doubled. Girardi then made a gutsy move, pinch hitting for Cabrera, the Yankees' most clutch hitter this season, bringing in Hideki Matsui, who was 5-for-10 with five RBI against Frasor.

The moved paid off as Matsui delivered a two-run single, but Hinske couldn't keep it going, striking out on what might have been ball four to end it.

It was another wasted opportunity ... and the umpires had nothing to do with that.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-11 (.182)
196-for-758 (.259)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
130-for-486 (.267)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Tuesday at Twins, 8:05 p.m., Local TV (check your listings)
CC Sabathia (7-5, 3.85 ERA) vs. Scott Baker (6-6, 4.99)

Sabathia had his worst start since April his last time out and will look to rebound. The Yankees need to get this bullpen a break and could really use a vintage eight-inning performance from CC.

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