Sunday, July 5, 2009

One For The Goose

Somewhere in Colorado, Hall of Famer Goose Gossage is smiling.

This is how they did it when he was closing out games, when closers were called firemen and relievers usually went more than one inning for the save.

In a game that was a slugfest through the first five innings, Alfredo Aceves came in, stabilized the game, and allowed one hit in four shutout innings to earn his first major-league save as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 10-8 Sunday Yankee Stadium Sunday.

It was the Yankees' 10th win in 11 games and allowed them to remain a game behind the Red Sox in the AL East.

As Gossage waited to finally be voted into the Hall of Fame, he had to remind voters not to compare the job he did with modern closers, such as Mariano Rivera and Dennis Eckersley.

Gossage, who finished with 310 saves, was a pioneer of the closer position. He'd say he'd get out of situations that G_d couldn't, and then pitch two or three more innings to get the save. Today's closers usually pitch just the ninth.

What Aceves did Sunday was more Gossage (without the fire and brimstone, of course) than Mo.

Aceves was dominant, entering the game in the sixth inning after the Yankees had rallied from a four-run deficit to take a 10-8 lead.

Initially, the thought was Aceves would give the Yankees two innings, maybe three at best. But he breezed through the sixth and seventh retiring the side in order on 22 pitches.

He worked around a leadoff single by Alex Rios in the eighth and with his pitch count at only 34 and Rivera, Phil Coke and Phil Hughes all unavailable, pitching coach Dave Eiland asked Aceves if he wanted to close it out.

"[Eiland] said, 'You want to finish this game?' I said sure," Aceves said. "I mean, it's an honor. With Mo, he's got [503 saves] and I got zero."

And finish it Ace did with a performance that might have even made Mo envious. He set the side down in order on nine pitches.

And by going four innings and throwing 43 pitches with five strikeouts, Aceves stretched himself out to the point where he'll be considered for Thursday's start at Minnesota in place of the injured Chien Ming-Wang.

Talk about versatility. Ace truly is this team's Ramiro Mendoza.

There are two issues that the Yankees will have to consider before Aceves can start against the Twins: 1) Do they want him to start on only three days' rest? and 2) Will they need him in relief before that? But those aren't questions that don't have to be answered right now.

On Sunday, when the Yankees were hoping for an ace-like performance from Joba Chamberlain, they fittingly got it from the man nicknamed Ace.

And Joba should be thanking Aceves profusely -- he was that bad.

The Yankees responded to a lineup shakeup by scoring two runs in each of the first two innings to take a 4-0 lead. Robinson Cano was finally dropped from the No. 5 spot and hit seventh. With Alex Rodriguez given the day off, Jorge Posada batted cleanup and Hideki Matsui fifth. The moves would pay big dividends, though Cano still couldn't produce a hit with runners in scoring position.

In the first, Matsui brought one run with a grounder to first that was booted and Nick Swisher followed with an RBI single. Posada, who went 4-for-5 with three RBI, brought in two more in the second with a single.

That should have been enough for Joba, but once again he was not aggressive, getting two strikes on hitters and failing to put them away. His fastball was good, hitting 94 mph, but his breaking pitches were not sharp.

He gave up three runs in the third as Raul Chavez hit a one-out double, Aaron Hill a two-out, RBI single and Adam Lind a two-run homer to right.

Joba was hurt by an error in the fourth, leading to five unearned runs, though he was absolutely tattooed. Lyle Overbay led off with a single, and with one out, Rios hit a hard ground to third that Cody Ransom, playing for A-Rod, booted, putting runners on first and second.

David Delucci flied out to right, but Chavez ripped an RBI double to left, Marco Scutaro followed with a two-run single to center and Hill then smacked a homer to right to make it 8-4. After Lind followed with a single, Joba was replaced by freshly recalled Jonathan Albaladejo, who pitched 1-1/3 innings for the win.

Joba's line was ugly: 3-2/3 innings, nine hits, eight runs (three earned) one walk, one strikeout and 86 pitches, 53 strikes.

It is as if with four quality pitches, Joba has too many choices. Remember, he's only 23 and still learning. One thing he needs to do is become more aggressive. Another is he has to learn how to mix and match those pitches and use them effectively. It will come in time, and we have to be patient.

Unfortunately, after the game, it didn't sound as if Joba learned much from this start.

"It's actually the best I've felt all year coming out of the bullpen [to start the game]," he said. "My mechanics were the best they've been all year. I did a good job [of attacking the strike zone Sunday], I felt like."

That quote reminds me a bit of Ian Kennedy last season, because clearly this was Joba's worst start, not only of the season, but of his starting career in the majors.

I'm hoping Joba was just trying to fend off questions about whether he should be a reliever. And let's remember, just last month, the great Johan Santana gave up nine earned runs in 3+ innings against the Yankees. All pitchers will have a dud like this from time-to-time -- even Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Dave.

But the Yankees' bats were more than up to the task against rookie Brett Cecil.

The Yankees got three right back in the bottom half of the inning. With one out, Mark Teixeira walked and Posada singled to set up Matsui, who crushed a homer to right to make it 8-7.

In his last four games, Matsui has three homers and eight RBI. Thank goodness interleague play is over. When he's healthy, Matsui's bat is still dangerous.

The Yankees grabbed the lead for good in the fifth against former closer B.J. Ryan.

Melky Cabrera led off with a walk, and after Ransom grounded out to third, Derek Jeter, who also went 4-for-5, hit a typical Jeterian homer just over the wall in right to make it 9-8. It was his 10th homer of the year.

Johnny Damon followed with a walk and after Teixeira flied out to left against Dirk Hayhurst, Posada closed out the scoring with an RBI double to right.

After that Aceves, as he has done all year, got the job done.

Of Note
Jeter, Teixeira and Rivera were selected to the All-Star Game. No complaints there. All are deserving and I can't make an argument for any other Yankee to have been chosen over the guys who did make it.

And though he is a Red Sox, Tim Wakefield, 42, deserves to be on the team, not only for what he's done this season, but what he's done for his career. Nice job, Joe Maddon.

Runners In Scoring Position
6-for-12 (.500)
194-for-747 (.260)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
128-for-475 (.269)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Monday vs. Blue Jays, 1:05 p.m., YES
Ricky Romero (6-3, 2.85 ERA) vs. Andy Pettitte (8-3, 4.25)

Hughes, Coke and Rivera all should be available, but the Yankees still could use length out of Pettitte to give that tired pen some rest. Pettitte allowed two runs in seven innings in his last start Wednesday against the Mariners. A repeat would be nice, especially because Romero, a rookie, is on a roll having pitched 20 straight scoreless innings and going 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts.

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