Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Opportunity Lost

This one just eats a you.

No matter how you slice it, this was a game the Yankees should have won. The Yankees should be sitting with a 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven American League Championship Series.

Instead it's 2-1 as the Yankees' offense again failed to come up with the big hits in run scoring situations, while Joe Girardi's Captain Hook routine finally came back to bite him in a 5-4, 11-inning loss to the Angels Monday in Anaheim.

From start to finish, there is just one way to describe this loss: frustrating. The Yankees hit four homers and had a 3-0 lead ... and lost. It doesn't get much more frustrating.

The game started well enough with Derek Jeter crushing an 89 mph fastball from Angels starter Jered Weaver to left for a leadoff homer, Jeter's 20th career postseason homer.

But the Yankees then began wasting opportunities. Hideki Matsui singled and Jorge Posada walked to start the second, but Robinson Cano grounded into force out to put runners on the corners with one out before Nick Swisher flied out to shallow left and Melky Cabrera grounded out to snuff the threat.

It happened again in the fourth. After Alex Rodriguez led off with his fourth home run of the playoffs to make it 2-0. Matsui followed with a walk and Posada singled to put Weaver and the Angels on the ropes.

Cano, however, again grounded into a force out to put runners on the corners before Swisher struck out and Cabrera popped out.

Still when Johnny Damon snapped out of his doldrums and crushed a one-out homer to right in the fifth to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead, things were looking good. Andy Pettitte, while not as sharp as he was in his Game 3 win against the Twins in the ALDS, was pitching well, getting double plays to end the first and second inning and keeping the Angels off the scoreboard.

The thing about the Angels, though, is that when they play at home, they are relentless. You have to take advantage of every opportunity against them and pile up runs because if you leave them in the game, they will come back.

The magnitude of the opportunities the Yankees' missed became apparent very quickly.

Yankee killer Howie Kendrick hammered a one-out homer in the fifth to get the Angels on the board and then Vladimir Guerrero reminded us why we always should be respectful of his dangerous bat.

Bobby Abreu singled with one out in the sixth. Pettitte bounced back to get to get Torii Hunter to sky to right, but he couldn't get Vlad to follow suit. Pettitte tried to tie up Vlad with an inside fastball, but didn't quite get the pitch inside enough. Vlad turned on the pitch and deposited into the bullpen in left to tie it a 3.

After going the first five games of the playoffs with out allowing a homer, Yankees pitching had suddenly allowed two. And with that this game's momentum changed.

Pettitte pitched into the seventh and finished with a decent line: 6-1/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 59 of 95 pitches for strikes. Unfortunately, the Yankees bullpen didn't follow suit.

Joba Chamberlain followed Pettitte in the seventh and was awful. He just didn't have it an was hit hard. Kendrick greeted Joba with a triple off the wall in right and scored on a loud sacrifice fly to right by Macier Izturis, giving the Angels a 4-3 lead. Erick Aybar doubled and Girardi had seen enough. Damaso Marte came on, threw one pitch and got Chone Figgins to fly to right.

The Angels' lead wouldn't last long, but yet again, the Yankees wasted another chance to seize control of the game and put the Angels away.

Hideki Matsui led off the eighth with a walk and was replaced on first by Brett Gardner. In a similar spot on Saturday, Gardner came on as pinch runner, failed to try to steal second and was thrown out at second on the front end of a double play.

Monday Gardner did not stay put, taking off for second on the second pitch to Jorge Posada. It was a pitchout, however, and Jeff Mathis nailed Gardner at second.

The caught stealing proved particularly painful as Posada followed by crushing a 2-and-1, 97 mph fastball from Kevin Jepsen over the wall in center to tie it a 4.

Cano then followed with a single and Swisher walked to give the Yankees another chance to break the game open. Cabarera, however, struck out and Jeter bounced back to the box and the rally was over.

The Yankees were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 in the game. The eighth inning would prove to be the Yankees' final good scoring opportunity.

The eighth also would bring out Girardi's tendency to overmanage with his bullpen.

With the left-handed Bobby Abreu set to lead off, Girardi gave the hook to the left-handed Marte, who had thrown just one pitch in the prior inning, and brought in the left-handed Phil Coke.

So just to be clear here, Girardi replaced a lefty who had been brought into face a lefty with yet another lefty to face a lefty. All that has left me confused. Why couldn't Marte face Abreu, leaving Coke available for later in the game?

Coke ended up surrendering a double to Abreu, but was bailed out when Abreu took to wide a turn around second and was thrown out by Jeter.

Phil Hughes then came on and actually pitched the next 1-2/3 innings, leaving after allowing a double to Mathis leading off the 10th. This was an appropriate time for a pitching change and Girardi went to his best: Mariano Rivera.

But Rivera quickly found trouble. Aybar laid down a sacrifice bunt on the third base side of the mound. Rivera pounced on it and whirled to throw to third, however his feet came out from under him, the throw sailing down the left field line, where Damon and backing up.

The Angels and runners on first and third with no outs. The Yankees were in trouble, but Mariano got out of it.

Figgins groundout out sharply to first, Mathis staying put at third with Aybar moving to second. Mariano then walked Abreu to set up the force at any base, but that also meant Girardi had to replace the weak throwing Damon in left with Jerry Hairston Jr., who had pinch hit for Gardner in the ninth, costing the Yankees the DH.

Hunter grounded to first, and Mark Teixeira nailed Mathis at home. Vlad followed with yet another ground to first and Mariano pulled a Houdini.

The escape act should have given the Yankees a boost. It didn't. As the side went down in order, Francisco Cervelli making the final out of the inning as a pinch hitter for Rivera.

Girardi then turned to Game 2 pitching hero David Robertson for the 11th. Robertson, a righthander, retired the two batters he face easily before Capt. Hook bounded out of the dugout and called for righthander Alfredo Aceves, causing the whole of the Yankees Universe to scream, "Why???"

Aceves proceeded to allow a ground single back through the middle by Kendrick before Mathis boomed a double to win it for the Angels.

After the game, Girardi told the media he and Dave Eiland liked the matchup of Aceves against Kendrick and Mathis better than Robertson in that spot. Yet, no one can figure out exactly what Girardi and Eiland were basing that on.

Kendrick had faced Robertson exactly twice before, getting one hit and Mathis had never faced Robertson. Kendrick had never faced Aceves and Mathis was 0-for-2 against Ace. That's not exactly a significant sample size. Girardi and Eiland refused to elaborate further about what made them believe Ace was a better matchup.

Here's what I know: Robertson had been throwing the ball exceedingly well in the playoffs, getting big outs in big spots. He had just retired two batters easily and would have been my choice to not only finish the 11th in this game, but pitch the 12th.

But that wasn't Capt. Hook's choice, and he finally got burned.

But let's not go overboard about this loss. The Yankees still have a 2-1 lead and have their ace, CC Sabathia on the mound today. He's on three days' rest, but has done well in that spot in his career, making four regular season starts and going 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA and 0.825 WHIP.

CC will pitch well today. He just needs to get the offensive support that Pettitte didn't get Monday.

Runners In Scoring Position
ALCS
3-for-28 (.107)
Game 3
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 2
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 1
3-for-12 (.250)
ALDS
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
ALCS Game 4
Tuesday at Angels, 7:57 p.m., Fox

CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA; 2-0, 1.23 playoffs)
vs. Scott Kazmir (10-9, 4.89; 0-0, 7.50)

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