Saturday, June 27, 2009

Inferior Competition

There should be a rule against this.

They shouldn't let a minor league team go up against major leaguers -- and the Yankees didn't even have their best lineup on the field.

Still, it sure was fun to watch.

CC Sabathia showed his arm was fine by carrying a perfect game into the fifth and allowing one run in seven innings, Brett Garner went 5-for-6 with a homer and triple, Alex Rodriguez also homered, and the Yankees took advantage of three Mets errors in a four-run second, rolling to a 9-1 victory at Citi Field Friday, their third straight win.

It was the kind of victory coaches draw up, but rarely happen: terrific pitching, strong defense and timely, opportunistic offense.

The Yankees played the game without Derek Jeter, who turned 35 Friday, but was held out because of a severe cough. Joe Girardi does not expect him to play today either. As a result, Ramiro Pena played short and hit eighth, while Brett Gardner led off.

In addition, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada were given the night off. That's a lot of firepower to be missing from the lineup, but that didn't matter against the Mets.

Let's be fair and acknowledge just how beat up the Mets are. Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, John Maine, Oliver Perez and J.J. Putz are all on the DL. Those are all key players for the Mets' success.

Friday they had a lineup that featured Alex Cora at short, Nick Evans at first and Ryan Church in center. The only star that played was David Wright, and even he started throwing the ball around.

It all added up to a tough night for Mets starter Mike Pelfrey.

Melky Cabrera got the Yankees going in the second with an infield single, Wright fielding the ball, but making an errant throw that allowed Cabrera to reach second. After Cervelli struck out, Pena came through with an RBI-double to left and Sabathia delivered a grounder back through the middle to score Pena and make it 2-0.

Gardner followed with a single to left to put runners on the corners and then things really got ugly. Damon rolled a doubleplay ball to Cora and the Mets were poised to escape the inning. But Cora's through to second was offline and sailed toward right, allowing Sabathia to score and move the runners to second and third.

Mark Teixeira then hit a slow roller down the first base line that Evans couldn't field cleanly, allowing Teixeira to reach and Gardner to score to make 4-0. After walking A-Rod, Pelfrey finally got out of the inning by getting Robinson Cano to pop to second and Melky to ground out.

You had to feel sorry for Pelfrey, who threw the ball well and made to tough pitches. He ended up allowing four runs, two earned, on six hits and two walks in five innings.

But the way Sabathia was pitching, the Mets couldn't afford those mistakes.

Sabathia left his previous start Sunday at Florida after 1-1/3 inning because of left biceps tendinits. The Yankees were quite concerned about Sabathia's health and made sure to have Phil Hughes ready just in case.

Sabathia, however, wasn't worried about his arm. He was worried that his mechanics were rusty.

“I was just trying to work on my delivery and make sure I was getting the
ball down because I had so many days off. I was feeling real good,” Sabathia

As a result, he didn't even know that he was perfect through four innings, having thrown 57 pitches.

But in the fifth he ran into the only trouble of the night. Gary Sheffield, who has been hammering Yankees pitching, led off by ripping a fat, 1-and-1 slider deep into the stands in left to break up the perfect game and make it 4-1.

Tatis followed with a single and after Church hit into a fielder's choice, Evans added another single to put runners on first and second. Sabathia, however, regained his footing, striking out Omir Santos and Argenis Reyes to end the inning, though his pitch count rose to 80.

He cruised over the next two innings, his night done after seven, having allowed just the three hits. He didn't walk anyone and struck out 8, throwing 67 of 99 pitches for strikes.

For some reason, Girardi was going to send Sabathia back out there for eighth and allowed Sabathia to hit. Girardi is getting reckless with the health of his players -- first not resting A-Rod and now this.

Remember, Sabathia only five days earlier had come out the game after 1-1/3 innings because of an arm problem. Yes, Sabathia is a horse, but would it really have been worth it to force the issue there? Wouldn't a little more caution have been the more prudent course?

Fortunately, Gardner forced Girardi's hand, homering off Elmer Dessens to right after CC struck out for the first out of the eighth to give the Yankees some breathing room. A-Rod gave the Yankees even more with a two-run shot later in the inning, the 564th of his career to pass Reggie Jackson for 11th.

A-Rod is once again locked in, but he is no longer pull conscious, looking to take the ball up the middle and to right. And he has homered in two straight games

The Yankees tacked on two more on the ninth on Gardner's RBI triple and Damon run-scoring double to make it 9-1.

It appears Gardner has once again laid claim to the starting center field job. Over the last 27 games he's hitting .387, raising his average to .303 and on-base percentage to .374. Those are numbers that make him a very dangerous major league players. It means he's getting on base and able to wreak havoc with opponents' pitchers and defense.

And while ideally the Yankees would love to have one solid, everyday player to handle center field, the Cabrera-Gardner tandem is working out pretty well. Both guys have good attitudes, neither has sulked when he was removed from the starting lineup, both appear to like the other and they seem to be pushing each other in a way that is making both quite productive.

Combined they are hitting .294 (104-for-354) with 60 runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 10 homers, 41 RBI and 21 stolen bases. You know, that's pretty good production coming primarily from center field.

So the Yankees are rolling once again, and though memories of the series against the Nationals are still fresh in my head, I can't help but feel the Yankees will sweep this series -- even with Chien-Ming Wang pitching Sunday. The offense should have no problem with the likes of Tim Redding and Livan Hernandez.

That's what happens when you face a Triple A squad.

Runners In Scoring Position
3-for-17 (.176)
178-for-682 (.261)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
112-for-414 (.271)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Saturday at Citi Field, 7:10 p.m., YES, Local TV (check your listings)
A.J. Burnett (5-4, 4.24) vs. Tim Redding (1-2, 6.08)

Burnett, who was suspended for five games, is coming off two strong starts, though he was outdueled by Josh Johnson last Saturday and lost. He's looking to establish some consistency and he should be able to feast the Mets' weakened lineup, especially Cora, who is 0-for-21 with 10 strikeouts in his career against A.J.

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