Walk-Off, Cubed

                I’m going to start with last week’s post.  Because I’m so rarely right…  I flipped the game on last Tuesday when I got home, rolled my eyes, and went back downstairs to eat dinner with the missus and the baby boy.  The missus had whipped up some chili; the last of the year, said she, as the rainy, cold days of the spring were due to break any day.  Throw in some crusty brick-oven bread from Paneantico on Third Avenue and you’ve got yourself a fine Tuesday night dinner.  I was in no hurry to get back to the game.  As I detailed last week, I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to go.  And that’s how it went.  Maddeningly.  I was pretty confident Burnett was going to pitch well.  He’s been pitching well all year.  The only hiccup has been that one game at Fenway when he couldn’t stop the usual ping-pong game at the original launching pad, Fenway Park.  And the Yankees don’t handle the good pitchers the way they should, so they were going to be toast.  So sometimes I know what I’m talking about.  Or I just got lucky…

            This was a mighty fine stretch of exciting finishing for Yankee fans, I must say.  The last few years it seemed we were on the losing end of these things far more than the reverse.  So I’ll take what transpired this last weekend with the Twins, whose last few seasons at Yankee Stadium have been the baseball version of Jennifer Aniston’s love life.  Plucky, interesting, but ultimately sad.  For them.  Not for me.  Walking-off is no way to go through the season, of course, because the fact that you can’t close the deal and need to keep relying on your last at-bat tells you that you’ve got things that need to be fixed.  Friday night was highway robbery.  A two-run deficit against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, and then a run down with two outs, well, what can you say.  That was funkadelic.  Saturday’s game should have been closed out before any extra-inning nonsense ever happened.  Joba put you in the driver’s seat, and Phil Coke and Edwar Ramirez puked it right up.  You need to close that out.  And today’s game was a great come-from-behind win, and the Yankees did a lot of things right, but the Ferocious Lion swung at ball four and ball five with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, taking a run and a lead off the board with two ill-advised swings.  And that crazy play in the ninth should have put Robbie Cano in the batter’s box with one out and the fastest man in America on third.  In fact, I was scratching my head when, after Swisher walked and Gardner went in to pinch run, Melky bunted him over to third.  Why are you bunting there?  Just steal the base.  You’ve got a better-than-average chance he makes it, so why don’t you just give it a whirl.  You left it up to Ramiro Pena/Francisco Cervelli with a runner on second and one out?  Didn’t love that play.  Point is, the Yankees should have won that game before the dramatic Johnny Delicious swing.

            There were actually three defining plays in today’s game for me.  Obviously one was the walk-off bomb.  The second was the crazy play in the ninth.  So let’s go back to that crazy play for a second.  Was Gardner too aggressive?  Yes.  Do I have a big problem with it?  No.  I want the other team back on their heels.  I want them nervous that he’s going to do something off-the-wall like that.  Fielders who are concerned about stuff like that will often rush things and find themselves butter-balling things.  I’ll take it.  The hero of that play, obviously, was Joe Mauer.  It might have been the best play I’ve ever seen a catcher make.  The reason wasn’t so much the athleticism (world-class) but the thought.  There was an out to be had at first.  He would have gotten Cervelli, and it would have been the second out, seemingly exactly what you would have wanted.  Watching the play live, I was surprised he didn’t throw it.  After having a minute to drink the whole thing in, you realize why.  If he had thrown it, they never would have gotten Gardner coming around third.  Never.  And Gardner expected him to throw it, which is why he never broke stride.  Clever.  Mauer pump-faked it.  More clever.  Then he turned and won the foot race back to the plate.  Brilliant.  Other-worldly.  The other pivotal play was the Ferocious Lion tagging from third on Melky’s pop-up to tie the game in the seventh.  That was a therapeutic moment for me, if I can be unnecessarily dramatic for a second.  I can’t say it long enough or loud enough.  You have to go there.  Make them make a play.  If you play it safe and don’t tag up in that spot, you’re again relying on Ramiro Pena with two outs, and only a base hit gets it done.  This was an opportunity to force the issue.  The only thing the runner has to do in this case is not leave early and run as fast as he can.  The fielder has to catch it cleanly, transfer it cleanly to the throwing hand, make a strong throw that will beat the runner, throw it accurately enough to beat the runner, the catcher has to catch it cleanly and apply the tag cleanly and quickly enough to beat the runner.  Granted, if all of those things had happened the Ferocious Lion was a dead duck.  The ball wasn’t that deep.  But when you look at what had to go right for the defenders, it was check, check, check, whoops.  Run scores.  This is how Mike Scoscia has been eating the Yankees’ lunch for what seems like a century.  Kudos to Rob Thomson the third base coach.  I love the work he’s doing down there.  That was the game, if you ask me.  That run doesn’t score, and I’m probably still huddled in a corner shivering and muttering to myself about the Ferocious Lion swinging at balls four and five in the eighth.    

            The New York media has decided that Allie’s return is the reason Tex has busted out.  Maybe, maybe not.  I tend to think that a guy whose average is hovering 100 points below his career number is going to turn it around at some point.  Might as well be now.  It is getting towards late May…  And although Allie clearly doesn’t have his timing all the way back, you can’t argue the difference he makes in a game.  Big-moment bombs on Saturday and Sunday.  Plain and simple, you didn’t have anybody to hit those bombs for the first six weeks of the season.  Is Allie the reason they’re 6-2 since he’s come back?  Who knows.  But he hasn’t hurt things…

            I hope they ride this wave a while.  It’s nice to be back within striking distance.  And three days of walk-off wins is not a bad way to spend a weekend…       



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