Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
As last night's game two of the ALCS enfolded the Yankees again looked flaccid. Their defense was poor— there were two misplays by Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano in the first inning on admittedly difficult plays resulted in infield singles and allowed the Red Sox to load the bases. Andy Pettitte was shaky out of the gate allowing one run on six hits and a walk in the first two innings.
The Red Sox loaded the bases in the first but did not score with the help of a strike-him-out-throw-him-out doubleplay to clear the bases just before they were loaded. After getting out of the bases loaded jam in the first, Pettitte started the second by allowing two rope singles by Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon on high meaty fastballs. He then threw a 1-2 pitch that Damian Jackson, who started at second for his defense, sent right back up the middle scoring Varitek. The Yankees trailed 1-0 in the middle of the second, but it could have been worse had leadoff hitter Gabe Kapler, subbing for Johnny Damon, not gotten involved in two doubleplays.
Meanwhile the Yankee offense failed to get a ball out of the infield through the first six men. Even though Jorge Posada led off the second with a walk, Hidecki Matsui nullified him with a force to second. Next up was struggling Nick Johnson, who was 1-for-17 in the playoffs. It looked like a potential repeat of game one fore the Yanks.
And then it all changed as Johnson connected on a hanging fastball that he clobbered for a two-run homer. It appeared to be the same tailing fastball that Derek Lowe used to great effect against lefties in game five of the A's series. The only difference was it didn't tail.
The home run and the doubleplay ball in the second that Jeter scooped up stymieing the Red Sox second-inning rally turned the Yankees around completely. Jeter's play revitalized the Yanks' flagging defense as they played mistake-free the rest of the game including the first nice play by Jeter seemingly in months on a one-hopper by Bill Mueller in the fifth. Matsui also avoided a potentially catastrophic play reminiscent of Jose Cruz Jr. in the first round as he circle a sixth-inning David Ortiz ball to the wall in left, measuring the distance to first the wall behind him and then to the ball to his right and finally making the catch. Jason Varitek later followed with a home run that would have brought the Red Sox within one of the lead had Ortiz reached base.
The Johnson home run spawned a nice rally, albeit for only one run, in the third. It started innocently enough with a Jeter nubber down the third base line for an infield hit but snowballed from there. Jason Giambi then went with a pitch on the outside of the plate to left field. Bernie Williams followed with a single just past diving first baseman Kevin Millar. Jeter scored, but Giambi failed to take third, which may have cost them a run. Posada then hit a line drive at Damian Jackson at second, and Jackson appeared never to fully possess the ball even though it fell as he was attempting to throw for a force at second to start a potential doubleplay. It was scored an error and the Yanks had bases loaded, a very tired-looking Lowe on the ropes, and Boston's Jeff Suppan stirring in the bullpen. Lowe escaped with no further damage on two ground balls.
Meanwhile, Pettitte was settling in, allowing no hits from the second Kapler doubleplay with two on and no outs in the fifth until a two-out single to left by Nomar Garciaparra, hitting a ball out of the bucket the other way. From the Jackson RBI single with no outs in the second until the Varitek home run in the sixth (that Pettitte left too far over the plate) Pettitte pitched four and two-thirds innings and allowed just one hit and one walk while recording three strikeouts.
The game reached a sort of stasis in the middle innings. The Yankees did score on a Posada double followed by a Matsui single to right. However, Matsui got caught in a rundown after rounding first that ended the inning (and I disagree with McCarver that Matsui traded a run for an out: the Red Sox fell behind 4-1 on the play so if the throw was on time to get Posada at the plate, I doubt Millar would have cut it off to get Matsui). The Yankees then went down on six pitches in the sixth.
After Varitek's home run, the Yanks sprinted to an end that would have made Seabiscuit proud. Jose Contreras came in and pitched a perfect inning and a third. It seems that Contreras might be the setup man that the Yankees were looking for all season. Mariano Rivera then pitched the ninth to seal the victory.
Meanwhile the Yankee bats awoke to score two in the seventh finally knocking Derek Lowe out in the process. As the Yankee bullpen was quelling the Red Sox bats, the Red Sox pen went back to its old ways with Scott Sauerbeck allowing two inherited runners to score on a double and a walk in one-third inning of work.
As the Yankees strode with confident insouciance after the victory, they looked like the dynastic Yankees of, say , 1998. They had timely hitting, competent defense, good starting pitching, and a bullpen that shut the door. The Red Sox were the ones making misplays in the field (the costly Jackson error and a passed ball in the seventh that allowed Posada to get to third) and whose bullpen collapsed.
But it was one night. Meanwhile, the Yankees offense still has many holes. Aaron Boone and Alfonso Soriano are swinging at everything and anything. Soriano was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts including one in the fourth in which Soriano took two called pitched right down Broadway and then struck out on a slider purposely way outside. Boone had three unproductive at-bats and was rescued in another by a hit-by-a-pitch. Boone looked so silly striking out in the eighth that I felt bad for his brother sitting in the broadcast booth. Nick Johnson seemed to settle back into the stupor of his slump after the home run, leaving five men on base thereby ending two rallies—the Yanks had the bases loaded in the third and men at the corners in the seventh with Johnson up and he grounded out both times.
So have the Yankees hit their stride and finally playing like the team of old? The Yankees and Red Sox will have at least three more games to make that determination. Pedro versus Rocket at Fenway Saturday will be a great way to start.
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