There are losses, and then there are bad losses. The former are a natural part of any 162-game season, an inconvenient truth overshadowed by the (hopefully) larger number of wins in any given year. The latter are dispiriting, hard to put behind you and leave a bad taste in your mouth. They linger like a bad hangover, often carrying over into the next day or series and putting the brakes on a hot streak.
There will be much more on the Yankees’ disturbing trend of bad losses this season in a subsequent post. For now, suffice it to say Sunday’s 5-4 defeat in 12 innings to the Athletics was a bad loss.
The Yankees needed a win Sunday to avoid a sweep at the hands of the suddenly resurgent A’s, who were 13-2 in July heading into the game. The Bombers hadn’t been swept since 2003 in a four-game series, and they were poised to have that streak continue with C.C. Sabathia on the hill. Through four innings, everything was going by the book: C.C. shutting down the Oakland lineup, the Yankees teeing off on Bartolo “Gluteus” Colon for four early runs.
But as the game wore on, Oakland displayed a stubborn refusal to quit reminiscent of the Johnny Damon/Jason Giambi/Miggy Tejada A’s teams of the early 2000s. Two solo home runs off C.C. in the fifth cut the Yankee lead to 4-2, and in the sixth, utility IF/OF Jayson Nix showed just how limited he is at shortstop. Nix had muffed a routine ground ball in the fifth that didn’t cost the Yanks a run — in the sixth, however, he bobbled a tailor-made double-play ball with runners on first and third and one out. Because of Nix’s double clutch, Brandon Inge beat the throw to first and allowed a run to score. Nix has proven to be a strong right-handed bat, but his shoddy fielding actually makes me yearn for the halcyon days of Eduardo Nunez.
Unforced errors like Nix’s muff invariably come back to bite you in baseball, and sure enough Rafael Soriano allowed a game-tying home run by Oakland’s Seth Smith in the ninth inning. Without Nix’s mistake that home run only changes the outcome for gamblers; instead, the game headed to extras tied at 4.
The Yankees have shaken off similar collapses this year, such as their 14-inning win in Washington on June 16 after blowing a late lead. But a lackluster finish by The Captain ensured there would be no such luck this time. With two on and two out in the tenth, Derek Jeter struck 0ut to end the threat. Two innings later, Oakland catcher Derek Norris smashed a one-out ground ball at Jeter that “ate him up”, as a veteran sportswriter might say, bounding past him into left field. The play was scored a hit, but only the most ardent Jeter apologist would say it wasn’t a costly unforced error (and an actual error to boot). Two batters later, the game was over, as Norris came around to score on a single by Coco Crisp, of all people.
Despite the sweep, the Yankees are still six games up in the AL East on hard-charging Baltimore, which has won its last five games. But they limp into the second part of their West Coast road trip — a three-game set at Seattle — in desperate need of a momentum shift. Sunday’s come-from-ahead defeat is one bad loss the Bombers can’t afford to let linger.