A nostalgic recap of a similarly muggy summer day to begin…
The most memorable regular-season Yankee game of my life took place on August 8, 2000. The Yankees played a relatively unmemorable game against Oakland for eight and a half innings and trailed 3-2 headed into the bottom of the ninth. On came A’s closer Jason Isringhausen, and up came Bernie Williams. Bernie deposited the first pitch of the at-bat into the right-field seats, and the game was tied. The roars from the Yankee crowd drowned out the introduction of the next hitter, David Justice, who took a mighty hack at a first-pitch fastball from Isringhausen as we were still finishing our high-fives in our section. I don’t remember seeing Justice make contact with the ball, but I remember picking it up as it sailed into right-center field and thinking: Holy shit… that ball’s GONE!!!! And so it was — game over, Yankees win 4-3. Two pitches, one a game-tying home run, one a walkoff. Isringhausen stumbled back to his dugout, looking like he’d been kneecapped. The crowd went ballistic, and we stayed in our seats deliriously singing “New York, New York” long after Justice touched home plate.
Why do I bring this up? Because though the game was a memorable win for the Yankees, it was also most certainly a Bad Loss for the A’s.
What, exactly, is a Bad Loss? Let’s start by explaining what a BL is not. A BL is not when your team is on the short end of a 22-0 score or the unwilling foil for a perfect game or four-home run performance. It is not a blowout defeat or a miraculous comeback falling just short. A BL is a loss that should have been a win but for deficient baseball, either by the players or the manager, or both — a loss that leaves you dumbfounded and disgusted, with a bad taste in your mouth guaranteed to last more than a couple hours.
By way of example, the Astros’ 10-0 loss to the Giants earlier this year, when Matt Cain threw his perfect game, is a bad loss but not a Bad Loss. The Nationals 11-10 defeat to the Braves on Saturday, when they blew a 9-0 lead with Stephen Strasburg on the mound? That’s a Bad Loss.
The critical part of a Bad Loss is an abject failure of execution. Sometime it’s an error at the worst time, sometimes it’s a manager playing what appears to be Hungry Hungry Hippos with his bullpen moves. Either way, the loss can linger for days, weeks or even an entire season. I still remember the Yanks’ 3-2 loss to Seattle on Sept. 18, 2009, when Mariano Rivera got the first two outs in the ninth holding a 2-1 lead. Then Mike Sweeney doubled, and Girardi — then in his first year as Yankee manager — had Rivera pitch to Ichiro Suzuki with a base open. Home run, game over, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory just like that. Ugh.
So yeah, Bad Losses are an unfortunate byproduct of a 162-game season. But not even 100 games into this season, the Yankees already have six BLs, by my count. Six! By arguably the best team in baseball! And the first one came right on Opening Day…
April 6: Rays 7, Yankees 6
What happened: After the Yanks fell behind 4-0 in the first inning (a grand slam by Carlos Pena off C.C., not a good omen) they stormed back to take a 6-5 lead into the ninth. Rivera’s line: single, triple, intentional walk, intentional walk, strikeout, walkoff single.
It’s a Bad Loss because… of the timing. Normally a rote blown save would not be BL material. But on Opening Day against a division rival, after clawing back from a four-run deficit? That left a sour taste that continued throughout the season-opening series, which the Rays swept.
May 3: Royals 4, Yankees 3
What happened: With the Yankees down 4-3 in the seventh, Cano grounded out with runners on first and second and two outs. In the eighth, the Yankees got two hits but couldn’t get a runner to second base, thanks to Eduardo Nunez’s caught stealing. In the ninth — still trailing 4-3 — the Yanks got two men on with none out before Mark Teixeira grounded into a double play and A-Rod grounded out to end the game with the tying run on third.
It’s a Bad Loss because… how many chances do you need??? This game encapsulates the Yankees’ appalling performance with RISP this season. They went 1-9 in this game and squandered multiple opportunities late against the not-so-vaunted Kansas City bullpen. Oh, and Mo tore his ACL before the game shagging flies. Great night!
May 28: Angels 9, Yankees 8
What happened: I’m not even sure. After half an inning, the Yankees were up 3-0 and Angels starter Jared Weaver had left the game with a back injury. Game over, right? WRONG. Phil Hughes gave up four runs in the bottom of the first and seven overall. The Yankees rallied to tie the game 8-8, but in the bottom of the ninth Mark Trumbo took Cory Wade deep to end the game. In a related story, Cory Wade is no longer a viable member of the New York bullpen.
It’s a Bad Loss because… the Yankees let the Angels off the ropes. The top of the first for L.A. was a Micky Ward body shot — the Angels were kneeling on the canvas in agony, ready to be dispatched. Instead, Hughes and the Yanks let them up off the mat and proceeded to lose a game they had no business losing. A very bad loss became a Bad Loss when after all that, after the Bombers gamely rallied, Cory Wade throws the most important pitch of the night and it ends up in the left field stands. Now that’s a kidney shot.
June 2: Tigers 4, Yankees 3
What happened: Cory Wade happened, for the second time in five days. The Yankees tied the game 2-2 in the top of the eighth with a rare clutch two-out hit by Nick Swisher. In the bottom of the inning, Wade gave up a home run to Miguel Cabrera that might still be going. Ended up 444 feet out in dead center, 3-2 Tigers. The Yanks rallied back again in the ninth to tie it 3-3 on a bases-loaded walk with two outs but couldn’t take the lead. Girardi was forced to turn to David Phelps in the last of the ninth, and he and Boone Logan combined to give up three hits and one game-winning run.
It’s a Bad Loss because… everything pointed to an uplifting comeback win. Like a poor man’s version of the Cardinals in Game 6 of last year’s World Series, the Yankees tied the game twice with two outs in the late innings. After Teixeira walked to tie the game, Raul Ibanez got a second life when Detroit catcher Omir Santos dropped a foul popup. Karma… until Ibanez grounded to first. Inning over, and pretty soon, game over.
June 28: White Sox 4, Yankees 3.
What happened: I nearly got into fight with a 300-lb. moron in a Swisher jersey who wouldn’t shut up, sit down or do anything remotely resembling sentinent or intelligent. The Yankees took a 3-1 lead into the ninth, a hard-fought win on the horizon. But Cody Eppley gave up a leadoff single, so Girardi brought in Clay Rapada, aka Boone Logan 0.5. Rapada induced a weak ground ball back to him, tossed the ball to second to start a 1-6-3 double play, and OH MY GOD HE THREW IT INTO LEFT FIELD. Girardi bolted out of the dugout to remove Rapada, and David Robertson came in just to time to serve up a three-run homer ball to Dayan Viciedo.
It’s a Bad Loss because… of the most abject failure of execution I’ve seen all year. Rapada didn’t have to make the perfect pitch — he had already done that. All he had to do was shovel the ball over to second base and the game would have been all but over. I had a hard time leaving the Stadium after that one, and not just because the Swisher-jersey guy had promised to meet me outside.
July 23: Athletics 5, Yankees 4 (12 innings)
What happened: Trying to avoid their first four-game sweep in nearly a decade, the Yankees sent C.C. to the hill against Bartolo “Gluteus” Colon, a surefire recipe for a win if there ever was one. The Yanks jumped out to a 4-0 lead but saw it slip away one agonizing run at a time. The third run scored because Jayson Nix muffed a routine double-play ball; the fourth scored when Rafael Soriano allowed a ninth-inning, game-tying HR to Seth Smith, off all people. The Yankee offense disappeared, and the A’s walked off in the 12th.
It’s a Bad Loss because… of everything in the previous paragraph. As I wrote after the game:
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.
And that brings us full circle. The Yanks will cruise to a playoff berth despite the Bad Losses, to be sure. But Bad Losses have killed the Yankees in the playoffs the last two years (read the recaps of Game 4 of the 2010 ALCS and Games 3 and 5 of the 2011 ALDS if you’re skeptical). Bad Losses are simply blog fodder in the regular season — in the playoffs, they’re fatal.