This one hurts.
This was the Yankees responding. This was their season-turning moment, a nearly exact replica of Game 1 of the 2010 ALCS. This was clutch hitting, hitting with two outs, hitting with runners in scoring position and two outs. This was a chance to beat back a pursuer who had calmly, methodically ground down a 10-game Yankee lead to nothing in six awful weeks. This was the win that turned back the tide. For about five minutes.
Tasked with backing up the Yanks’ five-run outburst in the eighth inning yesterday, the bullpen… there is no transitive verb to describe what the bullpen did. David Robertson and Boone Logan faced four batters, got no outs, allowed three home runs and turned a 6-6 classic-comeback-in-the-making into a nightmarish 10-6 loss that will be hard to shake off. The fourth pitch of the inning was a titanic home run to left field by Adam Jones on a flat, middle-of-the-zone fastball by Robertson, who has been abysmal down the stretch and bears little if any resemblance to the lights-out setup man of 2011. Two batters later, Mark Reynolds lofted a two-run shot to effectively put the nail in the Yankees’ coffin, and Russell Martin fell to his knees. The image may not prove to be the symbolic moment of the Megacollapse of 2012, but if it is such a moment, it’s a damn good one.
The Bombers dug deep, deeper than they have all season, to come back in this game. David Phelps, charged with protecting a one-game division lead, in September, in front of a rabid, hostile crowd in Baltimore, was predictably inept, allowing four runs in the first inning, three on a home run by Matt Wieters (who? I know). You knew it would be a bad night when Phelps balked four batters into the game — it was basically a neon sign flashing “I’M TERRIFIED OUT HERE”. Phelps’ next two pitches: Jones single, Wieters home run.
Phelps lasted four innings and allowed five runs, while Orioles starter Jason Hammel limited the Yanks to one run in five innings. The game moved decisively to the top of the eighth, and the Yankees quickly had two outs and one on. The Orioles were moving forward and the Yankees were sliding back, a sick refrain from the last two months. Only this time, it was head-to-head and the Yankees were rolling over.
And then it came all at once. With Nick Swisher on first, A-Rod laced a double into left center field to make it 6-2. A walk to Eric Chavez brought Buck Showalter to the mound, and in came setup man Pedro Strop. Curtis Granderson singled to center; 6-3. The runners moved up on a passed ball, and Strop lost Martin on a 3-2 count. Now fatally rattled, Strop walked Chris Dickerson on fourth pitches; 6-4. And with the tying run on second and two outs, Ichiro came through.
Tie game, and the crowd was silent. At this point, the Orioles were ready to be cooked. But Showalter brought in Darren O’Day, who got Derek Jeter to pop out to end the inning. With the heart of the Yankee lineup set to bat in the ninth, Robertson had a single task: Don’t allow a run. But he did, and then two more, and then Boone Logan came on and gave up a home run on his first pitch to Chris Davis, and that was it.
Robertson, untouchable virtually all summer, has now failed in his two out of his last three outings — he also allowed the losing run in the Yanks’ 4-3 loss to the Rays on Monday. The Yankees continue to lose close games, and down the stretch close games will be the difference between a relieved playoff participant and the biggest regular-season choke in team history. The Orioles? They’re piling up hard-fought, close wins. The Yankees and Orioles have the same record, but by the most effective long-term predictor of winning percentage — run differential — the Yanks should be miles ahead.
YANKEES: 654 runs scored, 573 runs allowed (+81)
ORIOLES: 595 RS, 612 RA (-17)
The Yankees are +98 in run differential, +/-0 in won-loss record. That big a disparity suggests a hearty amount of luck, clutch performances late in games by Oriole hitting and pitching, and a malaise in the Bronx. Injuries, age, and an over-reliance on the longball have taken their toll on the Yankees. Like the 1978 Red Sox, they have not collapsed so much as run out of gas in the 23rd mile of a marathon and fallen victim to a finishing kick. They have no Mariano Rivera at the end of games, no Brett Gardner to steal bases and turn over the lineup, no Michael Pineda to provide depth to the rotation. C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A-Rod and Mark Teixeira have all spent significant time on the DL. And the Yankees as a team have been somewhere between mediocre and poor since the All-Star Break, a failure that rest squarely on the shoulders of the players (particularly Robinson Cano, more on him tomorrow) and manager Joe Girardi. Only Derek Jeter has been thriving recently, and his remarkable summer alone has not been enough.
The Yankees made a valiant effort tonight. But as Herman Edwards once said: “You PLAY, to WIN, the GAME.” The Bombers have not won two games in a row since August 15. They play three more times in Baltimore this weekend and really, really need to win at least two. 25 games to go everyone. Hit the reset button.