Sunday, August 17, 2008

Needed win a great relief

The Yanks have sputtered recklessly close to the point of no return in 2008, and heading into the bottom of the seventh on Saturday, you could have sworn you were watching a funeral at baseball's grand cathedral.

The Yankees had, after all, done everything in their power to fall in the opener against the lowly Royals on Friday, an inexcusable loss that featured a ninth inning that perfectly symbolized the infuriating nature of their season. That Joe Girardi didn't walk to the opposite end of the dugout to rip out Justin Christian's heart was a welcome surprise for me.

But now it was the seventh inning on Saturday, Zack Greinke cruising against the Yankees for the first time in his star-crossed career. If they were unable to come back from a 2-0 deficit, a back-breaking seventh loss in eight games was staring the Bombers right in the eyes. Somebody had to do something.

The Royals -- as bad teams are wont to do -- lent a hand. Alex Gordon booted a groundball off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, and A-Rod came around to score on a two-out triple by Robinson Cano. (remember him?) Greinke then uncorked a wild pitch to tie the game.

The bullpen then put the team on its back, finishing with 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball to pick up the slack for a brutal Yankees offense that provided another agonizing performance (3-for-16 RISP, 13 Ks, three GIDPs). Brett Gardner won the game in the 13th inning with a slap single, but the real stars of the game -- Bruney, Veras, Ramirez, Rivera and Robertson -- cannot be overlooked.

So what did we learn on Saturday? The Yankees still cannot hit, a fact that I don't see changing from now until the end of the season. Much has been made of the Yanks' inability to drive runners in from scoring position with less than two outs, and this is definitely not a question of perception differing from reality. The Yankees are on a pace to score nearly 200 runs (!!!!!) less than last season. The will likely score the fewest runs in a full season since 1992. Me thinks big changes are on the horizon.

Joba threw again on Saturday, this time 28 tosses from 65 feet with no ill-effects. My gut feeling is hoss has thrown his last pitch of '08. Unless, of course, the Yankees can close out this month with a bang that gives the organization some hope the season isn't lost. A smart move is a wait-and-see approach leading to Sept. 1. If the Yanks are playing well and are within shouting distance of the Wild Card, Joba should return if he is up for it. That said, expecting this clueless (incapable?) unit to realize the enormity of the moment is taking a huge leap of faith.

The Yankees need Sunday's finale in the worst way. They haven't won a series in their last five tries. There is literally no more slack on the rope here. They picked up a game on both the Rays and Red Sox on Saturday, which is a good start. The Rays are too far gone at this point, up 9.5 games with39 left to play. But the Sox margin is 6.5 games, with six games still remaining between the two rivals. If the Yanks could carve the deficit to three games by September, there is hope.

This is a deep hole, but it's not an insurmountable one. It's time to start clawing.

Around The Horn: Gardner's game-winner in the 13th was his third hit of the day, the first three-hit game of his young career. He is now batting .176 on the season. ... Saturday's game took four hours and 53 minutes to complete. A low-scoring finale could be on its way. ... Damaso Marte was the only member of the 'pen left out of the glory parade, walking the only batter he faced in the seventh inning. Though mostly overlooked, his struggles in pinstripes have really hurt the Yankees during this dry spell. ... A more visible goat has been A-Rod, who took the collar with an 0-for-5 showing Saturday. You can begin carrying your fading team anytime now Mr. MVP. ... The coverage of Mariano Rivera's "struggles" in tie games has been a bit odd. First off, his ERA is still below 3.00 in those situations, which is excellent. Secondly, nobody seems to say boo on days like Saturday when he fires two scoreless innings in a 2-2 game. I suppose it's all because he's created such monumental expectations, and that can't be a bad thing. ... Mike Mussina goes for his 16th win on Sunday. The Yankees are 5-1 in Mussina's past six starts. The Stanford man is 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA over that span. A win would give Mussina 16 wins for the first time since 2003. He finished that year 17-8 for the American League champions. Ah, the good ol' days.

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