For the second game a row, the Yankees jumped out to a big lead, squandered it and then rallied off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth. This time, however, the rally came up short and the Yankees took their turn suffering a crushing defeat.
The reason the Yankees had the lead was because C.C. Sabathia was able to persevere through a lack of early command and adverse weather conditions, while Red Sox starter Josh Beckett was not. In between kicking at the mound and scowling at Yankee batters who stepped out between pitches, Beckett served up five runs in 4 2/3 innings, albeit with the help of more shoddy infield defense.
Even Beckett’s exit from the game was eventful. After Robinson Cano’s two-run double extended the Yankee lead to 5-1, Beckett was removed with what was later called discomfort in his back. At the time, however, it sure looked like the real cause was ineffectiveness. Despite the lack of an apparent injury, Manny Delcarmen was allowed an unlimited number of warm-up pitches, which prompted Joe Girardi to play the game under protest. At the time, it looked as if the protest would be a moot point, but that was before Joba Chamberlain entered the game.
Earlier in the season, Girardi definitively named Chamberlain as his “eighth inning” guy, but the Yankees’ inconsistent righty hasn’t exactly provided a safe bridge to Mariano Rivera. Chamberlain’s biggest problem has been is inability or unwillingness to throw strikes. That tentativeness was on display to the first batter in the eighth. Despite having a 5-1 lead, Chamberlain seemed unwilling to challenge Marco Scutaro until the count reached 3-2. Scutaro wound up reaching first base on a throwing error by Arod, which only seemed to make Joba shy away even more from the strike zone. What followed next was a barrage of hits. Pedroia singled, Drew doubled and then Youkilis singled to narrow the deficit to 5-4. Then, after Youkilis moved to second base on a ground out, Girardi committed the first of his several blunders. Instead of walking the suddenly resurgent David Ortiz to pitch to the righty Adrian Beltre, Girardi seemingly instructed Chamberlain to pitch around the big lefty. Unfortunately, that’s not quite what happened. Once the count reached 3-2, Chamberlain finally picked a spot to be aggressive. The only problem was Ortiz was aggressive too, and sent a long drive that just missed going over the right centerfield wall. Luckily for the Yankees, the ball bounced right to Brett Gardner and Big Papi spent too much time admiring his blast, a confluence of events that resulted in Ortiz being thrown out at second base.
The Yankees had a chance to untie the game in the bottom of the 8th, but Daniel Bard induced a harmless fly from Mark Teixeira with two outs and runners on first and second. So, with the game knotted at 5-5, it was time to enter Sandman. After Darnell McDonald lined a one-out single off Rivera, Scutaro then lofted a harmless pop up to right field. Harmless, that is, for a normal right fielder. The Yankees, however, had Marcus Thames playing the position. Even though Nick Swisher announced himself ready to play before the game, Girardi still saw fit to leave the defensively challenged DH in the game. So, when Thames dropped the Scutaro pop, it was hard to blame him as much as the manager who left him in a situation to fail. That error would eventually come home to roost when Jeremy Hermida lined a double over the head of Randy Winn, who was playing so shallow that it seemed as if he thought the Green Monster was standing behind him.
Even in spite of all the poor plays and poor managing, the Yankees still had a chance to win the game. After Alex Rodriguez reached on an error by Scutaro and Cano doubled down the third base line, it looked as if it would be déjà vu for Papelbon, who was seeking to erase the memory of his prior blown save. At that point, however, Girardi once again intervened with the curious strategy of bunting Francisco Cervelli, who entered the game batting .786 with runners in scoring position. Perhaps, if Posada or Swisher were going to be used a pinch hitter, you could make a case for the bunt, but without either apparently being available, the decision to give away an out was pure folly.
Still, things wouldn’t end easily for Papelbon, who really struggled with his fastball command. He wound up walking Thames, who gave way to Ramiro Pena as a pinch runner. Then, with Pena running on a 1-1 count, Juan Miranda hit a hard ground ball up the middle that Papelbon snagged. The ground ball took Papelbon off the mound, and his first instinct was to look toward second before turning back to home. With that delay, Robinson Cano would have had a good chance to score the tying run, but instead of taking the chance, he retreated to third base. With two outs, the Yankees now needed a base hit from Randy Winn, but a second straight walk off was not meant to be. Winn did battle Papelbon to a 3-2 count, but he eventually struck out on a fastball just out of the zone.
As glorious as last night’s win was, this game was equally demoralizing. Even had the Yankees overcome another deficit, the glaring weakness in the bullpen would still be there, especially now that Chamberlain and Rivera have been added to the mix of relievers struggling to do their jobs. Between a weak bullpen, a depleted lineup and confused manager, the Yankees have started to scuffle. Normally, a 4-6 stretch wouldn’t be such a big deal, but with the Rays winning every day, the Yankees now run the risk of falling off the pace. The Yankees will get a first hand look at who they are chasing over the next two days, but if they keep playing the same way, the Rays may soon be out of sight.