Yankees escape with victory when it looked least likely
NEW YORK -- The primary, most formal and regal entrance to Yankee Stadium -- Gate 4 -- is adjacent to the intersection of 161st Street and Macombs Dam Bridge Road. As of Wednesday evening and until further notice, that intersection carries an alternate identity. The coordinates are "Uh" and "Oh," because the Yankees are scuffling.
They're not hitting. They're kicking the baseball around as if it's an escapee from a hacky-sack tournament. They haven't distinguished themselves in any phase of the game. And their season already is two games old. So as the Nutty Squirrels sang in their monster hit of 1959, "Uh! Oh!"
Those sounds may warrant frequent repeating this season. The Nutty Squirrels wore it out in their otherwise wordless recording.
In another Yankees season, one that began with greater expectations, two unbecoming performances would be fodder for no one other than the late, intolerant owner most responsible for the stadium's change of address six years ago and, of course, the Apple's drive-time alarmists whose job it is to incite, excite, recite and cite all that is stinky in the sports arenas in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and midtown Manhattan.
But this season began with expectations for mediocrity, so two poor performances merely feed the fire and ...
We interrupt this premature April eulogy to bring you breaking news: The Yankees won Wednesday night.
In spite of themselves and abominable conditions, and because of a preposterous rally in the eighth inning that probably would have violated the Branch Rickey Lemon Law, they defeated the Blue Jays. As Ray Ratto, the gifted San Francisco columnist, once wrote --- "in a game marred by players," the Yanks combined poor swings, a bloop double that should have been caught, a modest infield hit, two hit batsmen, a wild pitch and a Jays error to score three times in their final turn at bat and won.
The 4-3 victory was as grotesque as it was hard to fathom, as if Joe Girardi and his minions had adopted the ways of Tony La Russa's 1983 White Sox, who earned a division championship by "winning ugly." This one had enough ugly in it to fuel a doubleheader sweep.
The Yankees winning was another indication of why, even at this level, the best teams lose 60 times in a season. The Yanks had no right winning this one, but as bumper stickers and T-shirts tell us, "It happens." It happened repeatedly in the eighth, so the Yankees escaped and the Blue Jays lost their unbeaten status after one game. Toronto hadn't planned on 162-0. But as late as the top of the eighth Wednesday, 2-0 seemed quite feasible.
"Maybe it's the ballpark, Yankee Stadium," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
Gibbons was rather cheery, probably cheerier than he would have been if his team had lost in a more conventional way.
"You have to laugh in this game," Gibbons said. "And tonight, you really had to laugh."
The tone was established in the fifth inning, when, with a runner on first base, Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes hit a chop that bounced high, off and over the raised glove of Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. It eluded second baseman Stephen Drew as well, though he too got what the NBA would call a touch. Drew retrieved the ball and threw to third, hoping to put out lead runner Devon Travis. Drew's throw glanced off the glove of third baseman Chase Headley as if it were big league pinball. Toronto scored its second run a moment later on a sacrifice fly by Russell Martin.
That rally qualified as a quasi-conventional baseball sequence compared with what occurred in the eighth. The game had few others. What else could have been expected with R.A. Dickey throwing knuckleballs -- and more changeups than usual -- with crosswinds blowing a chilled mist into the faces of players and fans alike?
The Jays have adjusted their rotation so that Dickey is in position to make a higher percentage of his early starts in his home dome. Without even a semblance of climate control Wednesday, he worked effectively for 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven baserunners and one run.
Dickey's counterpart, Michael Pineda, whom Dickey identifies with feigned disdain as "one of those conventional pitchers," withstood the chill as well. Pineda allowed seven runners and two runs in six innings.
Toronto led, 3-1, after scoring once -- the run was unearned -- in the eighth. And maybe that was it; the Yanks' defense had left a residue of poor play on the diamond, and the Blue Jays were affected by it. Their undoing in the bottom of the inning nearly defied words.
"A little fortuitous" are the words Headley chose.
It was Headley's pinball single -- off the glove of Brett Cecil, past shortstop Reyes and onto the outfield grass -- that provided the decisive run and prompted Gibbons to say wistfully, "You're going to have games like that."
But it was Chris Young's pinch-hit bloop double near the right-field line and three Jays defenders to start the eighth that more perplexed Gibbons. It's the one that would make sleeping a challenge.
"If I'm awakened at 3:20 a.m.," he said, "I hope it's my wife."
And it was Girardi who said, "You need nights like that."
We now return to our regularly scheduled programming already underway.
If the Yankees need a night like that to get right, they're in trouble. Say "Uh-oh."