Four games left in the season and the Yankees are officially eliminated from the postseason, thanks to tonight’s loss to the Rays and the Indians win over their opponent. Something I think many people saw coming this month. I said it yesterday: the Yankees aren’t playing October baseball this month. I should clarify this for a few people — when you play baseball in the later part of the regular season, you should be gearing up to play at the highest level of excellence, often reserved for the postseason in October; and two weeks out from the postseason, any team with a shot at the postseason should be playing October baseball.
There is one part of the team that is playing October baseball — the defense. It certainly isn’t the offense or the pitching. The Yankees handed the ball to Phil Hughes to begin tonight’s game, and that was kind of part of the problem tonight. Hughes pitched 2 solid innings and 4 batters in the 3rd, allowing 7 hits, 2 walks, 3 runs, and 2 strikeouts. Back-to-back doubles in the 1st inning scored the first Tampa Bay run and an RBI single plated another runner in the 3rd, and his 3rd earned run came when a runner, on with a single scored on a sacrifice fly under Hughes’ replacement, David Huff. Huff entered the game in the 3rd with no outs and bases loaded, which scored that run from a Hughes’ batter. He grabbed the final 2 outs of the inning, keeping the runners from scoring more.
In the 6th, with 2 runners on base and 2 outs, Huff gave up a 3-run home run and then a solo home run on the very next batter. Daley got the final out for the Yankees, and the Rays had 7 runs on the board after 6 innings. It wasn’t pretty. Cabral threw a scoreless 7th inning, and Robertson worked his magic in the 8th, going 1-2-3. And Preston Claiborne in the 9th promptly allows an additional run via a leadoff solo home run.
Offensively, the Yankees looked alive in the beginning when Eduardo Nunez and Robinson Cano each hit doubles, scoring a run to tie up the game in the 1st. And down 3-1 in the 3rd, Nunez hits a leadoff solo home run to put the score at 3-2 Rays. Into the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees attempt a late game rally. Suzuki and Cano singles, and Wells walks to load the bases, with 2 outs. Overbay then works a walk, and the Rays allow Suzuki to walk home. The score is 7-3 Rays and ends up 8-3 by the end of the game.
A tough loss for a lot of reasons, as you can imagine. And despite what some analysts said, the pitching wasn’t as great as it should be on either side of the field. Phenomenal pitching can take a weaker offensive team and make it extraordinary, especially in the postseason. And October baseball winners are those teams that have that amazing pitching staff plus the sparking bats plus the lightning defense.
Tonight, that last category belonged to the Yankees, and a good portion of that to Eduardo Nunez. In the 5th inning, in what can only be described as one of the best plays I’ve seen a 3rd baseman make all season, Nunez grabs a deflected ball in the shallow infield and fires it to 1st base for the out; a play usually pulled off by players much more seasoned that him. That kind of defensive action (plus his offensive contribution today) could really solidify Nunez’s role in the future of the Yankees roster, and personally, I think he’s a really great 3rd baseman. Then Brendan Ryan got in on the defensive action with a giant running leap to save a run from scoring in the 5th inning. And in the 7th inning, the infield worked a great double play as Cano to Ryan to Reynolds (4-6-3).
Prior to tonight’s game, the Yankees honored Andy Pettitte with a special ceremony. Long-time teammates and Core Four members Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter presented Pettitte with a framed base from the last day Pettitte pitched at the stadium (Sunday). Everyone on the team signed the base for Pettitte to remember all the great times and great teams he had at Yankee Stadium. The base itself had Rivera’s Day logo on it and featured side plates with the date and “Mariano Rivera Day”.
Steiner Sports also presented Jeter and his “Jeter’s Leaders” with a check for $250,000 to Jeter’s foundation, the Turn 2 Foundation, for the partnership they have with them. Recently, they partnered in fundraisers with Steiner hosting online auctions for signed sports memorabilia, with all the funds going to Turn 2. Turn 2 is a leadership initiative that develops teenagers into leaders in their community and helps with programs in several major cities to encourage kids to lead healthy lifestyles through sports.
Yes, today was tough with the loss and the elimination from the postseason, but there are still four games to play. The season isn’t over yet, and there is still work to be done. No matter what, you can count on the Yankees making every effort they can to win games that technically won’t count for anything but morale. Because that’s who they are. A win, even one that “doesn’t count”, is still a win. And winning is always the goal.
So here’s to wrapping up the season with some wins…