Posted by: Mike Cornelius | May 22, 2011

With One Big Inning, The Yankees Make Willie Keeler Proud

The rules say that they play nine innings, but sometimes it only takes one to decide a game; and sometimes that one unfolds in an unexpected way. On a dank and cool Sunday afternoon at The Stadium, the Yankees and Mets squared off for the rubber game of a three game set marking the start of interleague play. The Mets took the opener 2-1 on Friday night when knuckleballer R.A. Dickey stymied the Yankee hitters, allowing just four hits over six innings. Saturday night the Bronx Bombers did a far better job of living up to their nickname, smashing four homers off shell-shocked Mets’ starter Chris Capuano. Starter A.J. Burnett was the beneficiary of his teammates’ power display as he picked up his fifth win of the year by a final score of 7-3.

On Sunday a low gray sky hung over The Stadium and the thermometer struggled to get out of the 50’s as Derek Jeter led the lads in pinstripes onto the field and 24-year old Ivan Nova strode to the mound for his tenth start of the season. The young right hander was masterful in the first, setting the Mets down in order and finishing with a flourish by freezing Carlos Beltran with a called third strike. In the bottom of the inning Curtis Granderson turned on an offering from Mets starter Mike Pelfrey and drove the ball deep into the right field grandstand for a 1-0 lead. It seemed like a fine beginning, but little did we in the stands know that there would be little more to cheer about for the next two hours.

The lead did not survive the top of the second inning. The dominant Nova of the opening frame was gone, replaced by a young hurler struggling to get outs. The first two batters singled, and both moved up when Justin Turner hit a slow roller between the mound and first base. Nova’s only play was to first on what amounted to a swinging sacrifice bunt. Each of the next three hitters then drove in a run, as two RBI singles were sandwiched around another grounder to Nova that the pitcher bobbled. The momentary miscue eliminated the possibility of an inning-ending double play, and by the time Jose Reyes finally made the third out, the Mets were on top 3-1.

As they had on Friday night, the Yankees’ bats again went largely silent. From the second through the sixth inning, only once did the home team put a runner in scoring position. Despite the urgent pleas of thousands, that would-be rally was snuffed out when Granderson grounded out to end the inning, stranding a teammate ninety feet from home.

The Mets on the other hand seemed to threaten in every frame. From the third through the top of the seventh the visitors collected seven more hits as well as a walk. Only in the fifth did they go down in order, while in each of the other innings they had a man at second, just a sharp single from adding to their lead. But while Nova struggled, he ultimately refused to yield; and helped by a pair of double plays he kept the Mets off the scoreboard. When Beltran hit a two-out double to right center in the top of the seventh, Joe Girardi knew it was time to go to his bullpen. Reliever Luis Ayala ended the threat on two pitches, getting Jason Bay to fly to center. As we rose from our seats for the seventh inning stretch and the traditional playing of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” followed by a “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sing-along, the score remained frozen as it had been since the top of the second: Mets 3, Yankees 1.

Nine innings mean nine opportunities to hope, nine chances to invest one’s heroes with the belief that this will be their moment. Often of course, hope and belief turn to disappointment; but all of us in attendance knew the power of the Yankees lineup. For all that the visitors had threatened, they had not added to their lead. Surely if the home team could just get a base runner or two, then the sporting gods would smile on us and one of our idols would smash a pitch over the fence.

Sometimes though, even for the Yankees, the game is not about power. Just as a single frame can change a game, a big inning can sometimes be made by following Willie Keeler’s ancient advice to “hit em where they ain’t.” Keeler wore a New York Highlanders uniform for seven seasons of his nineteen year career. In the bottom of the seventh, his successors in pinstripes followed his advice.

Leading off, Brett Gardner ground a single up the middle. Chris Dickerson waited out a walk. When Pelfrey hit Francisco Cervelli on the shoulder, the bases were loaded for the Captain, and The Stadium was awash in noise. A few moments later, it somehow got louder. Jeter hit a ground ball up the middle. Pelfrey tried to stab it but missed. Shortstop Reyes dove to his left for it but missed as well, and the ball was into center field for a two run single, knotting the score at 3-3.

Now it was the Mets turn to look to their bullpen, as Ted Byrdak became the first of three relievers who would jog in from center field before the inning was over. Granderson greeted Byrdak with a perfect sacrifice bunt down the third base line, advancing Cervelli to third and Jeter to second. Mark Teixeira was intentionally walked to load the bases. With the Mets hoping for a double play and we in the stands hoping for a bases clearing blast, Alex Rodriguez stepped into the batters’ box. The slugger took a mighty swing, and the ball bounced slowly across the infield grass, traveling perhaps half of the ninety feet to third base, coming to rest in a no-man’s land where no Met could reach it before A-Rod had crossed first and Cervelli had scampered home with the go-ahead run.

Robinson Cano followed with the one clean hit of the inning, a line single to right which plated Jeter. One out later Gardner came to the plate for the second time in the inning, and hit a flare down the left field line that landed just fair.  Two more runs scored as Gardner raced to second with a double. Dickerson then hit a blooper that fell just beyond the reach of Reyes and in just front of left fielder Bay, as Cano scored from third and the speedy Gardner dashed home from second.

Without benefit of a home run, indeed with but a single sharply struck line drive, the Yankees had scored eight runs. The 3-1 deficit was now a 9-3 lead. In short order it was a 9-3 win. They played nine innings of course. But in the end, with a little help from Willie Keeler, we only needed one.

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Responses

  1. I’m a Mets fan, and I never, ever root for the Yanks, but I do appreciate good writing. And this blog-post was an example of some very nice writing.
    Well done, Bill


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