Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 2, 2012

On A Damp Day In The Bronx, Bombers’ Bats Boom

As I descend the two flights of stairs from the elevated subway stop at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx, it is impossible not to notice the low gray clouds that stretch from one horizon to the other. They appear laden with moisture on this Wednesday afternoon, an uninspiring portent for the game between the Yankees and the Orioles set to begin shortly. Uninspiring too has been New York’s play of late. Once the owners of a 10 ½ game division lead, the team has seen that margin steadily shrink over two weeks of losing. It began with a west coast trip that started with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Oakland A’s, who played like the Athletics of four decades ago. While the Yankees did take two of three in Seattle and their first game against Boston upon returning home, they have since dropped another four straight; two to the Red Sox to lose that series and the first two of this set against Baltimore, thus guaranteeing a second consecutive home series lost to a division opponent.

I was in the stands the past two nights and like all of my fellow Yankees fans, was disheartened by what I was forced to watch on the field. On Monday night the team hit three home runs, but all were solo shots and the offense was otherwise somnolent. Never was that more apparent than in the 9th inning, when Nick Swisher doubled to lead off, becoming just the second Yankee runner in scoring position on the night. The Stadium came alive with hopes of a final inning comeback that would erase the 5-4 deficit. Instead two strikeouts were sandwiched around a harmless ground ball, and the losing streak continued. Starter Freddy Garcia wasn’t awful, but he yielded a season-high nine hits and took the loss. The score likely would have been worse had not the defense turned three double plays, repeatedly bailing out the ineffective Garcia.

If Monday’s loss was painful, Tuesday’s was sheer agony. The game began with great promise, as Ivan Nova needed just six pitches to complete a perfect first inning and the Yankees opened their half of the frame by plating three runs before recording an out. Derek Jeter smashed Chris Tillman’s second pitch to the wall in center field for a double. Curtis Granderson singled the Captain home, and then Robinson Cano smacked his 23rd home run of the season. The Yankees would add two more runs before the inning was over as we in the stands cheered our heroes on.

But within minutes the roars turned into a gloomy silence as the pitcher the Gotham media have dubbed “SuperNova” came out for the 2nd inning and performed more like a dwarf star. After surrendering two singles Nova struck out Lew Ford and Wilson Betemit. But before he could record the third out seven Baltimore runners had crossed home plate, with a grand slam by Chris Davis doing the greatest damage. The Orioles would add four more runs during the course of the game while the Yankees bats again went cold.

So I am understandably anxious as I make my way up the ramps to my seat. Having played just .500 ball in the month of July, the Yankees desperately need to reverse the recent slide and start once again adding to their division lead. That means that the batters must hit, because this is a team that wins by outslugging its opponents. With the possible exception of CC Sabathia New York’s starting pitchers aren’t going to dominate many opponents, but instead they post wins by being good enough and getting strong run support. Today Phil Hughes must be good enough, and today the offense must come to life. Without those two ingredients the mood in the stands will likely wind up matching the weather.

Every team has its down periods over the course of sports’ longest season. The ebb and flow is part of the Great Game’s timeless appeal. Whether a period of losing too often has definitively been brought to an end cannot really be told in the moment of a single victory. Rather it is only accurately measured in hindsight, when the pattern of results from a string of games is known. But both fans and players can draw joy in the moment and hope for the future from a single satisfactory result; and sometimes those feelings can help motivate and inspire the efforts that follow. For all of the recent disappointment, on Wednesday afternoon joy and hope return to the Stadium.

Phil Hughes is not remotely dominant, failing to record a single one-two-three frame; but for six innings he is a textbook example of good enough. While allowing nine hits he surrenders just a single run. With two Orioles on in the 3rd he induces a double play grounder from Davis. With two on in the 4th he gets two short fly outs and then fans Omar Quintanilla to end the inning. With two on and two outs in both the 5th and 6th he escapes with soft pop ups. By the time he leaves after 107 pitches he is on his way to leading the team in wins with eleven.

That is because while Hughes does his job the Yankees’ hitters finally awaken from their slumber in glorious fashion. Batting second in the order, Granderson sends Zach Britton’s fourth pitch of the game deep into the right field seats. Swisher follows with a double and later scores on an Andruw Jones sacrifice fly. In the 2nd the Yankees double their tally on RBI singles by Jeter and Swisher. Then in the 3rd New York repays Baltimore for its Tuesday outburst. There are two on and two out and the rain starts to fall. In the exposed seats some fans head for the covered concourses; but most of us pull out our trusty Yankees plastic ponchos. Soon there are whole blocks of seats that look like cult gatherings, every fan covered in hooded white plastic with a giant interlocking NY on his or her chest. But it would take far more than a little rain to cause us to miss the next few minutes.

Third baseman Jayson Nix hits a drive to deep left center. The ball bounds into the Baltimore bullpen on one hop for a ground rule double, scoring Russell Martin and sending Casey McGehee to third. Jeter follows with a long single to score McGehee and Nix. Granderson and Swisher add two more singles to load the bases. Then Cano steps in against Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg. He looks at a pair of called strikes, and then fouls Gregg’s next offering straight back. After delivering a fourth straight fastball for ball one, Gregg tries to fool Cano with an off-speed slider. But the ball wanders over the heart of the plate, and in an instant the Yankees second baseman sends it soaring to the seats in right. The grand slam makes the score 11-1, and in the stands relief washes over us as palpably as the steady drizzle from the heavens.

By the time David Robertson records the final out on a pop fly to foul ground beside first base, the rain has stopped and the ponchos have come off. With a 12-3 victory August in the Bronx is off to a promising start. The sky remains leaden, and parts of Gotham will see more rain throughout the evening. But as I start to climb the stairs back up to the subway station and a waiting 4 train, I am like every other Yankees fan. For all of us, the sun is shining once again.

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Responses

  1. Go Bombers! 🙂


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