Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 24, 2016

Weird Things Happen Under The Dome

It was a strange weekend to be in Gotham. For starters the city was sizzling. The massive heat dome that sent temperatures soaring toward 100 from the upper Midwest to the Mississippi Valley earlier in the week finally settled over the Atlantic seaboard on Friday. The meteorological event is caused by high pressure in the upper atmosphere serving as a lid. Rising hot air is prevented from escaping and is instead forced back to the surface, warming still more as it descends. Even as the thermometer rose toward triple digits the hygrometer strove to keep pace, adding stifling humidity to the already dangerous heat.

Manhattan is an eclectic place, where one is likely to see all manner of dress on the streets. But this weekend there was a decided preference for attire more common at the end of a long ride on the D Train to Brooklyn, down on the beach at Coney Island. As light and as little as possible was the order of the day for many, and no one else either gawked or deemed those so attired as indecorous.

The oppressive weather also served to slow Gotham’s normal frantic pace. Languor seemed decidedly less sweat inducing. So it was only appropriate that the 4 Train, normally an express bullet rumbling up the East Side from Midtown to the Bronx in but minutes, was relegated by construction to the local track. On its usual schedule the 4 stops just twice between Grand Central and 125th Street in Harlem, last call on the island before darting beneath the Harlem River and into the Bronx, New York’s only mainland borough. This weekend the two became nine, and the quick trip became a slow roll north. But eventually the line of silver cars climbed back into the steamy air, ascending above River Avenue even as it slowed to a stop at 161st Street. Once more, back to the Stadium.

The weirdness continued for two games against the visitors from San Francisco. The Giants, in the midst of a potential fourth successive even-year run to glory, went into the recent All-Star break with the best record in the majors at 57-33. But they arrived in New York having lost that distinction, along with five straight games since play resumed. Still they seemed poised to end their slide. The Yankees have been a decidedly middling team all season long. Two days earlier they had climbed two games above .500 for just the second time this year and the first since the longest season was barely a week old. Having matched that decidedly un-Yankee like high water mark, they promptly lost the final contest of a series against the Orioles to fall back to 48-47.

In addition to the obvious disparity between records, the Giants sent Madison Bumgarner to the hill, he of epic achievements in the 2014 postseason. But the Yankees did not play the role of accommodating hosts. Instead left fielder Brett Gardner sent Bumgarner’s second pitch into right field for a single, and second baseman Starlin Castro followed that with a double to the gap in left center. The speedy Gardner scored easily and Castro moved to third when the relay throw of San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford sailed wide of catcher Buster Posey. In all seven of the first twelve Yankees to face the Giants’ formidable left-hander reached base safely.

If the barrage was unexpected, less so was the result of just two runs scoring. As much as the durability and effectiveness of the Yankees starting rotation was a concern during Spring Training, the reason for the team’s fourth place standing in the AL East has been a lack of offense. Still fans had reason to hope that two runs might be enough, for on Friday evening Masahiro Tanaka was giving New York a fine pitching effort. He needed just five deliveries to set down the side in the 1st inning, and continued to hold the Giants at bay thereafter. Tanaka was helped in the 3rd by a 102 mile per hour strike from right fielder Carlos Beltran to catcher Austin Romine, a throw that arrived just in time to double up Gregor Blanco, trying to score from third on a fly out by Angel Pagan.

Manager Joe Girardi’s formula when the Yankees hold a slim lead is to go to his shutdown bullpen trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman for the final three innings. Through six Tanaka had thrown just 81 pitches, but despite the light workload Girardi stuck to the game plan, and on a weekend of strange happenings it nearly cost him. Betances surrendered a run in the 7th, and Miller allowed the tying tally in the 8th. But in the bottom of the inning the Yankees put two runners on against Giants reliever Josh Osich, and the eventual winning tally scored when the Giants’ Crawford committed his third error of the day on a potential double play grounder. It was in keeping with the theme; the shortstop having arrived at the Stadium with just five errors all season and the best sabermetric statistic of overall defense – defensive runs above average – in the majors.

Saturday afternoon the big crowd arrived early for Military Day, New York’s annual salute to our servicemen and women. The main attraction each year is a parachute jump into the Stadium by the Army’s Golden Knights. Naturally a mechanical problem with the aircraft scrubbed the jump, leaving thousands to swelter as the gala ceremony was reduced to two dozen new recruits taking their enlistment oaths on the field.

When play began it was as if the weather had finally gotten to both squads. New York nicked 13-game winner Johnny Cueto for a run in the 1st, but Ivan Nova surrendered a long ball to Giants right fielder Mac Williamson in the 2nd. Both teams had multiple chances after that, but it was as if the effort required to get a runner that final ninety feet from third to home was too much on a simmering later afternoon under the heat dome.

Surely that appeared to be the case in the top of the 11th. With two outs and the go-ahead run at third in the person of Pagan, Girardi ordered Betances to intentionally walk Crawford. The reliever knows how to strike out opposing hitters, but has given just three free passes in his career. His first toss sailed to the backstop, but Pagan was either not paying attention or too hot to be bothered with the exertion of racing home.

In the end it didn’t matter, as the Giants finally went in front one inning later, and the extra inning, 2-1 contest came to a close almost four and a half hours after it began. Oddly for such a long game, and especially on a day when the city was sizzling, most of the 47,000-plus who had been present when Nova delivered the game’s first pitch were still there when Beltran grounded the last one to shortstop Crawford. Or at least it would have been strange on any other weekend. On this one it was routine; as was, at last, the handling of that grounder by the best defensive player in the game.

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