At 6:30 tonight, AMC Network aired perhaps the greatest film of all time: Sylvester Stallone's opus, Demolition Man. Nothing in this world hurts more than a missed opportunity to watch that movie, but Jayson Nix provided nearly as much excitement this evening, murder-death-killing the Blue Jays in the bottom of the ninth, 3-2.
The Yankees sent Phil Hughes to the mound to start, and Hughes - no longer content to simply give up home runs - small-balled his way to an early 1-0 deficit. Rajai Davis led off the game with a single up the middle, past a diving Eduardo Nunez. The hobbled Nunez - just back from a quad strain - looked positively Jeter-ian in his range. Davis quickly stole second, moved to third on a ground out, and scampered home on a wild pitch. Way to diversify, Phil.
Toronto rookie Kevin Pillar came into the game nursing an 0-for-17 slump to start his Major League career, and he started the third inning in a quick 0-2 hole. Anyone who has followed Hughes' career knows where this is headed...congratulations on your first big league hit, Kevin Pillar! Davis followed Pillar's single with a single of his own, and the Blue Jays had runners on first and second with one out. Hughes fielded a sure-fire double play grounder, but tossed a wounded duck to Nunez, who made a nice play simply to get an out. The dangerous Edwin Encarnacion stepped to the plate with two on and two outs, but Hughes struck him out on a nice slider to end the threat.
Opposing starter Mark Buehrle - he of the lifetime 1-10 record and 6.28 ERA against the Yankees - didn't run into trouble until Austin Romine singled with one out in the third. Romine moved to second on a Brett Gardner ground out and scored the tying run on a two-out single from Robinson Cano. Soriano flew out to end the inning, and the Yankees failed to continue their dominance of Buehrle.
The Curse of 0-2 came back to bite Hughes again in the fifth - he completely overwhelmed Munenori Kawasaki (and his 65 OPS+) with two fastballs, and then inexplicably hung a slider. Kawasaki slapped the ball into the right center field gap for a one-out triple. He would score one batter later, on a sacrifice fly from Davis, to put the Blue Jays back on top, 2-1. Hughes would go on to finish six-plus innings of two-run ball - far better than recent-vintage Phil. Still, he did enough "Hughes" things - namely, surrendering hits on 0-2 counts - to irritate longtime Phil watchers.
For most of the game, Hughes looked set to take the loss. Buehrle kept the Yankees off-balance in that irritating, Buehrle kind of way - changing speeds to induce weak pop ups. In particular, Alex Rodriguez struggled mightily against Buehrle's junk - striking out thrice in three at bats. Buehrle came within one batter of finishing seven innings with only one run allowed.
They say the toughest batter to face with two outs in a run-one game is Jayson Nix...and by "they", I mean "John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman, and no one else on Earth." Tonight, however, Nix proved Ma and Pa Pinstripes to be a couple of baseball savants, crushing a game-tying home run into the left field stands. I could have sworn I heard Suzyn screeching all the way from my house in Pennsylvania...but it might just have been a swarm of cicadas.
The Yankees and Blue Jays traded zeroes in the eighth, and Joe Girardi surprised many in the top of the ninth by bringing in Mariano Rivera for his second appearance of the day. Rivera pitched around an Eduardo Nunez error and a base hit to retire the side.
Clearly, Girardi went for the kill in the top of the inning because he knew he had Nix waiting to end the game in the bottom half. Mark Reynolds led off the inning with a walk, only to be replaced by Ichiro Suzuki as a pinch runner. Nunez moved Ichiro second with a sacrifice bunt, and Ichiro stole third. As he stared down the pitcher, I could have sworn I heard Nix mumble under his breath, "Send a maniac to catch a maniac." Wasting no time, Nix drove the next pitch into left, plating Ichiro and winning the game.
So the Yankees sweep today's double header with a pair a stirring come-from-behind victories. It's once again fun to watch the Bronx Bombers play ball. But I'd still like to know how those damn three seashells work!
Be well, Yankee fans. Be Nixed.