I always am grateful for the Monday morning crosswords; it’s like the newspapers know that the first day back from the weekend is going to be hard enough without having to labor through a 13-letter word that so far has _ _N_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _E filled in. Which is too much of a challenge that close to the weekend…And I guess the same merciful mastermind behind this practice also was the point person on the Yankees post-ASB scheduling committee.
But while the tic-tac sized "2-1 Final" games of the weekend may be have been the Tuesday puzzle, today’s afternoon game was a little less manageable.
Such an effortlessly dominant burst that it could have easily doubled as the opening scene of pretty much any underdog baseball flick when it looks like the juggernaut'll crush 'em from the get-go...
But it wasn't that cookie cutter, after all. Jason Berken at first lived up to his anti-hype, as Alex Rodriguez (surprise) tacked up NY's first ribbie with a single that brought in Derek Jeter. (ARod is definitely just loaded for bear in his campaign to not only collect ribbies, but to make sure they’re >2 run differential ribbies at all times.)
Then one by one the lineup teed off on the hapless Baltimore defense. The Yankees have been steadily metamorphosizing into this army of hybrid sluggers/lead-off men. Their role players no longer are so strictly delineated, like the Juan Pierre's and Justin Morneau's and Albert Pujols’ of the league. Instead, we see our bottom of the order completely dissolve the pitcher’s awareness of where exactly he is in respect to the lineup.
After ARod started them off, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher throw their hats in the ring, with back-to-back singles that lassoed in Mark Teixeira, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada.
A.J. saunters into the second inning and pitches like a pitcher who knows he needs only not spontaneously combust to score the W. He took the shutout into the seventh, whiffing 6, walking only 3, while donating 6 hits to the Os' cause.
After Posada did his best 2007 ARod impression with a solo in the 4th, the Yankees just sort of stuttered around in the batter’s box. One go-thru of the order and all of a sudden Berken throws down the gauntlet like he’s freaking Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump and cuts through the Yanks like a hustling pro. (That may be a little bit of an exaggeration, since he actually only struck out 1. Even 1 seemed a lot considering he had a pitching arsenal about as stocked as a 22-year-old's fridge.)
As for the Baltimore offense, the charge was led by the guy whose "6Ks and .143 against AJ!" stigma was all but shackled to his cleats at the start of the game: Adam Jones then went 4 for 5, which included a 9th inning solo that made things realllly uncomfortable for Yankee fans. Ditto for Nick Markakis, whose HR immediately following Jones’ prompted Girardi to abandon the Brian Bruney Not-For-Profit program he initiated in the 9th.
In fairness to Joe, the Yanks had 5 on the board, and barring a Tanyon Sturtze/Kyle Farnsworth meltdown, it’s a safe bet that Bruney can act like he isn't an infant discovering his hand for the first time. Instead, Girardi took no chances and brought in Mariano Rivera for about the 87th game in a row (2 consecutive, 5 of 6 post-ASB games) to put out the fire and hand the Yanks’ their 6th straight win.
Girardi played this excellently. Initially it appeared to be a case similar to my dad finding a shirt that fits him and then proceeding to buy 2 dozen boxes of identical shirts, ie Girardi discovering the bullpen formula and deciding to purchase 2 dozen innings just like it. BUT, it works when AJ can go 7 and Hughes and Mo only need to split the other remaining ones. Two straight sweeps for the Yanks, as they usher the A’s into the Bronx, and pit belated birthday boy CC Sabathia against Vin Mazzaro.
The Yankees look better than they’ve looked all year, which includes that explosive streak they tore open in May. Right now they’re capitalizing on assets and doing what needs to be done to find an edge. That’s more valuable to me than a Mardi Gras fireworks display of slugging.
Tomorrow we'll see them fill in another couple of letters in a 13-letter word they've already got a bead on: CONVALESCENCE.