The first pitch to Nolan Reimold was a swinging strike at the knees.
Hiroki Kuroda had thrown seven great innings and the Yankees were clinging to an Eric Chavez home run and a one run lead. But maybe clinging isn't the right word. Other teams with other closers cling to one run leads in the ninth inning. This would be the sixteenth season of ninth inning bliss.
The second pitch to Nolan Reimold was a broken bat dribbler to second base.
Robinson Cano fielded and threw to first. One out. Reimold was fooled on the pitch, tried to check his swing, and ended up hitting the ball on the very end of the bat. If you wanted to describe how Mariano Rivera managed to be so good for so long, this would probably be a good place to start. With great location and uncanny late life, it was almost impossible to get the fat part of the bat to the ball. It's not a complicated game and he wasn't a complicated pitcher. He threw cutters. He prevented you from hitting the ball hard.
The first pitch to J.J. Hardy was a ball low and away.
There are bad strikes -- pitches right down the middle -- and there are good balls -- "pitchers pitches" that are outside the strike zone but tough to hit. He threw a lot of strikes and a lot of good balls. The first pitch to Hardy was a few inches outside and a few inches low. If you're going to miss, that's a pretty good way to do it. He probably would have told you that he should have put it on the corner and gotten ahead of a good hitter like Hardy.
The second pitch to J.J. Hardy was a ball below the knees.
You never really got worried when he got behind a batter. If he hadn't thrown any strikes yet, it seemed like a conscious decision to stay out of the zone. And if he needed a strike, he'd throw one. He only walked eight batters last season and he had trained you to think that he'd make the tying run hit his way on.
The third pitch to J.J. Hardy was a foul ball behind home plate.
Ahead in the count and challenged with a pitch at the knees on the outer third, Hardy took a big swing. Hardy hit thirty home runs last year and this was Yankees Stadium; with one swing, it could be a tie game. On the mound, he knew it too. He had only given up sixty-five home runs in over 1200 innings, but all that it takes is one mistake. One flat cutter.
The fourth pitch to J.J. Hardy was a single to right center field.
This was a mistake. Russell Martin's target was low and away, but he threw Hardy a letter high cutter that was slapped the other way for a solid base hit. People have used and will use a lot of superlatives to describe him. Unhittable. Unbeatable. The greatest. This was a bad pitch and Hardy jumped on it, but judging him on his mistakes -- as infrequent as they might have been -- could be most illuminating of all. In eighteen seasons and over a thousand appearances, he threw thirteen wild pitches. He walked a batter to lead off an inning forty-two times.
The first pitch to Nick Markakis was a strike on the outside corner.
In his career, he had thrown a first pitch strike to nearly two out of every three batters that he faced. It's frustrating watching pitchers fall behind and labor to stay out of their own way. He was almost never frustrating; more of a relaxing reliever than a cardiac closer. He would tell you that he made a mistake falling behind Hardy and was glad to be able to pitch ahead to a good hitter like Markakis.
The second pitch to Nick Markakis was a ball off the outside corner.
Greg Maddux used to do that. He'd get a strike called on the outside corner and then he'd throw the same pitch two inches further outside. If that was called a strike, he'd throw it two more inches outside. Hitting the glove every time and executing his pitches, he would be stealing strikes from both sides of the plate by the third inning. This one wasn't a strike though, it leveled the count at 1-1. They say that a 1-1 pitch decides how the rest of the at bat is going to go.
The third pitch to Nick Markakis was a ground ball double play. Yankees win.