For the marquee game of the night it was all we could ask of it… well, almost. I actually was asking for more but Scioscia wasn’t listening (to me … or his NL instincts). Too bad, so sad… he missed a chance for turning a great game into an instant classic.
Not that the Yankees minded. A win is a win, especially in Anaheim where the powerful Bronx boys look rather mediocre. In a game that seemed to emanate the pride of the pinstripes, the Yanks jumped out to a 5-0 lead on the strength of Alex Rodriguez’ massive Home Run. Matsui was then awarded 1st base on Catcher Mathis’ interference play which begins the strange catcher theme of the contest. His blunder brought the Yanks catcher Jorge Posada to the plate. Posada delivered a
two run shot of his own and the Yanks were in command early.
But, the game really didn’t start until the 5th inning when Vlad Guerrero faced an 0-2 offering with 2 on and 2 out. He absolutely drilled an RBI single to left to make it 5-2.
Then came the 6th. Catcher/Manager Mike Scioscia (renowned for his baseball strategy) employed a Pinch Hitter in Gary Matthews with runners on the corners and one out. True to the rewards of baseball strategy… Matthews delivered another ringing hit that produced a run to make it 5-3. The bases get loaded with 2 out. It’s raucous… the Rally
Monkey is jumping and the sea of red is a constant swirl of excitement as Vlad Guerrero steps to the dish. Will he pick up a tater? A couple of Ribeyes? How hungry is Vlad? He smashes a ball down the 3B line. A virtual rocket headed to left field and a sure bet to score the tying runs. But no, Superman was diving and stopping that bullet.. scrambling to his feet he pitched a perfect toss to Tex for the 3rd out. Disappointing? Not really. It only added to the drama and tension of the game. The Angels were determined to protect their house from the Evil Empire and they had 3 innings to do it.
Enter a YH regular Howie Kendrick in the bottom of the 8th. This guy is turning into a real pure hitter. True to form, he hits one of the hardest balls of the night right at his counterpart 2B Robinson Cano. It ricochets off Cano and into right field. Down by only a run Scioscia and Kendrick put their thinking caps on and go for the steal. Kendrick bolts for 2nd. The Yanks catcher tandem of Girardi and Posada were ready and waiting with a pitch out. Strategy vs Strategys is foiled when Posada unleashes a terrible throw to 2nd and Kendrick scampered into third where Maicer Izturis cashed him in for the tying run 5-5. Game On!
Into the 9th we go. It’s here that the catcher vs catcher vs catcher vs catcher game is finally decided. Brett Gardner opens the 9th with a solid single to center bringing Mr. Clutch Derek Jeter to the dish. Scioscia out thinks himself here. Instead of simply allowing DJ to bunt him over and take the out… for some reason they fiddle around with the strike zone and Derek is smart
enough to know that a walk is as good as a hit. Sure enough.. he’s walked. Which brings up Damon with 2 on and nobody out. What does a smart catcher/manager like Joe Girardi do in such a situation?
The smart thing of course – Bunt! Damon executes it perfectly and the Yanks are sitting pretty at 2nd and 3rd.
Across the field Girardi’s Catcher/Manager counterpart assesses his options and elects to fill the bags with one out hoping for a double play to end the inning. A smart decision and one that works more often than not. The problem being it was Alex Rodriguez coming to the dish. A-Rod had already feasted on his 580th Career Homer and was looking focused on his job as a hitter when he dug in. All he really needed was to get the ball in the air with the speed of Brett Gardner at third. It was a virtual lock to score him. And so it was! A hard shot to center. Hunter snagged it on the run.. .made a perfect peg to the plate trying to catch that dashing Brett. Problem was.. 4th string catcher Ryan Budde was back there in a very difficult spot. He had Gardner barreling down on him… the ball zipping in on a hop in the 9th inning, the Rally Monkeys freaking… the fans bellowing. Too much to ask.
Gardner barreled through Budde and scored the go ahead run. 6-5 Yanks. And to the bottom of the 9th we go. Here’s where Scioscia steps out of his norm and tries to duplicate the Girardi maneuver. Problem was … Scioscia’s guys have to face Mariano Rivera. Uh, not the same. But… Kendry Morales leads off with a walk! The 5th time he was on base in the game! What does a smart Catcher/Manager do in such a situation.. .sends in a pinch runner of course! Enter speedster Reggie Willits. Now what? Well, what we would expect from Scioscia is – “Get ’em over and Get ’em in!” That’s his M.O.
But, I think swayed by the vision of duplicating Girardi’s move and the hope of a 1st and 2nd and no out position, he elects NOT to bunt! Completely out of character. Tommy Lasorda would be ticked at him. You could see Scioscia pondering
his options.. he simply chose to be greedy. I guess he forgot the old saying… a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. Nevertheless, he eschews his NL upbringing and hopes for more than is offered by Rivera.
True to the game’s nature Jorge Posada comes up huge when Scioscia tries to steal with a 2 strike count. Uh Oh. The old Strike em Out… Throw em Out double play deflates the stadium. From raucous rants to complete silence. As would be expected a simple ground out ended the game in a most anti-climactic manner.
I know it’s not the same when you watch a game in the stadium as opposed to the television. But, this game was all about catching and catchers. They were constantly in your eye and in the spotlight throughout the game. I only wish Scioscia had followed his norm. Not that I really cared which team won. I simply enjoyed the game. Just like Torii Hunter did. His comment after the game “I didn’t show up (0-5), but I had a lot of fun watching it!” So did I Torii. So did I.