BRONX, NY – It’s as ugly and disparaging a loss as the Yankees (92-61) could have ever imagined suffering at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays (91-61).
The defending World Series champions may have entered the evening looking to get one step closer to clinching the AL East, but after watching Tampa score seven runs in a disastrous sixth inning and going on to lose, 10-3, they’re probably just happy that the Boston Red Sox (84-68) have no chance of challenging the division’s second place team for the AL Wild Card spot.
And the notion that home field advantage is going to the winner of the AL East is, as of today, without merit; the Minnesota Twins, at 92-60, have the best record in the AL by half a game over New York.
Now, just for a moment, let’s forget that Javier Vazquez’s meltdown in the seventh, when he hit three consecutive batters (tying an MLB record) and gave up two runs, turned the game into an even bigger laugher, or that he’s ending the season and his career in pinstripes looking as lost on the mound as he did back in April.
Oh, Javy! Vazquez distinguished himself last night by becoming the first Yankee in over 50 years to hit three straight hitters. (Photo by Bill Menzel)
What was so glaring of this Yankees loss — their second straight since winning the first two games of the series — was how quickly things turned on them in a sixth inning they entered with a 3-1 lead and their ace, C.C. Sabathia (L, 20-7), on the mound.
The Bombers built their 3-1 lead on DH Marcus Thames’ two-run home run (12) off David Price (W, 18-6) in the second, and Nick Swisher’s RBI single in the fifth inning. Later in the fifth, the Yankees put themselves in position to KO Price by loading the bases, but Price’s second confrontation with Thames with two outs ended in his favor, as the 25-year-old lefty struck Thames out swinging to end the threat.Starter David Price made a strong case for himself in the AL Cy Young race by outdueling C.C. Sabathia. (Photo by Bill Menzel)
And boy would New York’s failure to knock David Price out of the game that inning cost them dearly.
In the sixth, Tampa tied the game, 3-3, on Rocco Baldelli’s infield RBI single and Willy Aybar’s RBI single to left-center. Then, Sean Rodriguez’s one-out, bases-loaded, seven-pitch walk forced in a run that gave them a 4-3 lead, compelling manager Joe Girardi to send Sabathia (5.1 IP, 10H, 7R) to the showers due to his pitch count, which was at 111.
C.C. and the Yanks ran into a wall in the sixth; the New York ace was torched for seven runs in the game as his record fell to 20-7. (Photo by Bill Menzel)
“I felt pretty good, but they put some tough at-bats on me,” said Sabathia after the game. “You have to give [Tampa] credit. Winning the division is our main goal, and I feel bad that I wasn’t able to come through tonight.”
Girardi brought in Joba Chamberlain to stop the bleeding, but what ensued shortly after was a bloodbath; Upton ripped a ground-rule, two-run double to left-center, and Carl Crawford hit a two-run single through the right side.
Just like that, the Rays had gone ahead, 8-3.
Sabathia was charged with six of the seven runs Tampa scored in the sixth, and half an inning later, the Yankees managed to load the bases, but all hope for a comeback died inside Upton’s glove once the center fielder caught a drive off the bat of Mark Teixeira for the third out. And as far as the 47,646 fans at the Stadium were concerned, that might as well have been the 27th out, because the wind had been unequivocally sucked out of the entire building.
“Missed opportunities for us to blow the game open,” said Joe Girardi. “We’re basically where we started back in April … with a lot less games [left].”
It goes without saying, as Girardi hinted, that the Tampa Bay Rays, who won the season series, 10-8, and would get the tie-breaker should both teams finish with identical records, aren’t going anywhere. The Yankees haven’t been able to shake their division rivals, and if both teams are fortunate enough to advance to the ALCS, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d be shocked at the sight of Tampa moving on to represent the AL in the 2010 World Series.
“They have a lot of guys who can beat you in a lot of ways; they hit doubles in the gaps, play good defense and have good pitching,” said Joba Chamberlain.
With nine games left — three vs. Toronto and six against Boston — conventional wisdom would have you believe that the Yankees will have a much tougher schedule to close out their season than Tampa, who have three-game sets vs. Seattle and Baltimore, and a four-game series vs. Kansas City. Still, despite the Yankees’ schedule over the next 10 days, the focus in their clubhouse is on winning the AL East, where they remain a half-game better than Tampa. Here, Jorge Posada (r.) and Carl Crawford (l.), who went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI last night, are in the heat of battle. But is it in the cards for their teams to meet in October? (Photo by Bill Menzel)
“We want to win the division,” proclaimed Jorge Posada. “We’ve been on top for most of the season, and we want to finish on top.”
Tonight, New York starts a three-game series vs. Boston behind starter Andy Pettitte (11-2, 2.81 ERA), who’ll be making his second start since returning from the DL, while Josh Beckett (5-5, 5.71 ERA) is set to take the mound for the Red Sox .
NOTE: As mentioned earlier, in the seventh inning, pitcher Javier Vazquez struck three consecutive hitters — Desmond Jennings, Willy Aybar and Kelly Shoppach — making him the first Yankee to reach the feat since Tom Morgan did so vs. Boston on June 30, 1954. It was also the eighth time in MLB history that a pitcher struck three consecutive batters, and the first time it has happened since former Yankee Jeff Weaver hit three straight on Aug. 21, 2004, as a member of the L.A. Dodgers.