Those are some pretty impressive highlights from a close pitchers duel and not the best played game, either. Yet it became a historic night, with Mariano cinching a four-out save for the 500th in his amazing, one-of-a-kind career. Mariano also worked a bases-loaded RBI walk on a 3-2 pitching against K-Rod, who was completely worked over for his inaccuracy by, among other players, a pitcher, the greatest relief pitcher in my opinion and one of the greatest pitchers of all time. There is nothing that the guy cannot do.
Returning to where we’re staying after my nephew’s graduation party, on a day that started with some light rain but became decent, somewhat warm, and pleasant and fun, I got in for the game in the bottom of the sixth, Yanks ahead 3-2. I had checked the score via the Internet later in our stint at the bash, when it was 3-0 the last I checked. Wang was pretty good, had a rough fourth but got defensive help tonight as the bullpen was on the whole quite good, holding it together despite three walks in 2 2/3 IP. Yet they had to keep things tight against the Mets’ depleted lineup, for the Yanks’ somewhat depleted and flu-ridden lineup had started strong with three in the first, no outs, then got nothing until the top of the ninth despite earning 11 walks. Jeter led off with a double, went to third on a fielder’s choice when Murphy tried in vain to get Jeter on Swish’s ground ball, and both scored on Teixeira’s RBI double. A-Rod walked, Cano’s 4-6 force moved Teixeira to third for Posada’s sac fly, 3-0 Yanks.
It stayed that way until the fourth, when the Mets scored two. Wang pitched in and out of some trouble in the first, then got help from Jeter, who lunged to his left and started a terrific, inning-ending 6-4-3 DP. In the bottom of the fourth, Sheffield the selfish walked, went to second on Tatis’s soft 5-3, and scored on Martinez’s RBI double. Martinez eventually scored on Castillo’s single, 3-2. The Yanks missed a golden opportunity in the sixth, when Hernandez loaded the bases with three walks, one of which was intentional to A-Rod to get to Cano, who doubled into an inning-ending DP as part of a bad night from him. In the bottom half, the Yanks avoided trouble when Sheffield the selfish singled off Wang, went to second on a sac bunt, Coke entered and fanned Martinez for the second out and, with Santos pinch-hitting, the Yanks countered with Hughes. He made a wizard out of Girardi by getting Santos on a slider diving outside, which fell harmless into Melky’s glove in right for the third out.
Hughes stayed for the seventh but walked the lead-off man in Castillo. Reyes pinch-hitting for Hernandez bunted to third to a charging A-Rod, who whirled and threw a hard, one-hop throw to Jeter, who made a terrific snare for the force; excellent on both ends. After a 4-3, Hughes just froze Cora with a 95-mph fastball at the knees, outside corner for the third out, a great pitch from a guy who looks terrific out of the bullpen so far.
After three more walks in the eighth, the Yanks again failed to score when Cano grounded out on a sharply hit ball, but Castillo made a nice snare to his left to end the threat and end Cano’s 0-4 night. This made the bottom of the eighth a bit tougher to take, when Bruney walked Wright on four pitches, got Sheffield the selfish to pop out chasing a high fastball, but then walked Tatis. After fanning Martinez on three pitches, Mariano entered and fanned Santos on a 3-2 cutter on the inside corner. The Yanks took advantage of K-Rod’s erratic pitching, culminating in Mariano’s great at-bat. He got ahead of the count 2-0, then K-Rod got back to 2 before Mariano took a good swing and fouled off a pitch, then got two up and in to walk in a run, big insurance, 4-2 Yankees. GLG and I were watching the game together in the kitchen, and she said, “Imagine if they walk the pitcher here.” I responded, It would be a tremendous disgrace to give up an insurance run to a pitcher, and it would be great to see that jerk K-Rod cough one up. When the 3-2 pitch started to sail in, and I realized it wasn’t going to be a bender but a ball, it was a great moment of sheer elation and schadenfreude–seeing K-Rod walk off the mound, it looked like he wanted to keep walking to the dugout, as Mariano calmly and without expression took first base as Melky scored. How poignant it was that Mariano, who can’t stand K-Rod and is said to have requested not to have his locker at the All-Star game any where near K-Rod’s, patiently worked a walk and showed his grace and poise by trotting to first with his head down, and allowing himself a sheepish smile at first after his battle against his counterpart but also alter ego, the bombastic, histrionic Mets closer. Were it not for a bad check-swing strike call at third on Teixeira on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt from the rattled K-Rod, it would have been 5-2. But as it was, K-Rod had to throw 38 pitches, was wild with three walks (one intentional to Jeter to face Mariano), and surrendered what Mike termed in a text a “delicious” moment during Mariano’s historic night. I’ll bask in that for months.
Mariano nailed down his 18th save in 19 chances this year, and became only the second pitcher in MLB history to notch his 500th career save, by getting Castillo on a 4-3, getting Reed looking on a 2-2 cutter outside, worked around a bloop single to Murphy, and ended it on Cora’s first-pitch 4-3, with Teixeira handing Mariano the game ball and starting a long string of energetic hugs for the greatest closer and, to me, reliever ever.
I’m going to avoid a statistical run-down, for it’s somewhat late and I’m tired. Great Crazy Stein of the Mets, taking 5 of 6 this season. Great that Boston and Toronto lost, moving the Yanks to within three of Boston and three ahead of Toronto. The Rays, having won again (7 of their last 10), stand only two behind the Yanks in third. The Yanks return to AL action at home Tuesday night against Seattle to start a three-game set before hosting Toronto for four before heading West to Minnesota, then the Angels. Good to see Wang pitching better, going 5 1/3 and allowing 4 hits, 2 runs earned, 3 walks, and 3 K’s with 11 ground ball outs on 85 pitches/49 strikes to earn his first win of the year. Slowly but surely, as the starters have improved, the Yanks have again put together a strong rotation, with a deeper bullpen with Hughes, Aceves, Robertson and Coke joining Bruney and the great Mariano for a tougher gauntlet. I’ll take it.
Nice response after the listless shutout loss, 4-0 in Atlanta, with the Yanks having won 5 straight and getting some of the best starting pitching they’ve had all year. CC and AJ paired probably the best back-to-back starts in the first two games of the Mets series. I like Girardi’s use of Mariano for four outs after Bruney walked two, and after Mariano had two games off after going 1 1/3 Wednesday, and 1/3 Thursday.
I’ll end by saying again what a genuine, special, sublime privilege it has been and continues to be to watch Mariano Rivera pitch. He’s easily one of the very greatest Yankees to don pinstripes, his steady dominance something that has been nothing short of a core component of the Yankees every single year Mariano has played a prominent role. There has never been, nor will there ever be, another player, another pitcher, another Yankee like the great Mariano, whom I would pit against any batter in the history of the game and on whom I would put my money. Any player, any era, I’ll take Mariano.