Orioles win in 12, Yankees prevail in 14 versus A’s

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With the Orioles already having dispatched the Red Sox in 12, the AL East appeared on the verge of being knotted at the top again. However, the Yankees overcame a 9-5 deficit in the 13th and beat the A’s 10-9 in 14 innings Saturday.

Baltimore improved to 4-0 in extra-inning games at Fenway Park this year by beating the Red Sox 9-6. Jim Thome’s ground-rule double broke the tie in the 12th, and the Orioles were able to add on from there. Incredibly, the Red Sox are 0-7 in extra-inning games at home this season.

The A’s got homers from Jonny Gomes, Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Carter to take a commanding 9-5 lead on the Yankees in the top of the 13th. However, the Yankees came right back afterwards, loading the bases with none out and getting a game-tying two-run homer from Raul Ibanez with one out.

The Bombers went on to win it in 14 after another wild sequence. Alex Rodriguez appeared to hit a game-winning single with one out and the lead runner on second, but pinch-runner Melky Mesa, making his major league debut, missed third base on the turn and had to go back to the bag.

That loaded the bases for Robinson Cano. Cano hit a comebacker to Tyson Ross that bounced out of and back into the pitcher’s glove, leading to an awkward but successful throw home for the force. Catcher Derek Norris could have chanced turning it into an inning-ending double play since Cano hardly busted it out of the box, but he decided not to risk throwing it into the runner and giving the Yankees a win that way. Eduardo Nunez then came up and his a spinning grounder to first that Brandon Moss failed to glove, ending the game. It was ruled an error on Moss, though it was hardly an easy play with the way the ball was moving.

The game featured a controversial call in the bottom of the first. Travis Blackley picked  Rodriguez off first, but second base umpire Larry Vanover decided to call it a balk only after watching the play unfold and seeing A-Rod tagged out. The implication being that Vanover would have let it go had A-Rod made it back safely. Whether it was a balk or not (and that really could have gone either way), that’s not the way the game is supposed to be umpired and Vanover should get a talking to over it. The Yankees went on to score two runs after the play, contributing to an early exit for Blackley.

Helped out by that play, the Yankees really should have won in regulation. That they didn’t was due in part to a lack of effort. Cano initially gave up on a Moss grounder into the hole in the seventh because he thought first baseman Nick Swisher would grab it. When Swisher’s dive came up short, Cano made his own half-hearted dive and missed the ball, giving Moss a single. He later came around to score the tying run. Also, in the bottom of the seventh, Swisher opened the frame with a popup to shallow right. Disappointed, he didn’t run out of the box, and he ended up on first instead of second when the ball fell in. The Yankees failed to score in the inning, even though Swisher advanced to third with one out because of a HBP and a sac bunt.

The Yankees again almost won it in the 12th, but Ibanez was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to second.

Ibanez turned a single into a double with some great hustle in the frame, which is perhaps why he wasn’t removed for a pinch-runner after reaching. He then went to third on a wild pitch, forcing the A’s to pull the infield in. Unfortunately, Russell Martin’s grounder was hit right to second baseman Cliff Pennington, who threw home. Ibanez tried to bowl Norris over, and when that didn’t quite work, he gave up a little push to finish knocking him to the ground. Norris held on, though, and the A’s got out of the inning.

With the win, the Yankees maintained a one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East. The A’s are three games up on the second wild card, pending the Angels’ result tonight.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.