There were some unusual events in the first inning of today’s game. Mark Buehrle retired the side in order and Melky doubled in the home half of the inning. Buehrle’s effective start to the inning was a nice change simply because the offense has scuffled. Getting behind early makes the Jays’ hitters very aggressive and they tend to get impatient. The value of Melky’s double is that perhaps this will jump start his offense. He won’t hit 20 HR, but he has the ability to hit 40 doubles. The Jays need that kind of offense from him, especially since he hits immediately before Jose and Edwin.
The good vibe of the first dissipated in the second. Vernon Wells beats Mark Buehrle like a drum, so Buehrle pitched him carefully. One change-up caught too much of the plate and Vdub scalded a liner off the foul (fair?) net in LF. The Yankees jumped out to a 1-0 lead.
Here’s a sample of what Vernon does against both Mark Buehrle and his old club, the Blue Jays:
This table was adapted from http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=wellsve01&year=Career&t=b and http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/batter_vs_pitcher.cgi?batter=wellsve01#gotresults&batter=wellsve01&min_year_game=1999&max_year_game=2013&post=1&opp_id=&throws=L&opponent_status=active&c1criteria=&c1gtlt=eq&c1val=0&c2criteria=&c2gtlt=eq&c2val=0&orderby=PA&orderby_dir=desc&orderby_second=Name&orderby_dir_second=asc&ajax=1&submitter=1
This info doesn’t include today’s ABs. As you can see, Vernon likes to hit against Buehrle and his old club.
Then in the fourth, there was another interesting sequence. A Maicer Izturis error on a potential double-play grounder by Vernon Wells put runners on first and second. Following a strikeout by Cervelli, a tough grounder by Ichiro eluded Encarnacion and the Jays couldn’t record an out, loading the bases. Buehrle attacked the next hitter, Eduardo Nunez, and induced a pop-out to retire the side. The error didn’t lead to any runs, but Buehrle faced three extra batters. It was good to see Buerhle pick up his teammate.
In the top of the sixth, the Yankees loaded the bases again with one out. This time Kevin Youkilis, after an IBB to Robinson Cano, hit a soft liner that Brett Lawrie should have handled. Instead it was mishandled for a two-run single. How this was scored a hit is a mystery.
It would be easy to imagine the frustration that the pitchers must feel with the shoddy defense behind them. They want to be able to trust that they can put the ball in play and that the routine—and some tougher—plays will be handled accordingly. The problem is that the pitching hasn’t exactly been lights-out either. Despite striking out seven Buehrle had eight base runners in five innings, three of whom scored. The Jays’ response in the bottom of the fifth? Pop up, pop up, pop up by Lawrie, Rasmus, and Izturis. That’s been their pitching, defense, and offense in a nutshell.
A question I have about the Jays’ offense is: how long will it be until Munenori Kawasaki hits lead-off? I recognize that Gibby needs to get to know his players and that injuries are a factor. He’s the classic lead-off hitter with his speed but Rajai has a history of striking out a lot and not getting on base regularly (career .317 OBP). Alternatively, Kawasaki has shown that he will work a pitcher deep into the count, he gets on base, he makes contact, he doesn’t strike out much, and he has some speed. Today Kawasaki had a hit and another hard-hit ball, his OBP in the early going is .375 on the strength of four walks. His OBP in NPB was .345 in more than 1100 games.
Both starters pitched well in this game. Despite some intermittent trouble, Mark Beurhle continued to get out of trouble. He gave up three earned runs in seven innings, while giving up eight hits and a walk, and striking out seven. His opponent, Hiroki Kuroda, was even stronger. In 7.1 IP the wily old fox struck out seven and only had four base runners (3 H, 1 BB). The Blue Jays never really threatened with him on the mound.
In the eighth inning, John Gibbons made a move that I questioned. With two out and Colby Rasmus on base, Gibby pinch hit Adam Lind for Munenori Kawasaki. The reason for my question is that he could have pinch hit Lind for Rajai. Kawasaki is their best option at short and was getting on base; he’s also a left-handed hitter facing David Robertson, a RHP. After all, I’d rather have Bonifacio in RF and Kawasaki at SS heading into the ninth.
Then he looked like a genius. Lind walked and Rajai singled up the middle, plating Rasmus to make the score 3-1, and bringing Melky to the plate. Rajai stole second, moving the tying run into scoring position and Melky ripped a single into CF to tie the game. Jose Bautista walked but Edwin struck out to end the rally.
I also questioned Gibby bringing Casey Janssen in to the tie game in the ninth but when I remembered that Sergio Santos is injured, it was understandable. Janssen retired the top of the ninth in order, bringing Arencibia, Lawrie, and Rasmus to the plate in the home half to try to decide this game. Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan struck out the side, sending it to extras.
In the eleventh Aaron Loup put the first two runners on base. Ichiro bunted and Loup threw the ball past Lawrie. Two runners scored, and this one was all over but the crying. Mariano Rivera came in to do what he’s done better than anyone else in baseball history. The Jays will send Josh Johnson to the hill in game three to try and salvage a win from this series.
Toronto faces AL East opponents for the bulk of the next month. They can’t afford to throw away games, whether literally or figuratively. The offense, defense, and pitching needs to be better.