For the first time since suffering a recent spate of injuries, the Yankees lack of depth finally came back to bite them. With Andy Pettitte watching from the bench, the Yankees were forced to send Sergio Mitre and his career ERA of 5.49 to the mound in his place. While Mitre was not awful, he wasn’t very good, as Girardi and others suggested in the post game. For some reason, Mitre has often been described as unlucky, usually by people who point to his FIP, but each time he winds up pitching to an ERA around six. Last night was no different, so at some point you have to shoot the messenger.
In the first inning, a throwing error by Arod could have bailed Mitre out of trouble, but then again, it did take a fine play to glove the hard hit ground ball by Miguel Cabrera. Mitre then proceeded to give up a two run hit to Brennan Boesch, which put the Yankees in an early hole. Mitre wound up giving up three runs over 4 1/3 innings, including a HR to old friend Johnny Damon, before giving way to David Robertson.
To be sure, all the blame shouldn’t be placed on Mitre. In three innings against Tigers’ starter Brad Thomas, the Yankees had every opportunity to open up a big lead. Thomas threw more than half of his 68 pitches for balls, yet somehow escaped with only three walks and two runs yielded. The Yankees only runs off Thomas came thanks to another May HR by Mark Teixeira.
With both starting pitchers gone before the end of the fifth, the game turned into a battle of bullpens (and the managers using them). For the Yankees, David Robertson was able to stabilize things with 1 2/3 innings of impressive shutout relief, while Eddie Bonine kept the Yankees off the board for 2 1/3 innings. Bonine owes his unblemished line to Jim Leyland, however, because the Tigers manager intelligently diagnosed that the sixth inning was the right time to bring in his “8th inning” guy. Unencumbered by the same formulaic thinking that has cost the Yankees a game or two this season, Leyland brought Joel Zumaya and his 100mph fastball into the game to face Marcus Thames, who was batting with one out and runners on first and third. Normally, the situation would have cried out for a lefty pinch hitter, but the Yankees had none forthcoming. Instead, Zumaya simply overpowered Thames, inducing a pop-up that stranded the runner on third. After walking Gardner, Zumaya then easily retired Randy Winn. The aborted rally not only kept the Yankees off the board, but exposed their frightening lack of depth, something that would come to the forefront again later in the game.
The Tigers extended their lead to 5-2 in the seventh when Boesch tripled home a run off Boone Logan, who walked two hitters in his inning of relief. That extra run would prove to be the difference in the game.
After breezing through the seventh inning, Leyland asked Zumaya to also get through the eighth. With only 18 pitches over the previous 1 2/3, it seemed like a sensible request. However, the big Tiger righty seemed to wear down as the inning progressed. Leading off, Arod had a great at bat and eventually hit a 101mph fastball off Adam Everett’s glove for a base hit. After seeing three blazing fastballs, Cano was then able to wait back on a curve and pull it into right field. Finally, with Zumaya’s velocity now diminished to “only 98-99mph”, Posada worked a four pitch walk and Thames drove Arod home with an infield single before he was finally lifted. Incredibly, 19 of Zumaya’s 33 pitches registered between 100mph and 102mph.
Old friend Phil Coke was then brought into the game to face the lefty Brett Gardner, whose fielder’s choice groundout plated another run. With runner’s on first and third and one out, Winn stepped to the plate with the game once again in the balance. After running the count to 2-0, Winn inexplicably swung from his heels and lofted a harmless pop-up to third. Although the rally wasn’t ended until Derek Jeter was retired by Ryan Perry, all of the air was basically let out of both the inning and the game.
With several opportunities laid to waste, the Yankees didn’t have the look of a team poised for a ninth inning rally. With the way Jose Valverde threw the ball, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Valverde used a blistering fastball and sharp split to strike out Swisher, Teixeira and Arod to end the game and the Yankees’ disappointing night.
Aside from the predictable and justifiable laments about Mitre and Logan (what if Pettitte and Aceves had been available?), the Yankees offensive depth was most exposed. Marcus Thames and Randy Winn stranded a combined 11 runners, and each had two very poor at bats in key situations. Because Girardi had absolutely no bench to use, the Yankees could not pinch hit for either, a situation that is likely to keep reoccurring until Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson return, or the Yankees add another capable bat or two.