Summer went kicking and screaming at Yankee Stadium last night as two hours of rain not only extended the game to the precipice of the autumnal equinox, but also seemed to wash away its importance.
Before the skies opened, the Rays held a 1-0 lead after scratching a first inning run courtesy of trademark AJ Burnett wildness. Meanwhile, Wade Davis was near perfect, allowing only one base runner, a walk to Curtis Granderson, over the 2 1/3 innings that preceded the downpour. So, based on the early returns, it looked as if an extended rain delay would work to the Yankees advantage.
Had the game not been played in September and had such significant playoff implications, it is very likely that the evening would have ended with a postponement. Instead, the two teams waited through a delay of over two hours before resuming to an atmosphere that more resembled the first day of Spring than Autumn.
First out of the bullpen for the Rays was rookie prospect Jeremy Hellickson, who despite giving up two runs, including Lance Berkman’s first Yankee homerun, impressed with a deceptive fastball and dynamic change that resulted in five strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings. Realizing the importance of the game, Maddon followed up his young right hander with the Rays’ usual bullpen formula: Choate for a lefty followed by Balfour and Benoit in the seventh and eighth. By the ninth, the Rays had built a 7-2 lead, eliminating the need for Rafael Soriano, but otherwise Maddon played the game as if it was vital to the pennant race. The Yankees, on the other hand, did not.
Royce Ring, Dustin Moseley, Chad Gaudin and Jonathan Albaledejo are not the quartet of relievers that you’d expect to be pitching in a close game against a divisional rival so late in the season. However, Joe Girardi has already made it perfectly clear that winning the division is not a priority, so the sight of Ring coming out of the delay was almost like sounding the bell on a defeat.
Aside from the loss, Burnett’s rain shortened outing, his second in three starts, deprived the Yankees of an opportunity to further gauge his progress toward becoming a more reliable option in the post season. Although Burnett is all but assured a spot in the post season rotation, it remains to be seen where he will be slotted. Because of inclement weather, the Yankees may be no closer to making that decision.
Considering the circumstances of the pennant race and the conditions last night, Girardi’s caution is perfectly understandable (although continuing to play the battered and bruised Mark Teixeira does seem to be a contradiction). Nonetheless, the approach has definitely taken away from the excitement that one would normally associate with pennant race baseball.
Mark Teixeira’s Performance Since Breaking His Toe on August 31