For the third time this season, Johan Santana served up a home run with the bases full, as C.C. Sabathia and the Yankees took the rubber game of a three-game set in the Bronx.
Santana had only surrendered two grand slams in his career entering the 2010 campaign, but Mark Teixeira did what Josh Willingham and Shane Victorino did earlier this year in helping the Yankees to a 4-0 victory.
The Mets were laregly ineffective against the Yankees ace, and while one big swing from Teix was the difference in the game, the fact is that Santana was anything but sharp. But where did the problems come from?
Santana was often pitching from behind in the count early on, and his fastball didn't seem to fool anybody. His changeup was by far his best pitch, but because he was unable to locate his fastball with consistency, the Yankee hitters were able to either sit on his off-speed pitches or capitalize on mistakes.
Santana did keep the Mets in the game and he only gave up runs in the one inning, but the difference between his two main pitches was stark.
He got Nick Swisher to pop up a fly ball on a changeup at the knees after a diet of high fastballs in the first inning. Teixeira swung through a changeup away after peppering low 90s fastballs inside, and Derek Jeter looked lost on a changeup at the knees the second time up despite beating out an infield single.
A-Rod got fooled on a changeup that resulted in a check-swing dribbler down the right field line in the second inning, and he rolled over a changeup down and in when he came to bat in the third. Cervelli, too, couldn't handle the changeup down and away after a bunch of fastballs up and in during his first at-bat, and he chopped a low changeup into a double play in the fourth.
The problem came when he was pitching out of the stretch or when he got into hitters' counts.
He fell behind six of the first 14 batters he faced, and he was forced to throw a lot of pitches in the early stages, including 25 in the second inning when the Yankees were unable to score.
While his changeup looked good, it was his fastball that seemed more hittable than normal, lacking the normal movement we have seen in the past. When a fastball comes in flat at 89 MPH, good hitters will not miss it.
He left a fastball middle in to Posada for the Yankees' first hit and the gave up a leadoff single to Gardner on a fastball down broadway to lead off the third. He also missed his location on a pitch to Curtis Granderson on another fastball, but the damage was minimal because of the double play that followed. The biggest mistake, however, came on a 1-1 middle-in fastball to Teixeira that he took for a grand slam home run and gave the Yankees their 4-0 lead.
Despite giving up eight hits in six innings, Santana did look better when he started mixing in his slider during the second and third times through the order. His changeup had gone from 77 MPH and darting to 81 MPH and normal, so the slider was essential for keeping hitters off balance.
By then, though, the damage had already been done and Sabathia was able to do the rest.