Joe West would have been bored out of his mind last night.
Six weeks ago, after the Yankees began their title defense with a three-game opening series against the Boston Red Sox, major league umpire Joe West complained about the length of time the Yankees and Red Sox take to play each other. Among his criticisms, he said,
“They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace. They’re two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.’’
Well, last night's contest, at three hours and forty seven minutes, was no exception. West was not working this game - or any MLB game, for that matter - so perhaps he was watching it on ESPN in his hotel room or at home. Probably while telling his kids to hurry up and finish their math homework without worrying so much about whether they got any of the answers correct.
If so, he would have been none too pleased at how long Monday night's game took. The 20 runs scored, seven pitching changes, 26 hits (including seven home runs, with those excruciatingly slow home-run trots), the six walks (Walks?!? For Christ's sake, run!!!), and the 348 total pitches. Heck, 29 of those pitches were thrown by knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, whose pitches take almost 40% longer to reach the plate than an average major league fastball. The nerve!
I kid, of course. Unless you either hate or completely misunderstand baseball, you could hardly have asked for a more exciting game. Besides the general excitement created by any Yanks/Sawx contest, you had the added appeal of:
- The Monday Night game on ESPN, with one-time Yankee and Red Sox heroes Aaron Boone and Nomar Garciaparra among the commentators
- A new ballpark with 48,000 screaming fans, most of whom stayed for all four hours
- The pitting of the Yankees' budding ace, Phil Hughes (5-0, AL-best 1.39 ERA entering the game) against the Red Sox expensive, imported reclamation project (Dice-K, coming off one of the best starts of his American league career).
- The Yankees' efforts to catch red-hot Tampa for first place in the AL East
- The Red Sox' effort to stay above .500
- The Yankees depleted bench and bullpen, without Curtis Granderson or Nick Johnson, with Jorge Posada questionable, and either Joba or Mariano unavailable out of the bullpen, and Chan Ho Park having just come back from an injury.
So there was plenty of intrigue to go around. Early on, Matsuzaka was as terrible as ever, allowing five runs in the first inning, before he settled down. It also looked as though Hughes would continue to be the American League's best pitcher, as he took a 6-2 lead into the 5th inning, but a couple of long at-bats by Marco Scutaro and Dustin "Laser Show" Pedroia and a three run jack by JD Drew brought the game to within one run.
The Yankees got a so-called insurance run on a double by Marcus Thames, but an inning later, the struggling Victor Martinez homered to make it 7-6 Yankees. That lead only lasted until the top of the eighth, though, as Chan Ho Park, clearly not fully recovered from his ailment, allowed a single to Drew and then back-to-back homers by Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez, this time from the other side of the plate.
That made it 9-7 Boston, their first lead of the evening. Flame throwing Daniel Bard made quick work of the Yankees in the bottom of the eighth, but then Boston got two men on base with two out in the top of the ninth, whereupon Javier Vazquez was called upon to relieve. Vazquez, you may recall, last relieved for the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, whereupon he surrendered a grand slam to Johnny Damon that basically put the game 0 and the pennant - out of reach for New York.
But despite his early struggles, and unlike his track record late in 2004, Vazquez had been pitching better recently, including a seven-inning, two run performance against the Tigers last week. He struck out Youkilis on four pitches, setting the stage for the heart of the Yankees' order against the Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon.
papelbon allowed a double to Brett Gardner, who apparently can occasionally acquire an extra base with his bat after all, and then got a fly out from Mark Teixeira, whereupon Gardner went to third. This move proved to be an unnecessary risk, as Alex Rodriguez hit the very next pitch 420 feet, over the center field wall, to tie the game at 9-9.
This event may have rattled Papelbon, who's no stranger to choking against the Yankees, as his second pitch to light-hitting catcher (with the new Gazoo helmet!) Francisco Cervelli hit him on the arm. And then Marcus Thames deposited the very next pitch 381 feet away, just over the left field wall, to end this tedious, boring game, 11-9, 227 minutes after it started.
What a drag.