Alex Rodriguez is one of the baseball’s great players, but he’s also one of baseball’s great observers. Immediately after a game, he remembers the individual plays and the pitches. He pays attention when he’s on the field, and you can bet he was paying attention when Dave Robertson struck out Jim Thome last night with two-on and two-out in the seventh.
“That was a beautiful sequence,” Rodriguez said. “He came with the fastball then threw him three nasty breaking balls. That was a big key at-bat.”
Postgame, it was Ben Shpigel who asked Robertson about the very same thing I was thinking after that Thome at-bat. Robertson had walked the previous hitter, and to get Thome he seemed to throw two completely different curveballs: A small one for a called strike, then a big one in the dirt for a swinging strike three. Obviously they were both curveballs, but they seemed like different versions. Robertson said, no. Same pitch, location just made them look different.
It worked against Thome. One looked like a ball, and Thome took it for a strike. One looked like a strike, and Thomes couldn’t hit it.
“Just couldn’t find the strike zone for a little bit,” Robertson said. “I had to bear down and find the zone. I found it when I had to.”
Obviously the Yankees always want the bullpen to make it look easy, but sometimes there are nights like Wednesday, and those nights are just as good. Boone Logan got his first two hitters, but Joe Mauer fought through an eight-pitch at-bat to single. Robertson walked the first guy he faced, then got that huge strikeout against the Twins top home run threat. Kerry Wood threw some gas to Michael Cuddyer, but ultimately put two runners on without the ball leaving the infield. Even Mariano Rivera started his night with three straight balls before retiring five four in a row.
Not one of the Yankees relievers was perfect,* but all four did more good than bad. They were right up there with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira in giving the Yankees the early series lead.
“It was just a battle of the bullpens,” Rodriguez said. “And we like our chances at that point.”
* Granted, Rivera was pretty close to perfect. He was especially impressive considering the rocky way his season ended. “There are times when he gives runs up,” Derek Jeter said. “But I wouldn’t want anyone else out there.”
Associated Press photo