From pitchers duel to marathon
As well as Bartolo Colon was pitching for the Yankees Wednesday night, it was easy to forget that they were lucky to have the lead. An old-fashioned pitchers duel was ongoing at Camden Yards between a comeback-minded veteran in Colon and a young lion in Orioles lefthander Zach Britton.
An unearned run was all that separated the two hurlers through seven innings. Colon added a scoreless eighth by striking out the side and leaving the potential tying run on third base. With Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, manager Joe Girardi’s call to remove Colon after eight innings despite his throwing only 87 pitches seemed automatic because with Mo a save usually is.
Not this time. One-out singles by Adam Jones and Nick Markakis gave Baltimore runners on the corners with one out. Vlad Guerrero’s conventional first-pitch hacking produced a game-tying sacrifice fly that sent the game into extra innings and left Colon with as unkind a no-decision as possible.
Colon has been a godsend for the Yankees, who lost Phil Hughes to arm fatigue a month ago and would have been in deep you-know-what if the Dominican righthander hadn’t pitched like he did in 2005 when he won the American League Cy Young Award with the Angels.
It doesn’t get better than what Colon did Wednesday night – unless he had won, that is. Over one stretch, he got 14 consecutive outs, beginning with a quick-reflex move on a liner to the mound that he turned into a double play. Colon had Orioles hitters so stymied that five of his seven strikeouts were looking. That has been a constant for Colon this year. Of his 48 strikeouts, 27 have been on called third strikes.
I risk giving away my age here to say that there was a time that I like to think was not too long ago (but I know it really was) when a pitcher on the sort of role Colon was on would finish what he started. Yet considering that Colon is coming off surgery and the Yankees have the best closer who ever lived, turning the ninth over to Mo can hardly be criticized.
What the Orioles’ comeback emphasized was that their starting pitcher had been pretty good as well because the Yankees didn’t get much off him except for a run that was fueled by a busted pickoff play at second base in the fourth inning. The Yankees were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base in the seven innings against Britton.
Their failures in the clutch continued into extras before they finally broke loose in the 15th to win, 4-1. Not surprisingly considering the venue, it was Robinson Cano who got the big hit, a two-run double that helped the Yankees put a positive touch on this marathon that took 4 hours and 56 minutes to complete.
Cano, who had the Yankees’ only extra-base hit to go with their 14 singles, extended his hitting streak at Camden Yards to 17 games dating to May 1, 2010, batting .431 with 6 doubles, 2 home runs and 15 RBI in 72 at-bats. Since the start of 2009, Cano has hit .446 with 37 runs, 14 doubles 11 home runs and 35 RBI in 41 games and 166 at-bats against the Orioles.
The Yankees were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position before Cano’s double, which came off Mike Gonzalez, a lefthander who then skulled Chris Dickerson with a pitch that dented his helmet and raised a welt next to his left eye.
Plate umpire Dan Bellino ejected Gonzalez, who was the last pitcher in the Baltimore bullpen so manager Buck Showalter had to use Jeremy Guthrie, who had been scheduled to start Thursday night, to finish the 15th. Games like this tend to shrink rosters. Girardi had to use a pitcher, A.J. Burnett, as a pinch runner for Dickerson and Eduardo Nunez moved from shortstop to right field for the bottom of the 15th.
Determined not to use Joba Chamberlain or David Robertson, Girardi coaxed four innings from Hector Noesi, who had a memorable major-league debut in earning his first victory that he will never forget. The rest of the Yankees won’t, either, not even Colon.