Bullpen breakdown prevents Yanks’ sweep
The string of strong starts for the Yankees against the Rangers in the four-game series ended Thursday as Ivan Nova struggled over 5 2/3 innings and left the game trailing, 4-0. Nova had stopped a five-game winless streak in his previous start, but he was not as sharp this time out.
Yet it was the bullpen that was at greater fault for the Yankees’ failure to complete a four-game sweep as Texas saved face with a 10-6 victory. Nevertheless, taking three of four games pushed the Yankees over the Rangers for the best record in the American League and served notice on Texas that a third consecutive trip to the World Series has a treacherous pathway through New York.
The Yanks’ pen will have to do better than it showed Thursday, however. The Yankees overcame the deficit Nova created and actually took the lead before Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain let it get away. The Rangers struck for eight runs over the last four innings against four relievers.
Chamberlain had the roughest outing. He allowed two earned runs, four hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings. Cut him some slack because Chamberlain is coming back from Tommy John shoulder surgery and an injured ankle. The rust shows. Opponents are batting .448 against Joba, whose ERA is 9.00.
Nova’s most impressive inning was the third when he worked himself in and out of trouble. He loaded the bases on a double by rookie Mike Olt and walks to Elvis Andrus and Michael Young, not a smart thing to do with Josh Hamilton coming up. But Nova struck out Hamilton on three pitches, the last a mean curve in the dirt, got Adrian Beltre to ground into a fielder’s choice with third baseman Casey McGehee getting a force at the plate and struck out David Murphy.
The Rangers had gotten to Nova early. A single by Young, a double by Hamilton and a single by Beltre gave Texas a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Nova faced another bases-loaded situation in the sixth but did not escape this time.
The Texas rally began with one of those dreaded fly balls to left field at Yankee Stadium during day games. Andruw Jones lost sight of Hamilton’s drive in the blazing sun, and the ball fell for a leadoff double. Nova worsened matters by hitting Beltre with a pitch. A single by Murphy scored a run, and after a sacrifice and an intentional walk the bags were full.
Nova got an out on a force play at third base but a run scored. When he walked Olt, the 9-hole hitter, to load the bases again, manager Joe Girardi made the move to Cody Eppley, who retired Andrus on a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
The Yankees got Nova off the hook, however, as they batted around in the bottom of the sixth in putting up a 5-spot to take the lead. Rangers lefthander Derek Holland entered the inning with a one-hit shutout working but he could not survive the onslaught that befell him. As many rallies do, it began somewhat quietly on an infield single by Ichiro Suzuki, who advanced to second on an infield out.
Derek Jeter got the Yanks on the board with a single to center, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. Jeet took second on the throw to the plate and was able to score on a single to center by Nick Swisher, who got his ninth RBI of the series. After Mark Teixeira struck out, Jones atoned for his misplay at the top of the inning by driving a first-pitch slider down the left field line for a two-run home run that tied the score.
McGehee also hit the ball hard to right-center, but it looked like the third out until Olt, playing right field, dropped the ball for a two-base error. Russell Martin abruptly greeted reliever Tanner Scheppers with a single to center that scored McGehee to put the Yanks ahead.
Too bad it did not last very long.