Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yankees Start Trip With Loss in Seattle

For the Yankees, the western sojourn that began Friday night is not just a nine-game trip. It is a test of their mettle, measuring the efficiency of their offense, in three spacious ballparks, against starting pitchers who excel at their craft. Runs will be precious. So will victories. All of these truths were reinforced in the opener at Safeco Field, where the Yankees disintegrated after tagging the 22-year-old phenom Michael Pineda for three runs, knocking him out after five innings. Their bullpen imploded against one of the worst

offensive teams in the majors. Their best chance to tie ended with a baserunning blunder, with Eduardo Nunez getting picked off second base to end the eighth inning. The Mariners’ 4-3 victory carried even greater significance, considering that the Yankees tormentor Felix Hernandez is pitching on Saturday. Hernandez, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was 3-0 with an 0.35 earned run average against them last season. And from there, it hardly gets easier with Jason Vargas, a tough lefty, starting on Sunday. Oakland is slated to start Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson. The Angels will send out their top three pitchers: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. In all, seven of the nine starters the Yankees will face on their trip began Friday among the A.L.’s top 15 in E.R.A. Their first challenge was Pineda, who toted into Friday a 14-inning scoreless streak and the reputation as one of baseball’s best pitchers, no need to qualify that description with the word “young.” In discussing him and Hernandez before the game, Mark Teixeira went so far as to describe them as “the best one-two punch in baseball.” Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee may beg to differ, but Teixeira’s point was well-taken. With a 2.16 E.R.A., Pineda led the A.L. in strikeouts per nine innings, with 9.41, and had allowed only 14 walks in 58 and a third innings. Manager Joe Girardi spent part of the Yankees’ day off Thursday analyzing videotape of Pineda, noticing his remarkable percentage of first-pitch strikes (71.2 percent, best in the majors, according to; a slider that acts more like what he called a power curveball; and staggering control for someone so young. And yet until an hour or two before the game, when his players watched video and studied scouting reports, Pineda existed mostly as a concept, not an actual pitcher. “The only thing that I’ve heard is that he throws hard,” Curtis Granderson said. Teixeira said he intended to examine how Pineda handled left-handed hitters, but considered it counterproductive to base his approach at the plate off it. “On TV,” Teixeira said, “you can’t see movement very well.” The only way to gauge Pineda’s stuff, Teixeira said, was to step into the batter’s box. There are no other substitutions. In his first at-bat, Teixeira saw the wicked movement. He saw the slider. He also saw — and clobbered — a 95 mile-per-hour fastball, sending it deep into the right-field stands. In the fifth, Granderson worked a one-out walk and scampered to third on a single by Teixeira. He raced home on a wild pitch that moved Teixeira to second, a crucial moment when Alex Rodriguez followed with a bloop single that fell just in front of a diving Franklin Gutierrez in center field. The Yankees led, 3-0, but not for long. A. J. Burnett, whose five-inning stint was his shortest outing since his season debut, was seemingly on his way to the second nine-walk no-hitter of his career, having walked four and struck out four through the first two innings. But in the bottom of the fifth, Brendan Ryan led off with a single and moved to third on Ichiro Suzuki’s double inside the left-field line. Luis Rodriguez lined a ball off Burnett’s foot that caromed to Robinson Cano, who threw Rodriguez out at first. But Ryan scored on the play, as soon did Suzuki, when Justin Smoak followed with another run-scoring groundout that cut the Yankees’ lead to 3-2. With Burnett laboring and at 97 pitches, Girardi called on Boone Logan to pitch to the left-handed hitting Adam Kennedy to begin the sixth. For his second straight outing, Logan allowed a single to the lone hitter he faced. In came Luis Ayala, who allowed a single to Miguel Olivo. Carlos Peguero then walked on four pitches. Ryan’s fielder’s choice groundout scored Kennedy with the tying run, and Suzuki’s groundout drove in Olivo with the go-ahead run, the winning run, the run that began what could be a difficult trip for the Yankees.

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