More Bad Yankee Luck

July 04, 2008

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Street Reporter

More Bad Yankee Luck

After yesterday’s game, the Yankees held a closed-door meeting among coaches and players—reportedly, manager Joe Girardi spoke, followed by Johnny Damon and captain Derek Jeter. In a postgame news conference, Girardi repeatedly (and sometimes heatedly) refused to reveal what was said in the meeting, although the gist of the discussion was obvious: the can’t-lose Yankees have been losing.

Dinged up by multiple injuries, especially to their starting pitchers, the Yankees have been hovering around the .500 mark, only climbing out of the cellar recently. But they’re still looking up at the Rays and Red Sox, eight games out of first and five games out of second. It’s not a place that the Yankees, or their fans, are used to occupying.

Last night’s game was even more unsettling, as Jon Lester tossed a complete-game, 7-0 shutout. It wasn’t just the shutout—after all, Lester had a no-hitter earlier this year, so his stuff is clearly good—as the way they were shut out. Andy Pettitte, who had been doing better of late and always dependable at home, was chased after four-and-two-thirds innings, having given up five runs on nine hits, with three walks and two strikeouts. Boston jumped on him early, scoring two runs in each of the first two innings, and the Yankees seemed to have given up the game after that.

Jeter booted a ball to prolong the first inning, though he was one of only three Yanks to get a hit against Lester. Giambi and Betemit each whiffed twice, but six different guys in pinstripes struck out. The energy simply wasn’t there for a comeback, and Damon was one of the few players who spoke at length about New York’s play outside the closed-door meeting. Mentioning the impending trade deadline and the massive payroll, he said that they weren’t playing up to expectations, to state it mildly.

After a meeting like that and public comments like Damon’s, you expect the Yankees to come out with some fire in the next game, Damon in particular. And things started well today, as he hit a leadoff double off Boston’s ace Josh Beckett, later scoring on A-Rod’s two-run double. Giambi knocked in A-Rod with a sac fly, and now it was the Red Sox looking at an early deficit.

But instead of hanging their heads, Boston kept pressing, as Ellsbury reached on a bunt single in the top of the third and Pedroia singled. Drew moved both over with a groundout, and Manny Ramirez walked to load the bases. After Lowell drove in Ellsbury with a sac fly to short left, the Yankees looked like they might escape without further damage, if they could only get one more out.

Kevin Youkilis, his right hand twitching restlessly the way it does when he holds his bat aloft, slammed a deep shot to left field and Damon chased it back, leaping to make the catch at the wall, in what could have been a spectacular play. Instead, he slammed against the unpadded chain-link fence behind him, which jostled the ball loose, leading to one of the odder sights of the day.

The combination of batspin and Damon’s attempted catch flipped the ball onto the padded top of the wall, where it balanced for a long moment. But Damon’s collision with the unsteady fence shook the ball just enough to drop the ball into fair territory. Damon, banged up from the impact with the wall, looked into his glove, puzzled at the ball’s absence. He got up and found it behind him and threw it quickly into the infield, but not before Boston scored two more runs.

Worse, Damon was clearly hurt, cradling his left shoulder and the right side of his ribcage. The trainers came out to tend to him, but to no avail, and he had to leave the game. Though X-rays were negative, he’s scheduled for an MRI, and Yankee fans can only hope for the best.

If he’s out for any length of time, that’s one more player the Yankees must do without, just as they have done without A-Rod and Posada already this season, just as they are currently without the services of clutch-hitting Hideki Matsui. And it’s hard to deny that Damon’s state of mind, determined to back up his strong words in private and public with passionate play, led to the injury. He rarely plays lackadaisically anyway, but he’s not like Ryan Freel, who throws himself around the diamond like he’s paid on a per-contusion basis.

But, playing with abandon, Damon knocked himself out of the game and, perhaps, even longer. Without their leadoff hitter, the boys in pinstripes seemed to falter. They went down in order in the bottom of the frame, then Cano, Cabrera and Molina all failed to drive in A-Rod from second in the fourth inning.

Boston, perhaps fired up by fizzling the Yankees’ rally, scored in the top of the fifth on Mike Lowell’s three-run shot, bringing the score to 6-3. And the Yankees failed to bring in runners again in the seventh, with two on and no out. Brett Gardner, the recent callup who replaced Damon, grounded out to second, but brought Melky Cabrera to third. After Jeter walked to load the bases, Bobby Abreu popped out to first, and A-Rod grounded out to second to end the inning.

The game’s currently in a rain delay, and it’s official if they have to call it off entirely. Given the weather conditions, that’s very possible, but if the Yanks do get another chance, we can only hope that Damon gives them another fiery speech during the delay.

It’s just too bad that he won’t be able to back his words up with actions—for this game, anyway.

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