I had the tremendous pleasure of attending last night’s Yankee game in Oakland. After the Bombers hit in the 5th inning I took a look at the scoreboard, to see how many hits they had, and the zeroes for Oakland were staring right back at me.
I struggle to pay as close attention to the mechanics of games I attend versus those I watch on television. I’m certain Michael Kay would have let the cat out of the bag sooner had I been sitting on my couch in Brooklyn. Sitting in the stands in Oakland, that was the first time I or anyone else in my section (entirely populated by Yankee fans, by the way – more on that later) realized Phil Hughes was throwing a no-hitter.
After that, it was on. As Phil continued to make the A’s look like a beer league softball team I kept on thinking of Joe Girardi. Not two weeks after he insisted that he would have removed CC Sabathia, no-hitter or not, the last thing the manager wanted to see was his youngest pitcher throwing a no-hitter of his own.
Others in the stands watched a maestro do his thing. I watched the pitch count and Phil’s velocity. My Dad made a point I agreed with. If Hughes could get through the 7th, we felt that the no-hitter was gonna be his.
Hughes had thrown 78 pitches entering the 7th inning, an inning that proved to be perhaps his strongest. He put down the A’s 1-2-3, and did it on only 8 pitches. Having thrown only 86 pitches through 7, Phil was in a position to go the distance.
Unfortunately, fate wasn’t on his side. The remaining pieces of Eric Chavez hit a quick dribbler up the middle to start the 8th. The ball hit Hughes, who immediately looked up … and kept looking up as he struggled to find the ball. Chavez took 1st. The play was ruled a hit. Destiny would have to wait for another night.
This may be sacrilege, but Hughes slowed after that. His fastball stopped hitting 93-94 on the Oakland gun and fell down to around 90-91. He struggled to find the zone as easily. Perhaps his adrenaline broke. Joe Girardi took him out for Joba Chamberlain at just around 100 pitches.
Phil Hughes’ flirtation with a no-no is the main story of the game, but a distant second would have to be how close Ben Sheets kept it. The Yankees came out swinging. Derek Jeter put the first pitch of the game in shallow center, and then Nick Johnson drew a walk (I was stunned, by the way). Tex struck out looking (stunned again) as Jeter was thrown out at 3rd on an ill-advised double steal. A-Rod came up, and gave off the impression he believed he could jack Sheets the minute he stepped into the box.
He came about a foot and some wind shy. After working a 3-1 count, I turned to my Dad and told him to look for a fastball. Alex was thinking the same thing. So was Sheets, and A-Rod crushed it to deep center. The forecast had called for strong winds all night, and a clear crosswind moving from left field to right field killed the ball on the warning track. (Kurt Suzuki put a pitch in the exact same spot, so the winds later worked in the Yankees’ favor.)
Both pitchers went to work after that. The next fireworks didn’t come until the 4th, when A-Rod came up again and lined a triple to right (more on Alex in a second). Cano followed with a triple in the exact same spot and the Yankees were on the board. Jorge grounded out to first, but it was enough to get Robinson home.
That would be all Hughes would need, who, as we’ve established, came one head jerk shy of advancing a no-hitter through more than 7.1 innings. Chamberlain allowed an inherited run to score after that, and the crowd at Yankee Stadium … sorry, the Oakland Coliseum suddenly realized it was still a mighty close game.
Phil Hughes’ final line was a brilliant 7.1 innings pitched, 1 ER, 2 BBs and 10 Ks. He was also incredibly efficient, throwing 101 pitches, 70 of them for strikes. The juxtaposition of Hughes with Joba was jarring. Joba got 2 outs on 10 pitches himself, which wasn’t too shabby, but next to Hughes’ flirtation with immortality Chamberlain looked pedestrian. Speaking as a firm believer that Joba should start, it was disappointing to see.
In the top of the 9th Brett Gardner hit what I swear is the first ball he’s put out of the infield all season to get home a much-needed insurance run. After that, Girardi gave the ball to Mariano Rivera, who wasn’t sharp, but got the job done. He gave up a hit and hit a batter before ending the game.
On the subject of A-Rod, he’s officially arrived this year. His slash line now stands at .320/.452/.620. Much is being made of a so-called power outage, but that’s simply not true. He had a rough first week to the season. In the last 7 days he’s hit 2 homers – came close to having a 3rd – and is batting a crazy .467/.667/1.067. When a batter’s slugging is over 1.000 he’s locked in.
Meanwhile, Tex and Nick Johnson have officially worn out my patience. Johnson gets more of a pass for all the walks he draws, but Tex has no excuse. It’s time to get it going boys. There will come a time when players like Jorge, Robbie and A-Rod start slumping and the team will need its 2-3 hitters to be above the Mendoza line.
A few notes on the Oakland Coliseum and the Athletics experience:
- Watching an A’s game feels a bit like going to see a minor league club play. I’ve enjoyed the experience every time, but the stadium is small. They don’t open all the seats. The fairways are too crowded. My father contemplated committing a felony to get our concession line moving quicker. You get the idea.
- There are at least as many Yankee fans at a Yankees-A’s game in Oakland as there are A’s fans, and the Yankee fans are louder. I was surrounded by Yankee fans, literally surrounded, which was neat, but it’s not the experience I was hoping for.
I asked one such fan what the deal was and he responded, defensively, that it has been that way since he was 12 (I’d peg him at 40 today). Then he added that his father and grandfather were both Yankee fans. I came within an inch of asking if they were front runners too, but the crowded fairway wouldn’t have given me any place to run.
- The Bay Area-based Yankee fans are annoying. They don’t seem genuine. It could be that I’m biased, because I’m a home team kind of guy. If I wasn’t raised a Yankee fan I’d most certainly be a Met fan (now seems like a good time to thank god I’m a Yankee fan). But it’s also that these West Coast Yankee fans lack general knowledge about the team. They mispronounce players’ names. They confuse nicknames. I heard a “hear we go Yankees, hear we go” chant, which is as odd as it sounds. And so on.
If I were running this in reverse, say if I decided since I’m from Brooklyn that it was the Dodgers or bust, I would make a point of knowing everything about the team. I would work that much harder to prove that I was a legitimate fan. Most of the West Coast Yankee fans, especially the couple sitting directly in front of me, failed the test. It’s called the Internet, guys — use it.
- A’s fans, on the other hand, know their baseball. As far as opposing fans go, they’re not so bad. But they were also rooting for the no-hitter. We didn’t get our first “Yankees Suck” chant until after it had been broken up.
- The Coliseum aspires to be Shea Stadium when it grows up one day.
- You can get Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams beer, and that’s only what I saw. I’m far from a beer snob, but when I’m paying $8-$10 for beer I’d rather have a Fat Tire than a Bud.
For the record, it’s wild seeing the Yankees on the road. Everything has an eerie, deja-vu feeling. They wear the road uniforms. They bat first. They’re not in Yankee Stadium. The only thing that felt familiar was the stands, where apparently it’s always Yankee Stadium.
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