Johnny Damon returned to the Bronx tonight, and got a nice applause in his first at-bat. Other than that, the Yankee Stadium crowd didn’t cheer about much else. The offense was (again) shut down by a pitcher the Yankees have never faced before, and a late rally came up small, as Detroit prevailed, 3-1.

The Red Sox were off tonight, but the Rays managed to beat Cliff Lee, so the Yanks are now tied atop the AL East with their rivals from Tampa. Their lead in the Wild Card sits at five-and-a-half games.

AP Photo

Initial Reaction:

For the second straight game, the Yankee offense was nowhere to be found. Max Scherzer easily navigated the first six innings, allowing just two singles and two walks, never really facing any threat. Phil Coke allowed a pair of hits to match a pair of outs, and Ryan Perry chipped in three outs while allowing a hit. The first eight innings were dreadful. Then, things got a little brighter in the ninth. Tigers’ closer Jose Valverde, who recorded the final out of the eighth inning, started off the ninth with a four-pitch walk to Robbie Cano. Jorge Posada grounded into a fielder’s choice, and two pitches later Curtis Granderson brought the tying run to the plate with a single to left. Valverde was still in the giving mood, as he walked Frankie Cervelli on five pitches to load the bases with just one out. Brett Gardner brought home the Yanks’ first run of the game (and the first run in 18 innings!) by drawing a five-pitch walk, pushing the tying run into scoring position. Next up? Captain Clutch, of course.

With Valverde already having thrown just six strikes on 18 pitches in the ninth inning, he naturally started Jeter off with two straight balls. With the count 2-0, The Captain took a called strike right down Broadway (which was the right move), and three pitches later we have a full count. Instead of keeping the line moving, Jeter grounded the ball to short for a rally killing 6-4-3 double play. Gardner slid very hard into second base and at first glance it looked like Jeter beat the throw to first – but that wasn’t the case.

On the bump for New York was Javy Vazquez, and it seemed like nothing was there for him tonight. Tigers batters had no trouble digging in against Javy and extending at-bats against him, which led to an absurdly high pitch count and a very fast exit. Javy threw 25 pitches in the first, 34 in the second, 24 in the third and 23 in the fourth. Vazquez clearly didn’t have any kind of put away pitch or command of the zone tonight. Amazingly, the only damage done was a two-run homer in the second.

In the end, Javy needed 106 pitches to record 12 outs, and 34 (34!) of those 106 pitches were fouled off. That’s a ridiculous rate, and speaks to his recent problem of being unable to put hitters away. This has been a problem for some time now, and the Yanks need to do something about it.

Positives From The Game:

Granderson went 3-for-3 with a walk and a double. Even though it’s been only five games since he revamped his swing, the results have been very promising thus far. Color me excited.

More dap for the bullpen, especially Sergio Mitre, who went 2.2 scoreless innings, and Kerry Wood, who chipped in another 1.1 innings of scoreless ball. The ‘pen kept the Yankees in the game, and without we wouldn’t have gotten excited in the ninth.

Negatives From The Game:

Jeter’s double plays have become serious rally-killers. I find myself half-expecting a double play when Jeter comes up with a runner on first now.

I wrote about Javy’s troubles already in this post, so they’re well-documented. But, he should be mentioned again here. Something has to be done, he can’t go out every five days with nothing working.

Both Alex Rodriguez (calf) and Nick Swisher (forearm) left the game with injuries that right now appear to be minor. Between those two and Lance Berkman’s jammed ankle, the bench (and lineup) could be very, very short for the foreseeable future. The Yanks might have to make a roster move to get some help, otherwise we might run into a situation like this game where Cervelli’s playing third.

Interesting Facts:

Of the 21 batters Javy faced, just six saw three pitchers or fewer – while 13 saw at least five pitches.

With Derek Jeter’s game-ending, bases-loaded double play, he’s now 1-for-12 (.083 BA) with the bases loaded this year.

What’s Next?:

Game two tomorrow night in a matchup of club aces. This should be fun.

Probables: Justin Verlander (13-7, 3.72 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (15-5, 3.14ERA)