Ian Kennedy, all smiles and jovial in defeat, hesitated when asked the question. He stared into the tops of the twenty microphones encircling his head like pointed spears, each one oscillating slightly with the holder’s hidden arm movements, and thought hard. Finally he spoke.
Brian Bruney was asked the very same question, moments later.
“Different. It was definitely different.”
Of course, both Yankee pitchers were referring to swapping roles for the evening. Only minutes before first pitch last night, Joe Girardi made the intriguing decision to use the bullpen to start the game, just in case the forecasted rain rolled through Kansas City and washed out the contest. Why get your young starter all fired up and ready to go if he might have to be shut down two innings later? Why not use the bullpen first, guys who are used to pitching one or two innings at a clip, and see what happens?
Sounds like a good idea.
So, after Johnny Damon lead off the second straight game with a walk and failed to get to second base for the second straight game – Girardi never ordered a steal, Robinson Cano tapped weakly into a double-play, and Bobby Abreu grounded out – Bruney took the hill. In his two innings of quiet, continued excellence, he gave up one hit and struck out four, and the rains began to fall.
You see? Our new manager is a genius, just like everyone said.
However, the veteran umpire crew would never call the game, and never once ordered the ready-to-rock Kauffman Stadium Grounds Crew to cover the field, even as the rain began building interlocking puddles on the infield dirt. Even as the players and their uniforms began to drip. Even as the nothing-nothing score moved slowly, perfectly, and inevitably into the hands of Kyle Farnsworth.
As is often the case with The Farns, it’s not so much the number of earned runs that he coughs up on any given day, but how and when he gives them up. Take last night for example. For four-and-one-half innings of wet and dirty, no-runs baseball, all you could think about was which team would score first before the fifth inning ended, so that if the game was actually called due to the rain, that team would get an easy “W” in the win column.
Using that mindset as our backdrop, in jogged Kyle Farnsworth in the bottom of the fourth inning, half-skipping like a kid who loves to play outside in the rain. He pitched okay in the fourth, allowing one single and striking out one, but he also got help from the Royals when Joey Gaithright – who had just stole second base – got greedy and tried to swipe third on Jose Molina. The Yankees backup catcher had been personally insulted the night before when the young, aggressive Royals ran all over an ailing Jorge Posada, and he gunned out the speedy Gaithright by two steps with a perfect throw to A-Rod, who never had to move his glove. This was the second caught-stealing of the night for the proud Jose, arguably the best backup backstop the Yankees have had since Jorge himself filled this role for Girardi, or vice versa.
After Damon struck-out-swinging with a runner in scoring position and two outs in the top of the fifth, a familiar feeling since he struck-out-looking in the same situation in the third, Textbook Farnsworth trotted out to pitch the bottom of the frame. Now remember, this is the bottom of the fifth, for the home team, in a game that is in jeopardy of being called off due to the rain. If the Royals managed to score a run here, it would essentially be like giving up a walk-off hit, allowing the umpires to hand the contest to the Royals at their whim.
So, you tell me what happens next, given your vast knowledge of the history of Kyle Farnsworth.
First batter, second or third pitch, monster home run. Sound familiar?
Again, It’s not so much the number of earned runs allowed, it’s the when and the how that digs deep into one’s brain, twists and turns, and waits until you start twisting and turning your head in disgust.
On the postgame show, YES Network commentators David Cone and Ken Singleton would both use the word “maddening” to describe the emotion most endured when watching Farnsworth pitch on a regular basis. John Buck, batting eighth in the Royals lineup, hit that homerun a country mile – literally – an estimated 440 feet into the peaceful, colorful fountains in straight-away center. Kyle never even turned to look, recognizing that all-too-familiar sound of a wooden bat knocking the living daylights out of a pitched ball that he has thrown. To add insult to injury, he would walk the home team into another scoring opportunity with two outs, then hang a weak slider in an 0-2 count to Jose Guillen, allowing the big bopper to slash an easy RBI single to right field.
Coney, one of the most accomplished pitchers from the Yankees late ‘90’s dynasty, took particular exception to that 0-2 pitch, wishing that Farnsworth would, for once, use his brain and expand the zone in that situation. “He just doesn’t seem to think well at certain times, does he?”
No he doesn’t, Coney, and thank you for your honesty. Kyle was very honest himself in Spring Training, when he outright blamed Joe Torre for his struggles on the mound during his first two seasons as a Yankee, so maybe it’s time for people to start being honest with Kyle. Or maybe he just needs to look in the mirror the next time he decides to blame somebody. Maybe then he would start to use his brain on the mound more often, and pitch like everyone is waiting for him to pitch.
John Buck’s majestic homerun is all the Royals would need on this evening, another frustrating, head-scratching washout for the slumbering Yankees offense. Alex Rodriguez, who made two sparkling plays on wet, slow-hit rollers to third, mashed a double and a single to go two-for-four, but that was the lone bright spot. The Bombers were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and everyone was left to wonder when that elusive “click” is going to come. Ian Kennedy would finally pitch the last three frames of the game, allowing two runs and two walks while striking out three, but according to Girardi, it is the lack of a productive offense that is his biggest concern in the early going.
“We’ll hit,” he said, a certain discontent with the outcome and the media spread across his drill sergeant face. “But you can’t win when you don’t hit, can you? We need to start hitting.”
You see? Genius, if I’ve ever heard one.