Saturday, April 30, 2005

“A Good Old-Fashioned Baseball Game”

Before today’s slate gets underway and washes the fresh memories of last night’s games away, I wanted to comment on one of the best games I’ve seen yet in 2005.

That would happen to be the contest between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium last night. It was the first real outstanding pitcher’s duel that I’ve watched this season from start-to-finish, and featured the appropriate amount of defensive wizardry, tension and strategy to fill any baseball appetite.

Both pitchers involved, Roy Halladay and Randy Johnson, were a pleasure to watch. They threw strikes, were in command (in Halladay’s case, completely) and worked fast. No b.s. No shaking off signs, pacing around the mound or other signs of hesitiation. It was give me the ball and let me blow this guy away. As Jim Kaat noted in the 5th, “Hitters never have a chance to get comfortable, and get the bat in the starting position they’d like.”

Interestingly, neither team’s batters fussed much in the batter’s box to counter the methodical, quick approach of the two moundsmen. There wasn’t a lot of stepping out of the box or calling timeout to try and upset the pitcher’s rhythm. They were either in awe, or in a daze.

        IP    H    R    ER    BB    K
Johnson 9 7 2 2 3 9
Halladay 9 3 0 0 1 9

Johnson threw 109 pitches, 71 for strikes. Halladay: 115 for 75.

Simply put, it was the best I’ve ever seen Halladay look. At least for one game. He was dominating in a way that Pedro used to be on a night in, night out basis. It was a night when the Yankees suddenly punchless line-up was baffled, dazzled and ultimately brought to its knees.

Fastball? Ask Derek Jeter about the two fastballs that blew him away for strikeouts in his last two ABs.

Breaking stuff? Ask Gary Sheffield about the make-you-cry curveball that he watched drop in front of him for a called third strike in the 9th.

Halladay was something to behold last night.

Randy Johnson deserves just a notch below that high praise, because he pulled more than his fair share of the weight last night. By the 6th inning his slider looked as good as it has all year, and his fastball was constantly at or around 94 the whole night.

It was the unlikeliest of home runs that did him in.

In the top of the 7th, the only left-handed batter in the Jays’ line-up, Eric Hinske, who had looked over-matched in his previous ABs, lofted one to right, deep enough and high enough to clear the fence. First HR allowed to a lefty by Johnson this year. 2-0 Toronto. And that’s how it remained.

As a Yankee fan, I have to admit a little perspiration settling on the brow. At any point in the season a 6.5 game deficit in the standings is cause for alarm. A part of me can reason that yes, it’s only April 30th; we have months and months to go. Another part of me sees such deficiencies in this line-up, and questions about this pitching staff, that I think a switch better be turned on soon, or this summer could get ugly.

However, last night, for one night, I cast my allegiances aside and got soaked up and wrapped up in the best baseball game I’ve watched this year.

Two hours and eight minutes of pitching bliss.

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