Yankees pay dearly for squandering chances

The only good news the Yankees had Thursday was that Derek Jeter got the doctor’s okay to begin baseball activities. Since he is essentially beginning spring training all over again, it will be at least six weeks before the Captain can be expected to get back to the Yankees. The way the rest of Thursday went it appeared as if the game against the Athletics might last that long.

The 3-2, 18-inning loss was as frustrating a game as the Yankees have played all year. Robinson Cano put the Yanks up, 2-0, in the first inning with a two-run home run. That put an end to one drought. The team had gone 52 innings without hitting a homer. Little did they know a different drought was on the way – 17 innings of no more runs.

Oh, they had chances – gobs and gobs of them before they sort of wheezed to the finish line. The Yanks had runners in scoring position in each of the first five extra innings and left 10 on base overall in those frames by going 0-for-9 in the clutch. After that, the Yankees went into snooze mode against lefthander Jesse Chavez, who limited them to one hit in 5 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts and retired the last 13 batters he faced in order.

Adam Warren has a similar outing for the Yankees, a sturdy, 85-pitch relief appearance in which he gave up four hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings. He kept the Yankees in the game repeatedly while the offense failed.

Hiroki Kuroda pitched the first eight innings and had only one bad one, but it was enough to stick him with a no-decision. Kuroda retired the A’s in order in seven innings. The one inning he didn’t cost him. He walked two batters and both scored.

For the second straight game, a Yankees pitcher was careless holding runners. Kuroda, normally adept at that aspect of the job, allowed Oakland to pull off a double steal that put runners on second and third with none out in the third. The Yankees played the infield back to trade a run for an out, which is what happened when Derek Norris grounded out to shortstop.

The Yankees got a big second out when Eric Sogard got greedy and was thrown out trying to steal third by catcher Chris Stewart. But Kuroda walked John Jaso and gave up a double to Seth Smith that tied the score. The play at home was close, but plate umpire C.B. Bucknor noted that Stewart did not tag Jaso with the ball.

On and on it went after that, zero inning after zero inning. The Yankees’ bullpen did its job. In addition to Warren, David Robertson, Boone Logan and Shawn Kelley pitched scoreless relief. Warren dodged a bullet in the 15th when left fielder Vernon Wells threw Brandon Moss out at the plate after fielding a single by Coco Crisp. Moss tried to dislodge the ball from Stewart, but after tumbling over the catcher showed Bucknor he still had the ball. The A’s still had two runners on base when Warren ended the inning by getting a called third strike past Adam Rosales.

Preston Claiborne added one shutout inning before getting in trouble in the 18th. Not even Mariano Rivera could stem the tide this time. Mo entered the game about five hours after he had been honored in pregame ceremonies by the A’s, who presented him with a surfboard, after Jaso singled off Claiborne with one out. Rivera gave up a single to Seth Smith that sent Jaso to third and forced manager Joe Girardi to order Jed Lowrie walked intentionally to set up a force at each base.

None of that mattered because Nate Freiman hit a soft liner to left field for a single that scored the first run after 14 scoreless innings and the one that completed a three-game sweep for an A’s team that remained in first place in the American League West while the Yankees’ fortunes in the AL East dwindled some more. They were in danger of falling four games behind the first-place Red Sox or falling into third place behind the Orioles.

On the plane ride to Anaheim where the West Coast swing will conclude this weekend, the Yankees surely were torturing themselves with the memories of opportunities lost throughout the extra innings. They had a runner reach second base with two out in the 10th, a runner on second with none out and the bases full with one out in the 11th, a runner at second with two out in the 12th, a runner on second with none out in the 13th and a runner on second with one out and the bases loaded with two out in the 14th.

And in each case a zero went up on the board. The euphoria of taking three of four games at Seattle is gone. Their offense has turned fragile with merely eight runs scored in 36 innings at Oakland. They will play the Angels Friday night with a tired bullpen behind Andy Pettitte on the eve of his 41st birthday.

Good luck in your second spring training, Derek. You are needed here.

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