Fans contribute to Yankees’ pain

The Yankees are having a tough enough time these days without the fans making it harder for them. After suffering their second straight shutout loss Sunday to complete a three-game sweep by the surging Blue Jays, the Yankees watched their first-place hold in the American League East dwindle to 1 1/2 games to Toronto, which remains three games behind in the loss column.

Make no mistake, however. The race in the division has tightened up to a degree that the Yankees could not have expected 12 days ago when they had a seven-game lead and were eight games up on the Jays, then in third place. The additions of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and pitcher David Price before the non-waiver trade deadline last month were serious upgrades for Toronto, which the Yanks witnessed first hand during this lost weekend.

And in Sunday’s 2-0 setback they took their lumps literally as well as figuratively. In the first inning after Josh Donaldson hit a long home run to left field off Masahiro Tanaka, a fan threw the ball back onto the field and struck left fielder Brett Gardner on the right side of his head.

“Not at all,” Gardner said when asked if he was upset. “Don’t care. I was just lucky the guy who threw it wasn’t as close as the second row.”

This tradition of tossing back onto the field opponents’ home runs began at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in the 1980s and has been part of the Yankee Stadium experience as well for some time. I must admit that it never made any sense to me. If I were to catch a home run ball in the stands, I would not throw it back onto the field. I would keep it and bring it home to my kids. Why honor a tradition that began with a franchise that has not won a World Series for more than 100 years?

Gardner was kind not to make a big deal out of it. In fact, he even said the fans were correct in getting on him because neither he nor teammate Jacoby Ellsbury did very much at the top of the order in this series. They were a combined 2-for-23 (both hits were singles by Gardner) with two walks and no runs scored in the series.

Less accepting of fans’ behavior was first baseman Mark Teixeira, who was still annoyed after the game that a fan in the box seats interfered with him as he tried to catch a foul ball by Blue Jays designated hitter Chris Colabello in the ninth inning. Colabello eventually struck out, but Tex was still sore about the situation.

“Tell the fans they can insult but not assault,” he said. “I know we just lost three games, and we’re sorry about that. But, please, no assaults, just insults.”

It was that kind of series for the Yankees, who scored only one run in the three games, none in the last two and are in a scoreless streak that has reached 26 innings, their longest in 24 years. The last time the Yankees went this long without scoring was back in the Stump Merrill days of May 15-18, 1991, a stretch of 32 blank innings.

The Yankees were shut out in consecutive games for the first time since May 12-13, 1999 against the Angels and had played 2,665 games between the consecutive shutout streaks, the longest stretch of not being shut out in back-to–back games in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Yankees began the homestand last Tuesday night with a 13-3 victory over the Red Sox. They scored only four runs in their next 45 innings.

“Just a bump in the road,” Teixeira said.

It was actually more like an enormous pothole. The Yankees wasted several strong pitching performances, including Tanaka’s six-inning stint Sunday in which he allowed three hits and no walks with five strikeouts. Unfortunately, two of the hits were home runs. Joining Donaldson was Jose Bautista with a solo blast in the fourth. The Jays out-homered the Yanks in the series, 6-1.

“It is never a good thing to get swept at home by the team that is chasing you,” Gardner said. “We’ll try to have a short-term memory, regroup on the off-day [Monday] and get back to our game in Cleveland. There are still another six or seven weeks left in the season.”

The Yankees found out over the weekend the rest of the season will be more challenging than they may have realized not that long ago.

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