Follow Ken on Twitter
Blog: Baseball Insider
DETROIT — The Four Tops performed the national anthem last night at Comerica Park, which was fitting because we are in Motown, and apropos, too, because the Yankees proceeded to pay homage to one of the group’s greatest hits.
Yes, it was the same old song for baseball’s highest-paid team.
Sometimes, these 2012 Yankees lose close in a blowout. Other times, they lose close in a pitcher’s duel. Always, it seems, they lose because they fail to hit with runners in scoring position.
A 4-3 loss to the slumping Tigers wasted a strong outing by Hiroki Kuroda, and it highlighted — yet again — the Yankees’ startling inability to come through in the clutch.
HIRO ON THE MOUND: Hiroki Kuroda pitched well for the Yankees last night for a second straight start, but came away empty because their bats once again failed.
If you think the frustration is only external, you didn’t see Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long earn simultaneous ejections during Curtis Granderson’s seventh-inning at-bat, with Girardi throwing his cap and screaming at lousy home-plate umpire Bob Davidson. Girardi lobbed some accusations at Davidson, who already has been suspended once this year for poor conduct in these situations, so stay tuned on that front.
The Yankees actually came to tie the game one inning after the outburst, with Nick Swisher delivering the team’s only clutch hit of the night — an eighth-inning, two-out single off Joaquin Benoit that drove home Mark Teixeira from second base to knot the contest at 2-2 — and they capitalized on extremely wild closer Jose Valverde to lock it up again in the ninth at 3-3, thanks to two hit batters and two walks.
Neverthless, with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, Raul Ibanez grounded out to first base to get Valverde off the hook, and the Tigers rallied in the bottom of the ninth against rookie David Phelps, prevailing on a sacrifice fly by former Met Omir Santos that scored Brennan Boesch from third.
In all, the Yankees went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, teasing their faithful and themselves with constant opportunities. For the season, the Yankees are now hitting a paltry .222 (97-for-437) with runners in scoring position, with a .327 on-base percentage and .400 slugging percentage
Now, perspective: At a modest 28-24, the Yankees are still very much in the thick of the race for both the American League East and the AL wild cards. If the season ended today, they would be tied with the Indians for the second wild card. You naturally expect more of this club, yet there’s no reason to call for anyone’s firing or anything.
Shoot, if you wanted to strap on your rose-colored glasses, you could even point out that Kuroda, who has been remarkably inconsistent this season, put together his second strong start on this three-city road trip.
Let’s not get carried away; the Tigers are underachieving offensively, and Kuroda’s previous opponent was the Athletics. But let’s recognize, as we have for most of this odd season, that a primary Yankees ailment is a skill that seems to sway from good to bad for all teams without much rational explanation.
They need to sway positively if they want to prevail in the AL East, a title more meaningful with the initiation of the new playoff system. And we still need to see more data on this Yankees starting rotation, knowing that trade talks will begin in earnest following this week’s amateur draft. If Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova or Kuroda can’t produce more regularly, than pitchers such as the Cubs’ Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster will be in play.
That’s a longer-term proposition, though. It’s rare for a deal to get done as soon as mid-June. Sooner than that, the Yankees have to solve their problems in the clutch so, at the least, they can stop reminding us of tunes from 1965.
Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Girardi, Yankees, the Yankees, the Yankees, Tigers, Ken DavidoffFollow Ken