On September 8th, Carlos Pena led the American League with 39 home runs. In the first game of a doubleheader against the Yankees that day, Sabathia hit him in the hand with a cutting pitch that everyone present recognized as unintentional. Unfortunately, Pena broke two fingers, and within a few hours it became clear he was done for the year.
Over the last three weeks, Mark Teixeira slowly cut into Pena's lead. Very slowly, actually, but hey, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Last Tuesday, he hit his 39th home run against the Royals. That left three games this past weekend for him to take the outright lead and have a fighting chance at the AL MVP. The opponent? Tampa Bay.
Kim Jones of the YES network interviewed Pena before Friday's game, and he admitted that he didn't want Teixeira to hit his 40th. He went on to say he'd be talking to his pitchers to make sure they kept him in the park. To that sentiment, I say fine. I can't blame him for wanting a tie, and I can't blame his pitchers for feeling the same. If they wanted to really make Tex earn it, great. As long as they don't intentionally walk him every time, who am I to complain?
So how did the Rays go about ensuring that Tex stayed put at 39? Well, in his first at-bat Friday, David Price took the classy route and threw at his head.
The home run title is one thing. But even if they're pissed about Sabathia hitting Pena (and yes, it was unintentional, but cool-headed logic has never been the main commodity in Tampa), Teixeira had nothing to do with it. They put a player's health in jeopardy, which is bad enough, and they did it right before the Yankees start the playoffs, which also puts the team's fortunes in jeopardy. I'm sure Tampa is envious of Yankee success (both in general and this year specifically; we were 9-5 against them going into the weekend series), and maybe they're still bitter that they lost to Philadelphia last year in what might be their last shot at the Series in a long time, but trying to submarine a rival's playoff hopes is going beyond the pale.
Luckily, Teixeira wasn't hurt. But the move was extra cowardly since the Yankees couldn't retaliate. Any suspension sustained in a war of attrition with the Rays would carry over into the post-season, so Yankee hands were tied. It rattled Teixeira, who made a rare error on any easy ground ball the next inning. My stepfather argues it also rattled Sabathia, who pitched one of the worst games of the season and failed to get his 20th win. There's no way to know if that's the case, but the suddenly dark, angry atmosphere in Tropicana Field couldn't have helped matters.
Saturday, Hairston got hit twice. They kept pitching around Teixeira through Sunday. It continued into the 6th inning, with guys on second and third, two outs, and Mark coming to bat. Intentional walk. That loaded the bases for A-Rod, who shoved it in their faces with a grand slam, his second home run of the inning, setting a record for most RBI in a single inning (7) by an American League player. It was also his 30th home run and his 100th RBI, huge milestones for a guy who missed an entire month of baseball.
And Teixeira was absolutely pumped. He basically mauled A-Rod in the dugout, and even though he wouldn't hit his 40th home run, you could tell he was ecstatic that the karmic wheel swung around and hit the Rays on the backside. It was the perfect way to go into the postseason.
And man, am I juiced for the playoffs. We still don't know who we're playing (Minnesota and Detroit have a one-game playoff at 5pm Tuesday for that honor), but after Sunday we're going in with a little momentum and possibly a chip on our shoulders. This has been my favorite Yankee regular season ever, and it will take a mighty effort in October to send the Bombers home.
*Minnesota's amazing September comeback, capped off by beating Zack Greinke on Saturday, has me convinced that I'd rather play Detroit. Yes, the Tigers have marginally better pitching, but their hitting doesn't match up, and frankly I'd rather not face a team who's just won 16 of their last 20. Plus, Verlander wouldn't be ready to pitch until game 2 anyway, and he'd have to do that on short rest. The Twins terrify me right now; a strong line-up, the AL MVP, a horrible stadium where every ground ball not hit directly at a fielder is a base hit and fly balls get lost in the white ceiling, and improving pitching have spurred them to a stunning month. I think the Yanks will beat either team, but as of right now I feel better against the slumping Tigers.
*The G-Men won again against what I'll euphemistically call the 'struggling' KC Chiefs. Eli sustained some kind of heel injury toward the end of the game, but apparently it's not serious. The great Steve Smith had over 130 yards receiving and two touchdowns (believe me when I tell you I'll be wearing a #12 jersey by Thanksgiving), and the defense looked solid, if not great. We still haven't played anyone that strong (the Cowboys are our best competition to date), and next week we're home against Oakland, which should be even easier than Kansas City. But great teams win comfortably against poor competition, and the Giants don't control the schedule, so I'm pleased.
*I expected the shine to come off the New York Jets this weekend, but instead, the shine came off the Giants' week 6 opponent, the Saints. Okay, the shine came off the Jets too. But their D more or less held Drew Brees and company all game, at least until the offense proved so futile that hope was lost. If Sanchez hadn't made a couple early mistakes, that game would have stayed in the 10-10 range until the 4th. I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from this one...either both defenses are very good, or both offenses aren't as strong as advertised.
In any case, the Saints are off next weekend, and the G-Men have the probable walk-over against Oakland, so both teams should be undefeated when they meet. And I gotta say, I'm not as concerned as I was a week ago.
*Tonight, Vikings-Packers. Hoopla hoopla hoopla. But yes, I'll be watching. Hopefully Brett Favre embarrasses himself and the Packers win by 80.
Hey, remember the NFC Championship game in '07? Remember how it was freezing in Green Bay, and how Favre stood on the sideline without a jacket like a real tough guy? And then remember how he got really cold and was terrible, while Eli played smart and led the Giants to victory, even though it took Tynes like 9 tries to kick a winning field goal?
Remember how I was on the phone with my brothers, who kept saying Favre would make some magic, and how when overtime came and Green Bay got the ball first I not only predicted, but guaranteed, that he'd throw a really stupid interception? And then he did? (Oh wait, I guess there's no way you'd remember that part.)
That was awesome.