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June 3, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

The Yankees got only three hits last night, they made three errors in the field, Jose Contreras got knocked out after nine batters and two outs, and Tanyon Sturtze gave up five hits and 4 walks in 4.2 innings of relief.

And, oh yeah, the Yankees won.

It would be more accurate to say that the Orioles lost the game last night, because the Yankees really had no business being in it, let alone winning.

Jose Contreras was truly terrible last night, but he might have gotten out of the first inning without giving up any runs if it wasn't for his defense. Derek Jeter made an error on a grounder up the middle to start the game, and after Contreras loaded up the bases and gave up a sacrifice fly, Enrique Wilson threw a double-play gounder into left field, allowing another run to score.

But just because he was let down by Jeter and Wilson doesn't mean Contreras wasn't responsible for what happened. He was wild, throwing more than half his pitches out of the zone, and unable to fool any of the Baltimore batters. In all probability, he's now lost his spot in the rotation.

And unfortuately, he's probably lost it to Tanyon Sturtze. Sturtze didn't pitch well last night, either, giving up five hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings, but Baltimore didn't capitalize on any of their opportunities, and he didn't give up any runs. As a starter, he'll likely get pounded just as badly as... well, just as badly as he always has been. A 5.19 career ERA in 637.2 innings isn't a fluke.

But, the Yankees came back, getting their hits at the most opportune times. Four batters into the first inning, Williams and A-Rod had walked, and Gary Sheffield homered to left to make it 5-3. Another homer by Jeter in the fifth made it 5-4, and a two-run/one-hit rally in the sixth gave the Yankees the lead on Ruben Sierra's sacrifice fly. Bret Prinz may have earned himself a job with 1.2 innings of dominant relief, and Tom Gordon redeemed himself for Tuesday night by pitching a scoreless eighth. Rivera allowed the tying run to get to third with two outs again, but was able to strike out Jose Leon to end the game, and the Yankees had stolen a victory.

With Boston being humbled by the Angels in a two-game sweep in Anaheim (and a terrible performance by Pedro), the Yankees expanded their lead to two full games. Pennants aren't usually won or lost in June, but the Yankees have an opportunity right now to save themselves a lot of grief. With a much easier schedule than Boston until their meeting at the end of the month, Nixon and Garciaparra still out, and much of the Red Sox roster performing poorly, the Yankees might be able to establish a comfortable lead of five or six games. They don't have to do that, and it won't guarantee anything, but it would make things easier, and they do have an opportunity to do it.