The Inches Between A Strikeout And A Checked Swing. Yankees 3, Dodgers 0

In what is almost certainly the final game he will pitch at Dodger Stadium in his storied career, Mariano Rivera closed out the Dodgers with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, picking up career save number 642. (Image source: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/Mo.jpg)

The box score will show that the Dodgers lost 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the second game of a two game set.  The play-by-play breakdown will show that Mark Ellis and Yasiel Puig had a near-miss in shallow right field, that an error on a popup scored two Yankees runs.

But it might have all been for naught if a check swing call had gone against Lyle Overbay.

Paco Rodriguez came on with two on and two out in the top of the ninth of a scoreless game to face Overbay.  With two strikes, Rodriguez momentarily froze the Yankees’ power-hitting left handed batter.  Overbay started his swing and stopped it.  Just a pitch earlier, he’d been rung up for strike two on a similar effort.

This time, things didn’t break the Dodgers’ way.  Overbay got another pitch and pounded a single to center field to score Robinson Cano.  Then Lance Nix popped a ball up back of second base.  Mark Ellis went out.  Yasiel Puig came in.  The two distracted each other.  The ball dropped.  Two more runs.  3-0 Yankees.  Enter Sandman.  1-2-3 Bottom of the 9th for Mariano Rivera.  Game over.

Clayton Kershaw pitched 8 shutout innings and Hiroki Kuroda pitched 7 strong and scoreless of his own.  Both efforts resulted in no-decisions in an “Ace-Off” that lived up to its hype for 8 innings.

Puig’s aggressiveness has won more games than it has lost.  And the Yankees had a 1-0 lead before the mis-play.  But this time, it cost the Dodgers two runs.  It changed the dynamic of the lead that Mariano Rivera would be working with.  One run lead, sure, baseball’s all-time saves leader most likely still comes out ahead, but a missed spot, a few scrappy hits, some hustle, the Dodgers have a shot at making up a run.  3 runs?  That’s a tall order against any pitcher at any time, and nearly impossible against one of the best closers of all time.

One has to wonder, though.  If Overbay moves the bat another inch.  Even another half-inch.  Is it strike three?  Do the Yankees run someone else out in the bottom of the 9th?  Do the Dodgers walk off again?

The final matchup between the Yankees and the Dodgers is a reminder that ultimately baseball is a game of inches.  Even fractions of an inch.  Some nights the inches break your way.  And some nights they don’t.

Boon Logan picks up the win, improving his record to 3-2.  Ronald Belisaro, who was responsible for two of the three runs that scored in the top of the ninth inning, takes the loss, his record falling to 4-6 on the season.  Mariano Rivera picks up his 34th save of the season and the 642nd of his storied career.  The loss snapped a 4 game win streak, and coupled with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ win over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Dodgers’ lead in the National League West stands at 2 1/2 games.

The Dodgers now go on to Chicago to start an 8 game Midwest road trip against the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.  Ricky Nolasco (6-9, 3.72 ERA) takes on Chris Rusin (1-0, 2.93 ERA) at 5:05 p.m. local time tonight at Wrigley Field.

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