Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
It wasn't the ninth. Although one does get bonus points for doing the impossible and (i) hitting a home run (ii) in the playoffs (iii) on the road (iv) off of a proven closer (v) to put the Yankees ahead in the ninth inning. Had there been a runner in scoring position, I would have no choice but to write about the ninth inning.
But I'm going to write about the fifth inning. The bottom of the fifth inning, with Russell Martin behind the plate.
Chris Davis had started the inning with a single to left field, bringing Lew Ford to the plate. Ford check-swing bunted into no man's land on the first side of the mound. Ranging almost halfway down the line, Martin turned in this defensive gem, retiring Ford and greatly reducing the threat of a big inning.
Keeping with today's theme, the difference in run expectancy between first and second with no outs (1.556 runs) and second with one out (0.721 runs) makes that play alone a huge change of events. After another base hit put runners at first and third with one out, Martin went back to work keeping runs off the board.
Up next was Nate McClouth, who struck out thus:
Pitch four and pitch six were both called strikes on fastballs at the very edge of the zone. Pitch six was on the border; pitch four was a ball. Russell Martin received both pitches with a rock steady glove and got the strike calls for his pitcher.
This might be a stretch, as I've now traveled into the gray of pitch framing. Using TBS's blue box as a rough guide, I'd call last night's strike zone pitcher friendly, so that might have something to do with it. It's also an imperfect human umpire making subjective calls. But the evidence of catchers affecting strike calls is compelling. Martin has rated well as a pitch framer and these stood out to me at the time.
With first and third and one out, the Yankees needed to take advantage of the lefty-lefty matchup and get Nate McClouth out, preferably with a strikeout. They got it with some fastballs on the black called for and received by Russell Martin. Make of that what you will.
To complete the triple play of catching defense, here are some pitches thrown by CC Sabathia with a runner on third base.
Either pitch getting past Martin would have resulted in the Orioles scoring the go ahead run. Neither pitch got past Martin.