Defensive mishap costs Yanks game
Damon misplays ball as Bombers fall back in Wild Card race
TORONTO -- Johnny Damon tried to blame his glove the first time a ball didn't land where it was supposed to, smirking as he plopped on the bench and inspected his hardware for faulty leather.
The second time it happened, the baffled Damon had no place to direct the blame but at himself. The misplay was particularly inopportune for the Yankees, who dropped a 2-1 decision to the Blue Jays on Tuesday when the center fielder misplayed Marco Scutaro's eighth-inning drive into the difference.
"I just missed it, plain and simple," Damon said. "I missed two balls tonight and that's unacceptable. I know that stuff happens sometimes but catching routine fly balls should not be that much of a problem."
In a game where Darrell Rasner -- a touch-and-feel pitcher who relies on his defense -- stepped up and matched A.J. Burnett's dominant 13-strikeout performance through six innings, Damon's unsuccessful pursuit of a deep drive short-circuited the Yankees and snapped a one-all tie.
Facing reliever Jose Veras with a runner aboard, Scutaro unloaded on a loud two-out fly ball to center that Damon tracked, but jumped at the last second for. The ball smacked the top of Damon's glove and bounced away, allowing Joe Inglett to score easily on what was ruled a two-base hit and giving the Jays their first lead of the evening.
"He was in the right spot, and it's a ball that he didn't catch," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think he just missed it. He was there and he got a good jump and he did everything right. He just missed it."
The timing of Damon's defensive troubles was noteworthy, given the return of Hideki Matsui to the Yankees' lineup. With Matsui guarding an ailing left knee that could give way without warning, the Yankees intend to use the 34-year-old strictly as a designated hitter.
That means Girardi will slot Damon as New York's everyday center fielder, relegating rookie Brett Gardner to bench duty and spot starts. Damon responded by misplaying the first ball hit to him in the bottom of the first inning, though Rasner escaped damage after Alex Rios reached on the two-base error by striking out Vernon Wells and retiring Adam Lind.
Clearly, Damon's futile attempts are more the exception than the norm, or the Yankees would not have given him a four-year contract to play center field in the first place. As Girardi said, "999 out of 1,000 times, he catches both of them. Maybe even more."
"He plays so dang hard all the time," Rasner said. "It happens to everybody. I still say he's one of the best center fielders in the game."
But while Damon acknowledged balls weren't flying with as much zip due to the open roof at Rogers Centre, he wasn't about to use ballpark conditions as an excuse and said he could not believe he did not come down with either ball.
"Those should have been two easy outs," Damon said. "If Joe is going to use me in center field more, I need to be better. That's very uncharacteristic of me."
Opening a six-game road trip, the Yankees quickly helped Rasner to a lead before he threw a pitch. Facing a tough customer in Burnett, Damon walked and scored on Bobby Abreu's RBI double to left field, rattling around in the corner as Lind struggled to pluck the ball from the foul line.
New York had trouble managing much against Burnett from that point on, as he hurled eight innings, including fanning the Nos. 4 and 5 hitters in the lineup, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, a combined seven times.
"Unbelievable stuff out there, just throwing pellets," Rodriguez said. "He was 0-2 on everybody, throwing higher than the mid 90s, with a snake for a breaking ball."
But Rasner did what he could, keeping the Jays in check through six scoreless innings. After recording the last two outs of the first inning, Rasner then faced one batter over the minimum through the next five frames before he challenged Lind with a 3-2 cutter in the seventh.
The pitch trailed a little too inside, and Lind teed off to send it over the relievers who had started stirring in New York's bullpen, giving them a too-close view of Lind's ninth home run. One out later, Rasner was finished and could not win.
"He was great tonight," Girardi said. "This kid deserves better. There have been a lot of games that he's pitched where he could have won games and he hasn't."
Rasner has turned in three good outings in succession, beginning with a long relief appearance on Aug. 8 in Anaheim when he pitched four innings to keep a losing effort close. His work has not translated to a victory, and he said he took little solace in keeping the Jays off the board just as much as Burnett silenced the Yankees.
"It's not something I look at," Rasner said. "I wish I could have gone a little deeper. I wish I didn't give up that home run. There's a lot of things that I can wish."
With closer B.J. Ryan in for the save after Burnett finished eight innings, A-Rod ran New York out of an inning by aggressively trying for second base on a ball hit down the right-field line. The ball never went nearly as far as Rodriguez thought it would.
Lyle Overbay tracked the ball and fired off a strong throw to shortstop John McDonald, surprising Rodriguez as he slid in to second base. Asked about the wisdom of the play, Girardi gave as strong a criticism as he could without doing so directly, saying, "You have to make sure that you're safe."
Rodriguez said he watched the replay and thought Overbay "made an unbelievable play." Still, with the Yankees fighting to stay relevant in the American League Wild Card chase, Rodriguez defended his baserunning, saying that they can no longer wait for the plays -- nor the games -- to come to them.
"It had a little English and I thought it would go all the way to the wall," Rodriguez said. "He just made a great play. The way we're swinging the bats right now, I thought being aggressive is the best option."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.