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My closing comment last week advised that watch how a team plays defense and you’ll get a good sense of what kind of a team it is. During the meltdown of the Yankees’ young inconsistent pitcher Phil Hughes in an eight-run second inning against the Orioles on Saturday night, there was one play that epitomized poor Yankee defense. In a scoreless game with runners on first and second and no out, catcher Gregg Zaun hit a one-hop smash past Mark Teixeira down into the right field corner.

Luke Scott on second headed towards home as right fielder Nick Swisher airmailed a high and wild throw towards the plate nowhere near the cutoff man. Hughes headed to back up home plate but he kept his head down forgetting the basic rule, “Always keep your eye on the ball.” When he finally looked up the ball almost hit him in the head. Every runner advanced a base and so began a sequence where the Orioles kept getting runners on third with less than two out and thus were able to score without a hit. The anatomy of a big inning in a nutshell punctuated by Aubrey Huff’s three-run homer.

The hyperactive Swisher had another dubious moment in the Yankees’ Friday night victory over the Orioles. Applying a rule that I knew existed but had never seen applied, third base umpire Tim Tschida called Swisher out at third base because Yankee coach Rob Thomson put his hands on Swisher shoving him back to the bag to avoid a pickoff throw. Another example that you see something new in every game; yet another reason for baseball’s endless appeal.

All was not bad news for the Yankees as they won the three-game series in Baltimore behind Alex Rodriguez’s three-run home run Friday night off Jeremy Guthrie on the first pitch he saw this season and C.C. Sabathia’s complete game shutout, and yesterday’s come-from-behind 5-3 win with Johnny Damon’s three-run home run in the seventh the big blow. The big drive was preceded by an infield hit by the Yankees new catcher Francisco Cervelli who probably surprised the Orioles’ sometimes lackadaisical second baseman Brian Roberts with his speed. Hitting only .190 in the minor leagues, Cervelli had a good weekend in his first extended action as the sub for injured Jorge Posada and Jose Molina. I imagine that Branch Rickey, a onetime light-hitting catcher himself, was beaming alongside the baseball gods. There is no substitute for speed because as he said many times it is the one attribute that helps you on both sides of the ball, offense and defense.

With one month gone in the 2009 season there is happily no real pattern set except that somewhat surprisingly the Cleveland Indians have dug themselves a deep hole under .500 in the up-for-grabs American League Central Division. In Boston over the weekend Tampa Bay and the Red Sox reprised their championship pennant series battle of last season with the Red Sox winning the rubber game with a couple of 8th inning doubles off the Green Monster and ace closer Jonathan Papelbon working out of a 9th inning jam for the save. It is a shame that the schedule doesn’t bring these A. L. East titans together again until early August but with Toronto the surprise leader of the toughest division in baseball there will be dogfights galore in the weeks and months ahead. Something to savor and to analyze in the spirit and knowledge of seasons past, applying the bracing Branch Rickey endorsement of "adventure, adventure." -- Lee Lowenfish, author BRANCH RICKEY: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman

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