David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - Remember when everyone thought it was such a big deal whether or not Nelson Cruz was hit on the big toe by Chris Capuano's pitch Monday night?
Neither do we.
But the call was close enough to require a replay review, so that's 3 minutes and 24 seconds we're never getting back.
And for what? The Orioles couldn't have been too worried. They had just withstood what passes for an offensive explosion by the Yankees these days -- a pair of runs on a double-steal gone haywire, which gift-wrapped an early 3-1 lead. Baltimore answered with three home runs for an 11-3 rout.
So much for the Yankees swiping the opener with their feet. Running the bases as if your hair is on fire works pretty well in Little League. Well, maybe T-ball. But afterward, Joe Girardi described the craziness as "strategy" and refused to divulge the thinking behind it.
Mark Teixeira labeled the same bizarre turn of events as something from "The Bad News Bears." As a person who writes about Major League Baseball on a regular basis, let me say that is a terminology you don't hear very often at this level.
This is what happened: In the second inning, with Carlos Beltran at third, Chase Headley bolted for second base to draw a throw from Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph. When it went through, Headley got himself caught in a rundown, which forced a throw to third in an attempt to get Beltran, who had strayed down the line.
That's when Beltran broke for the plate, and fortunately for the Yankees, Manny Machado's bullet caromed off Beltran's helmet -- allowing him to score, but not before he tripped over Joseph while crossing the plate. Seeing an opening as he rounded third, Headley got lucky when Norris, backing up the play, inexplicably flipped the ball toward a limping Joseph, who was standing about 15 feet from the plate (near Norris) and looking elsewhere.
The throw dribbled away toward Machado, Headley ended up beating the tag by Norris -- who didn't have the ball anyway -- and the Yankees' dugout was all smiles. After scraping together a total of one run in a pair of losses to Cleveland, getting two runs on one play felt pretty good. An omen, perhaps? "We caught a break," Girardi said.
Give credit to Headley; he makes things happen. But with the Yankees desperate for offense lately, Girardi must have put the play in motion.
Girardi knows he can't sit back for three-run homers that aren't coming. The Yankees have to generate runs in any way possible, and what we witnessed was one of the zanier methods. Of course, it would have gone disastrously wrong if the Orioles had made an accurate throw or two.
"It's August," Teixeira said. "It's not like we're going to find some magic formula."
In Headley's thinking, he was going to keep running until someone put up a stop sign. He explained that he's always played with that type of aggressive style. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. As ugly as it looked, it worked.
When asked if the other Yankees will be adopting a similar approach -- you know, to put the team in a manufacturing mindset -- he insisted it isn't a full-blown movement. Not yet, anyway. "No one has talked about having to push the envelope," he said.
But we're getting to that point. The Yankees fell seven games behind the Orioles in the AL East with 44 games left. If the rest of this week goes as poorly, staying in the wild-card race is going to be difficult. Even after the Orioles lost Machado to a freakish knee injury, his replacement at third -- Chris Davis -- clubbed a two-run homer.
If the Yankees' staff can't keep pitching over their collective heads, this collection of hitters hasn't shown it will be able to pick up the slack.
Next up is Shane Greene, followed by Michael Pineda's first start in nearly three months.
The Orioles are a very dangerous team -- even without Machado -- in a very dangerous ballpark. "There's a lot of firepower," Capuano said. "There's a few guys that can hurt you in a second."
And there's no running away from that.