Vazquez improves, but not enough
With little help, righty takes second loss since rejoining Yanks
NEW YORK -- On several occasions since he slipped back in a Yankees uniform, Javier Vazquez has made an effort to turn the calendar pages, preferring to focus on the present rather than dwell on what transpired in October 2004.
But Yankees fans have long memories, and on the afternoon the right-hander turned in his first start at the new Yankee Stadium, he was received much the same way he exited the old building across the street.
Vazquez walked off to a chorus of boos that he called "disappointing" after being knocked out in the sixth inning on Wednesday, and the Angels held off a late push to post a 5-3 victory over the Yankees. The hurler's second tour of duty in the Bronx is off to a rocky beginning, and he hopes a few wins will buy some forgiveness.
"I feel like it's unfair because that was so long ago," Vazquez said. "Like I've said plenty of times, I'm trying to concentrate on this year and winning games. It's the first game, so it's a little disappointing, but it's part of the game."
Vazquez endured a tough second half in 2004, serving up a crushing grand slam to Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series -- one that helped the Red Sox reverse an 86-year-old curse and go on to win the World Series.
Now, Vazquez is back as the Yankees' fourth starter, and New York knew plenty about his history -- both the impressive, durable parts of his resume and the career lowlight in pinstripes. Shortstop Derek Jeter said that he would not get caught up in the crowd reaction for the 33-year-old hurler.
"The bottom line is, they're Yankees fans," Jeter said. "They want to cheer for you. They come here to cheer for you. Everyone has been booed at some point, but you can't let it affect you. If Javy gives up three runs every time he pitches, I think he's going to have a pretty good year."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Vazquez's command is not as sharp as it will be, and the right-hander acknowledged that his fastball velocity is down a few ticks. Perhaps that has played into the results -- this is the first season that Vazquez has lost his first two starts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"As soon as he can get a win here, I think it will be best for all of us," Girardi said. "The fans, they remember. His next start will be on the road, and it'd be nice to get him a win and on a roll."
Vazquez was charged with four runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings, but it was a sixth-inning at-bat against Torii Hunter that Girardi thought changed the course of the contest. Vazquez was ahead of Hunter, 0-2, but then worked the count full and gave up a ringing double to right-center field.
"I just tried to make too good of a pitch," Vazquez said. "You want to stay aggressive and make him hit your pitch. I was trying to be too fine."
Meanwhile, the Yankees managed little against Angels starter Joel Pineiro, who held them to one run on five hits through seven innings. New York's only dent against Pineiro -- who struck out seven and walked none -- came on Nick Swisher's run-scoring triple in the fifth inning.
"I can remember him from back when he was in Seattle, and he was a power guy who threw really hard," Swisher said. "Now he's still got that power in there, but he's using it more for movement. He threw some great sinkers today. Just when you think it's going to get in the zone, it falls off the table."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia was pleased with Pineiro's work, as well as the defensive plays behind him on 11 ground-ball outs.
"When you face a high-production offense like New York, Boston," manager Mike Scioscia said, "it's not so much just throwing strikes -- you have to put the ball in good locations. That's what Joel did."
The Angels first nicked Vazquez for two runs in the third inning. Brandon Wood singled and stole second base before scoring on Erick Aybar's single to center, and former Yankee Bobby Abreu followed with a run-scoring double up the gap in right-center field.
After Hunter's double in the sixth inning, Vazquez couldn't silence the Angels. Hideki Matsui struck out -- part of an awful homecoming that has seen last year's World Series MVP go 0-for-9 with a walk and four whiffs against his old club -- but Kendry Morales rapped a run-scoring double that ended Vazquez's afternoon.
Alfredo Aceves tossed a wild pitch and surrendered Maicer Izturis' run-scoring single to center, closing the book on Vazquez. The Angels added another run in the seventh on Hunter's run-scoring single.
"Javy kept us in this game," Girardi said. "We just didn't score him a lot of runs. If we get him a lead, maybe it's a little bit different of a game. I thought his stuff was better today."
With shadows creeping across the infield, the Yankees couldn't help but entertain thoughts of a thrilling comeback when the Angels' bullpen faltered in taking the handoff from Pineiro.
Nick Johnson notched a run-scoring single in the eighth inning off Scot Shields, and slumping first baseman Mark Teixeira picked up an RBI with a groundout off Kevin Jepsen, but that was as close as New York would get. The Yankees may have led the Major Leagues with 15 walk-off victories in 2009, but it remains to be seen if that will carry over into 2010.
"Last year is over with," Jeter said. "It's an entirely different year. We've had some success -- a lot of guys have had success -- so the game is never over. But you don't like to have to come back."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.