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In a pinch, Vazquez comes up big10/17/2004 12:39 AM ET
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
BOSTON -- He didn't start and he didn't close.
Despite those small details, Javier Vazquez was the most important pitcher at Fenway Park on Saturday night. The right-hander came into an offensive extravaganza and helped stem the tide, pitching three shutout innings in the middle of a record-breaking rout after starter Kevin Brown left after two innings.
"He did a great job for us," said Mel Stottlemyre, New York's pitching coach. "He did what Joe (Torre) and I talk about when we send a starter to the bullpen. He stopped the bleeding and became a huge factor in the game."
The three zeroes don't represent Vazquez's total stat line, they're just the most important part. Vazquez ended up throwing 95 pitches and getting 13 outs. He also allowed four runs, but his steadying presence allowed the Yankees to push away from Boston for good.
There was a bit of symmetry to his performance. The runs came in pairs at both ends of the outing, with zeroes sandwiched in between. Vazquez looked a little jumpy in his first inning -- the third -- when he came in with a two-run lead. The Red Sox evened things up, but New York's offense scored seven runs in the next two frames to give him some breathing room.
"I think I was being too aggressive in that first inning. After that, I got a little bit more command and tried to stay back a little bit more," said Vazquez, who earned the win. "If they kept scoring runs, they would've had momentum like our hitters had. We scored a lot of runs in the early and middle innings, and the pitching gave us a little more cushion."
In truth, he almost never got out of that third frame. The game seemed to be teetering on the edge, and it could've gone either way in a hurry. When the original contingency plan started struggling, the Yankees looked into the desperation plan. As Esteban Loaiza got up in the bullpen, Vazquez escaped the third and was rarely challenged again.
"That was big, having him work through the middle of their lineup," said Gary Sheffield, New York's cleanup hitter. "When he got through that inning, we all said, 'Let's score some more runs, and this game is over.' "
"The first inning, he was kind of squeezing the ball," Stottlemyre said. "But after that, I thought he settled in well. He made a lot of quality pitches and did what we needed him to do. He stopped them and gave our offense a chance to do wonders."
The defense helped too. Sheffield erased a runner at the plate in that key third frame, and John Olerud stabbed a liner to get a double play with two on in the fourth. Vazquez did all the work in the fifth -- retiring the side in order -- the first time that had happened in the game.
The sixth was uneventful too, but Jason Varitek stung Vazquez for a two-run homer in the seventh. No matter -- the Yanks were up 17-8 at that point, so a couple of runs really didn't make a difference.
"He looked like he was a little jumpy at first, but once he gathered himself, those zeroes he put up there were like gold for us," Torre said. "You have to certainly overlook the last inning, because we had a real long inning and sent him out there, tried to squeeze another inning out of him."
"He came in and gave us some strong innings," said Jorge Posada, the man behind the plate. "He kept the ball down and did some good stuff. He got very aggressive with a lead like that, and I think it was good that he got out there."
After his star turn, the Yanks would seem to have to consider moving Vazquez back into the rotation for the World Series if they can close out the Sox. He said he's not thinking about that -- he just wants to help the team any way he can. In the immediate future, that means getting some rest. Vazquez said he was drained from this game, more so than most of his starts during the season.
"I am, I really am," he said. "That last inning I pitched, when they took me out, that was the first time in my life that I would've said, 'I'm done.' I felt tired at the end."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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