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NEW YORK -- In an age of wild extremes, at a time in sports when there is triumph and turmoil and nothing in between, Javier Vazquez represented the easiest angle of the night.
Honest to God, the man finally learned how to pitch in New York. Vazquez silenced whatever legion of inner demons had haunted him this spring, never mind Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, and emerged from this 3-1 victory over Baltimore as the toughest athlete this town's seen since, since
Willis Reed? Mark Messier? David Cone?
Redemption is never a tough story to sell in baseball, or in any other game for that matter, and so there it was Tuesday night all over the Yankee Stadium board:
|Javier Vazquez picked up a home win, but still has plenty to prove.|
Javy came. Javy saw.
Javy conquered a sorry excuse for a baseball team.
That's the fly ball in the ointment, the annoying burst of rain on this latest Yankees parade.
The Orioles are so dreadful, so painful on the eyes, it was impossible to pronounce Vazquez cured of whatever ills had prevented him from pitching the way he's paid $11.5 million to pitch.
Sure, his seven-inning, four-hit, one-run, seven-strikeout, one-walk-that-didn't-really-count-because-it-was-intentional performance at Baltimore's expense was better than this alternative:
Getting ripped by the Orioles and getting ripped harder by the fans.
But come on, Baltimore is 15-37. Long before the stroke of midnight on June 1, they were nearly 20 games out of first place and 17 games out of the wild card.
This isn't meant to curb anyone's enthusiasm as a nod to the famous face in the Stadium crowd, Larry David. This is only meant to add perspective to a 24/7 sports culture often starving for it.
"When he's on," Curtis Granderson said of Vazquez, "he can be one of the best pitchers in the game."
Yeah, and if Ollie Perez ever had the chance to be "on" against the Orioles, he'd be Sandy Koufax, too.
"He was great," Joe Girardi said of Vazquez. "He attacked the zone all night."
When the Yankees traded for Vazquez, Girardi said, "that's kind of what we thought we were going to get from him."
The manager spoke of Javy's great escape in the seventh, when Baltimore loaded the bases with one out in a 1-1 game. "You're in the heart of their order," Girardi explained.
Only the Orioles don't have a heart of the order. They have hitters with a spectacular talent for emboldening Yankee pitchers, for giving them more confidence than any sports psychologist could.
"Mentally," Vazquez said in the winning clubhouse, "I feel better right now."
Who wouldn't? Baltimore had one lousy single through 5 2/3 innings before Corey Patterson cleared the wall in right.
In the seventh, after Alex Rodriguez failed to complete a double play between an Orioles single and an Orioles double, Vazquez faced his moment of truth with Adam Jones at the plate and David Robertson warming up.
Vazquez badly wanted to clean the mess himself, and Girardi was willing to let him. So on his 1-2 pitch, Javy unleashed a nasty two-seamer to finish off Jones before getting Julio Lugo on a hard grounder to short.
On cue, Miguel Tejada surrendered two runs on a throwing error, and Baltimore responded by offering no more resistance against Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera than it did against Vazquez, whose medium-velocity fastballs flew by Oriole bats as if launched by Stephen Strasburg.
"I'm locating it much better," Vazquez said. "The key for me has always been my fastball."
Javy had some help on this night, oh yes he did. Joba was Joba again, and Mo was Mo. Captain Jeter played hurt, just like he always does, and swung the bat and danced around the infield the way he did during his renaissance season of 2009.
But Vazquez stood at center stage for this event, in part because of his second-half unraveling in 2004, in part because of his failure to deliver a signature Bronx moment this time around.
Yes, he did come out of the 'pen to strike out Kevin Youkilis in that 11-9 victory over the Red Sox on May 17. This was different. This was a true, blue Yankee Stadium start, and Javy's struggles had been very much on New York's mind.
Asked if any fans had offered him support during the hard times, Vazquez said, "Oh man, a bunch of people. Even on the streets. 'Javy, forget about it. We support you. You've been a good pitcher your whole career. You're going to bounce back.' A lot of people said that.'"
Those same people would've booed him off the mound Tuesday night if Vazquez forced them to. He didn't.
"Obviously, I want to pitch good here," he said. "I think it was important to go out there and throw a good game here."
His manager agreed. Everyone wants Vazquez to succeed because he comes across as good, genuine people, and as a big-money hire honest enough to make this concession:
"I don't think it can get any worse than my first few starts this year."
He did what he had to do against the Orioles, who managed the near impossible in an AL East game: They went down in two hours and 39 minutes.
Baltimore didn't have the stomach for a fight, and Vazquez walked out of the Stadium with a 4-5 record and a renewed faith in himself.
But the angle that anyone can be cured of anything in the presence of these Orioles?
That one's for the Birds.
Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.More from ESPNNewYork.com »