ANAHEIM, Calif. -- One of the best starters in baseball had the count in his favor against a rookie playing his sixth major league game. But the 1-2 inside fastball from Jered Weaver never had a chance. Jesus Montero turned on it quickly and punished the pitch over the left-field wall.
Afterward, the praise rained down on Montero. He has three homers in six games. His average is .350. And, in a playoff-like atmosphere, against maybe the second-best pitcher in the American League, he made it look easy.
Mark Teixeira added, "[Montero] isn't overmatched here. He is not scared to be here."
The problem is Montero can't do it alone. The Yankees lost 2-1 to the Angels on Friday because, other than Montero's blast, they couldn't touch Weaver and Angels closer Jordan Walden. They lost their third in a row, but the Red Sox keep losing, too, so the Yankees remain 2 1/2 games up in the AL East. They seem to be playing on fumes after a wet week that included a rocky flight out west.
"Playing all these days in a row, all these tight ballgames, you get into this," Girardi said.
Before the Yankees had to turn to their B-team (C-team?) bullpen for the ninth, this game had a playoff-like feel. Bartolo Colon -- pitching, no joke, with a stomach ache -- had a darting sinker and fastball, and gave up an unearned run only when Derek Jeter made what "The Captain" described as a routine opportunity difficult. Still, over seven innings, Colon made it look like 2005, when he won a Cy Young for the home team here.
The Yankees are not playing winning offense lately, leaving Montero as a one-man show. Since coming back from his latest injury, a thumb problem, Rodriguez is 4-for-19. Robinson Cano is 9-for-37 in September. Brett Gardner has just six hits in his past 43 at-bats. Of course, against Weaver, anyone can look bad.
"You look up pitcher in the dictionary, there would be a picture of him," Jeter said.
If you look up shortstop on Google (we're a little more contemporary than The Captain), there might be a picture of Jeter. One of the reasons is that he doesn't usually mess up the routine play. Jeter made his 10th error of the season when Jeff Mathis hit a slow grounder that Jeter ranged to his left and rushed his throw.
Jeter admitted he had more time on the fifth-inning throw. He could have taken another step, but he didn't and his flip was inside and high.
"It is not a difficult play," Jeter said.
It put two men on and led to the only run Colon gave up. The Yankees got to the ninth still tied before Girardi felt his hand was forced by this week's rain and the close games. He turned to Laffey and Ayala. Between the two of them, they didn't record an out until Maicer Izturis' game-winning sacrifice fly.
Jeter's play was an anomaly. He is as consistent as they come on plays he should make. But Girardi is clearly sick of the poor defense. With Jeter's error, the Yankees have tied their longest streak of the year with their fifth consecutive game with at least one error. They have made 11 errors in September after making 10 in all of August.
Montero, though, keeps gaining more and more confidence. He said he was expecting the inside fastball.
"I'm a catcher, too," Montero said.
He is everything for the Yankees at the moment. He could be to 2011 what Joba Chamberlain was to 2007. But he needs some help.