Nothing compares to the emotional payoff of a walk-off win. Once that final run scores and the game is over, it feels like there’s not a worry in the world. Even after the initial emotional high wears off, there’s still a sense of joy, a knowledge that the team has registered yet another win, and in this case have guaranteed taking at least three out of four. The Yanks are rolling, and the nature of their past three wins makes it that much sweeter.
Yet by nature walk-off wins bring their fair share of tension leading up to the payoff. Today the Yankees caused their fans a great deal of frustration, blowing a number of late-inning opportunities to take the game before Johnny Damon planted one over the right field wall. Thankfully, those frustrations disappeared once the ball hit Damon’s bat, but before that there were a number of players were the cause of a collective case of agita.
A.J. Burnett held the Twins scoreless through the first six innings, but it wasn’t uneventful. It started at the beginning, when he walked two and uncorked a wild pitch in the first. Thankfully no one came around to score. It looked like Burnett settled down after that, retiring the Twins on six pitches in the second. He took 17 pitches to retire the side in order in the third, but most of that was attributable to Nick Punto’s 10-pitch at bat.
Runners reached base in each of the next three innings, but none came around to score. Then came the seventh, where things got a bit hairy. With one out A.J. allowed a single to the .222-hitting Carloz Gomez. Once he’s on base he’s a major threat with his speed, so walking Nick Punto, the number nine hitter, hurt so much more, since it put Gomez in scoring position. Things looked better after Burnett struck out Denard Span for the second out and the .179-hitting Matt Tolbert strolled to the plate. But he lined one to center, and Gomez was assured to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. Thankfully, an atrocious throw by Melky didn’t cost the Yanks any further bases. A.J took care of that himself, throwing two wild pitches during Joe Mauer’s at bat, allowing the second run to score. After issuing his sixth walk of the game, A.J. left in favor of Jon Albaladejo, who ended the bases-loaded threat.
WIth the way Kevin Slowey was pitching to that point, the game seemed lost. Not only had he held the Yanks scoreless to that point, but he did it in efficient and dominating fashion, tossing just 73 pitches and striking out eight. A-Rod, though, would have none of it. He smacked the second pitch of the 7th over the right field wall to cut the lead in half. Hideki Matsui followed with a double, Swisher sacrificed him, and Melky Cabrera hit a medium fly, one that probably wouldn’t have scored Mastui if the throw wasn’t a mile off line. No matter the circumstances, the score was tied. Unfortunately, the game was in the hands of the Yanks bullpen.
Somehow, they came through. Albaladejo, despite a heads up play to erase Mike Cuddyer, still loaded the bases with one out. Who else could Girardi go to? Apparently the answer was Brett Tomko, who was aided by a great diving play by Mark Teixeira, who got the force at home and kept the Twins from capitalizing on the bases loaded situation.
The Yankees answered with their own bases loaded situation in the eighth, but like the Twins they could not make the most of it. Hideki Matsui worked a 3-0 count, but swung once, and perhaps twice, at ball four. Instead of walking to bring in the go-ahead run, he looked foolish striking out on a pitch in the right-handed batter’s box. And so the game went to the ninth, where Mariano efficiently retired the Twins.
The bottom of the ninth is an inning most fans would like to erase from their collective memories. The inning unfolded in a fashion which would leave fans to believe the Yankees were readying for yet another walk-off win. Nick Swisher worked a full count, no big sweat for him, and took ball four. With Gardner running, Melky sacrificed him to second, giving the Yanks two shots for a base hit to plate the winning run. Unfortunately, Frankie Cervelli was the first one to give it a try. Things looked promising when he hit one off of Jose Mijares’s glove. With the ball rebounding halfway back to home, the Yanks looked to have runners on first and third with one out (it was quite doubtful that Mauer could have thrown out Cervelli). But Gardner tried to be a hero and sneak in behind Mauer to score the winning run. Only Mauer caught on in time, diving across the basepath to tag Gardner in plenty of time. So instead of first and third with one out and Robinson Cano at the plate — a deep fly away from winning the game — the Yanks had a runner on first and two outs. That would not get them their third straight walk-off win.
How about that Al Aceves? The dude has been nothing but spectacular since being recalled earlier this month, providing the Yanks not only with a long man but a guy who can get three outs. One has to wonder at this point if he’s going to see regular innings out of the bullpen. Surely the Yanks can’t send him to Scranton once Bruney returns. How could they justify that when they could just as easily send down Edwar? Anyway, Aceves downed the Twins 1-2-3 in the 10th, giving the Yanks yet another shot at victory.
The rest, as they say, is history. Johnny Damon worked a full count of Jesse Crain and then pulled the next pitch to right, a no-doubt-about it shot right off the bat. The Yankees had won in storybook fashion yet again, their third-straight game with a walk-off hit. A.J Burnett, the guy who started the game with a ball to Denard Span, finished it with a pie to Damon’s face. This is a ritual I can certainly endorse.
As Mike said to me after the game, while these walk-off wins are a source of immense happiness (once they’re over, of course), it sure would be nice for the Yanks to crank out a 15-1 walloping. They’ll get a shot at that tomorrow, as Andy Pettitte takes on Glen Perkins. After facing three sweeps earlier this year, it sure would be nice for the Yanks to get one of their own. Keep the streak alive.