Prior to Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees had not beaten the AL’s tough teams. They entered the game 0-5 at home against the Red Sox and Tampa, and while the Bombers are 17-6 against everyone else in the Bronx, Tampa’s players and coaches criticized the atmosphere at the new stadium.
While the ghosts weren’t on the Yankees’ side on Saturday afternoon, they were on Sunday. In front of a crowd of 46,465 that included me and my family, the Yanks mounted a late rally in the 8th to eke out a one-run win and move back into sole possession of first place. As Mariano Rivera induced a hobbled Evan Longoria to hit a weak grounder to second as the afternoon’s final out, the game featured redemption and a vindication of Mariano in his locker room struggle with Joe Girardi over Saturday’s costly decision to intentionally walk Longoria on Saturday.
For the Yankees, this afternoon’s game was not shrouded in the usual rancorous debate over the day’s starting pitcher. Joba Chamberlain took the hill without the typical “Joba to the pen” debate, and for five innings, he was on his game. While not as sharp as last week, Joba was pitching to contact and had kept his pitch count low.
In the sixth, he lost the strike zone and couldn’t handle the bottom of the order. He left with a decent line and a so-called quality start: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. He would not get a decision.
Of course, Joba’s no decision wasn’t for lack of trying. Matt Garza matched Chamberlain zero for zero, and it seemed as though the team would break through in the fifth. Nick Swisher walked, and Melky Cabrera up. Derek Jeter, hitting over .310 and swinging a hot stick, came up and attempted to bunt. I was apoplectic. What is Derek Jeter, one of the Yanks’ best hitters, doing bunting with two on, no out and the top of the lineup behind him?
After the game, Joe Girardi defended his decision. He claimed that Garza is tough on righties and generates a lot of double plays. He wanted Teixeira and A-Rod up with a chance to take the lead. Why that means Jeter bunts, I have no idea. Giving away Derek Jeter’s outs is a terrible strategy.
Anyway, it didn’t really matter in the end as the Yanks stole three runs in the 8th. After a Jeter fly-out starting the inning, Grant Balfour gave up back-to-back singles to Johnny Damon and Teixeira. A-Rod walked, and in came J.P. Howell.
The Yanks were set up for a big inning, and they nearly disappointed. The team’s second run scored on a Robinson Cano walk. Then, with the bases loaded, Jorge Posada hit a scorcher to third base. Luckily for the Yanks, Evan Longoria was out, and Willy Aybar was in. Aybar tried to catch and turn two at the same time. He ended up getting no outs. Posada reached on a fielder’s choice, and the run scored on an error.
Then, Hideki Matsui, the leading candidate for the “ground out to second” wing of the Hall of Fame, did what he does best: He grounded out to second. However, the ball was slow through the infield. Ben Zobrist tagged Jorge Posada but could not nail the slow Matsui at first. A-Rod scored the Yanks’ fourth run, and it would be enough. While the inning would end on a controversial appeal of a Melky Cabrera swing, the Yanks and Mariano Rivera wouldn’t need anymore runs.
With that win, the Yanks reestablished their claim to the best record in the AL. They have a 0.5-game lead in the AL East and face off against the Rays tonight at 7:05 p.m. Andy Pettitte is slated to pitch.
Quick Hits: How about that Al Aceves? Two innings of one-hit ball with four strike outs. He really impressed everyone today and gave the Yanks a chance to do what they do best…While Aceves was stellar, I was pretty surprised to see Phil Hughes remain in the pen. Since his removal from the starting rotation, Hughes has thrown zero innings. He needs work. I wonder if the Yanks have something brewing for Monday in light of Hughes’ inaction and Andy Pettitte’s recent ineffectiveness.