For the first three games of this series, we’ve harped on the Yankees inability to hit with runners in scoring position. On Friday and Saturday they put plenty of runners on, but couldn’t bring them around. That changed on Sunday, as they had six hits in 17 at bats with ducks on the pond. The White Sox, who had done a great job in those situations, went 2 for 14. It was the difference as the Yankees avoided the sweep, beating Mark Buehrle and the Sox 8-5.
While the whole offense, including newcomer Jerry Hairston, hit well, Melky Cabrera was the game’s first star. The big story was his cycle, capped off by a triple in the ninth inning. It was the timing and nature of his hits that put the Yankees over the top. He started their scoring with a three-run homer in the second. Next was a double to lead off the fourth, leading to the Yanks first run of that inning. He then picked up a single with A-Rod standing on second base, extending the Yankees lead to 6-4. Finally was his triple with none on and one out in the ninth, leading to an insurance run to make up for the one the Sox scored in the eighth.
Overall Melky was 4 for 5, scoring three and driving in four. In two at bats with the bases empty he hit a double and triple, thereby putting himself into scoring position, both times with fewer than two outs. In three at bats with runners in scoring position he went 2 for 3, driving in his four runs. His one failure was a groundout to second with bases loaded and two outs. To harp on that one at bat, though, would be to diminish an excellent game by Melky. He truly was the difference between salvation and a sweep.
While we had some concerns about Melky playing full-time with Brett Gardner injured, the Melk man has really stepped up of late. Since Gardner’s thumb injury on July 25, Melky has gone 10 for 28 with three doubles, a triple, and two homers. His on base percentage has been .438. We’ve seen flashes from Melky this season, and it’s so easy to forget how young he is. We’ve been especially hard on Melky at RAB, and would like nothing more than to be proven wrong. Melky has had some hot stretches this season that make me think that he might be on the brink. His emergence could mean a lot to the Yankees not only this season but next, when the Yankees have fewer in-house options.
As for CC Sabathia, it wasn’t quite the start the Yankees had hoped for. He struggled through the first three innings, throwing 58 pitches and allowing four runs on seven hits, including back to back home runs by Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome — both to the opposite field. He settled down after that, throwing just 42 pitches in the next four innings plus one batter, allowing just two more baserunners through the seventh.
Joe Girardi sent out CC for the eighth with 99 pitches already under his belt, and No. 100 tuned into a Gordon Beckham double. Phil Hughes came in to strike out two and walk one, and Mariano Rivera came in from the bullpen to allow a run-scoring hit, saddling Sabathia with five runs on the afternoon, plus the final out of the inning. He closed the door in the ninth, finishing off a much-needed Yankees victory.
Here’s a little crazy stat. CC threw 100 pitches, 71 for strikes. Through three CC threw 57 pitches, 37 for strikes. Over the next four-plus innings, he threw 43 pitches, 34 for strikes. As PeteAbe chronicles, the big man had had enough. “That’s all they get,” he said to his catcher. CC certainly stepped up his game after the third. That’s what the Yanks need from him going forward, just in all of his innings. It’s going to be a long pennant race, and the Yanks would do well to have their ace at his strongest.
What impressed me most was how the Yankees exploited the hole between short and third. They put plenty of balls in play to the left side, and oftentimes it paid off. It looked like Kevin Long devised a game plan, and the Yanks stuck with it. Whatever it was it worked, as the Yankees knocked Buehrle out after 4.1 innings. He left having allowed seven runs on 12 hits and without striking out a single Yankee. Also impressive: the Yankees singled Buehrle to death. Of the 12 Yankee hits off him, 10 were singles. The only extra base hits were a double and a homer by, who else, Melky.
The win keeps the Yanks a half game out in front of the Red Sox, but later this week that difference won’t matter much. After a day off tomorrow they have two up in Toronto, followed by a big four-game set at the Stadium over the weekend. Let’s hope this weekend was just a three-game hiccup, just like out in LA.