Things looked so bright at the start of last night’s game. After Chad Gaudin set down the Blue Jays 1-2-3 in the first, including a strikeout of Adam Lind, the Yankees went to work. Derek Jeter worked a leadoff walk, and Mark Teixeira crushed a double to bring him home. Hideki Matsui made sure to plate the runner in scoring position, and the Yankees jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. It was as if they were sending a message: “We are not losing to the Blue Jays again.”
Yet for the next five frames, the Yankees managed just one hit and two baserunners — an Alex Rodriguez single and a Robinson Cano hit by pitch in the same inning — resulting in no runs. Even after starter Brian Tallet left the game before the bottom of the third, the result of taking a Robinson Cano grounder off the foot in the second, the Yanks couldn’t put up anything against the Jays middle relievers.
Meanwhile, the Jays were busy leading off innings with extra base hits. They did it four times, including a homer from Jose Bautista to start the third. The Jays tied it up in that frame, and then took the lead in the sixth when Vernon Wells singled, Lyle Overbay doubled, and Rod Barajas drove one in with a grounder. Those were all on Gaudin, and he left the game with two outs in the sixth, his team down 3-2.
It wasn’t a completely bad game for Gaudin. Yes, he got a bit lucky in avoiding big innings after leadoff hits, but the Yanks will take his final line every time. It would have been nice to see him get through the sixth, but Damaso Marte made that a moot point, fanning Travis Snider to end the threat. With the Yanks offense, a one-run deficit is nothing, right?
That might be true, but when Brian Bruney is in the bullpen — and worse, in the game — anything can happen. He came out to start the eighth, and things got ugly quick. Another leadoff double and a single set up the Jays with runners on second and third with none out. That was it for Bruney. With each of his appearances, it’s becoming harder and harder to remember when he last looked good.
Phil Coke cleaned up the mess, but not without allowing a run to score. It was a sac fly, hardly something you can blame on the guy who came into that situation. Even so, it was a relatively short fly, and it’s still a bit confusing as to why Jerry Hairston didn’t throw home. I guess it kept the double play possibility on, but the replay showed Hill still off first. In any case, the Jays had again capitalized on a leadoff XBH, and took a two-run lead to the bottom of the eighth.
As we’ve learned over the past few months, there is just no counting out the Yankees. They seem to save their best swings for the late innings. Coming into the game they were hitting .298/.383/.517 in innings seven through nine. As a team. They again added to those totals last night, going 6 for 14 with a walk and two extra base hits. The most important one, of course, was the two-run home run by Hideki Matsui, which tied the game at four. Once he hit that, there was no doubt that they were taking the game.
The winning run would come just one inning later. Brett Gardner, who came in as a defensive replacement in the eighth*, ran the count full before punching a single into center. If it wasn’t clear that they were winning the game yet, that pretty much sealed it. He swiped second, a necessity in that situation. Derek Jeter advanced him to third, and then the most beloved backup catcher in the history of baseball, Francisco Cervelli, slapped a single past a drawn-in infield, earning the pie and giving the Yankees the win.
* Replacing Hairston defensively raises the question of why Girardi didn’t pinch hit for him in the seventh, when the Yanks had the bases juiced with two outs. He could have gone to Eric Hinske there, but then Cito goes to Scott Downs. What’s a tougher matchup: Hairston v Accardo, or Hinske v Downs? I didn’t mind the non-decision, but if you’re going to replace Hairston with Gardner anyway, you might as well pinch hit there.
The win reduces the magic number to a Knoblauchian 11. It would have been 10 had the umpires punched out Nick Green on two different occasions. Then again, that would have been moot if Brian Fuentes did his job. The Yanks are just four wins, or four Rangers losses, away from clinching a playoff spot. They head into an off-day with a solid win. West Coast trip starts on Friday. See you at 10 p.m. Yippee.