As mentioned before the game, there was a milestone or two at stake in this game. Both Mark Teixeira and the team were tied atop their respective home run leader boards, Teixeira tied with Carlos Pena atop the AL leaders and the team tied with the 2004 squad for most home runs by a Yankees team. While Mark had to settle for a tie, the team accomplished their milestone, and in grand fashion. It also brought along another milestone, one that was unlikely to be reached.
At the beginning, it looked like another lackadaisical game for the Yanks. They collected just three hits through the first five innings, and Derek Jeter, who knows no off switch, had two of them. It’s always tough to tell in that situation whether it’s the pitcher going well or the offense just not producing. Considering the Yankees position, it seemed like the latter. So the Yanks would go out losers of four straight. No big deal.
Apparently, they weren’t having any of that. Johnny Damon, who was 0 for 2 on the day and was slumping badly over the past few weeks, led off with a double. Mark Teixeira walked, and then A-Rod got a hold of one, sending it over the left field fence for home run No. 29 and RBI No. 96 on the season. It was a shame, I’m sure a few of you noted, that Alex would fall short of the 30/100 milestone, especially since he had such a great year. Still, 29 homers and 96 RBI in 124 games is pretty remarkable, especially considering the recovery he made from March hip surgery.
After Freddy Guzman ran for Hideki Matsui a batter later, it was clear the regulars were coming out. There was little chance A-Rod would get another at bat in the game. But then a series of strange events unfolded. After tapping one in front of the plate, Melky Cabrera ran as hard as I’ve ever seen him, just barely beating the throw to first base. Best of all, it didn’t look like he even entertained the idea of sliding. A batter later, Jose Molina tapped one in front of the plate as well, but Andy Sonnanstine couldn’t field it cleanly, allowing Guzman to score.
That’s when Damon struck again. With the bases loaded and two outs he laced one down the right field line, plating Melky and Swisher and putting runners on second and third. The Rays, not wanting to serve up Mark Teixeira’s 40th home run, intentionally walked him to get to A-Rod, which is like a pitcher walking Ortiz to get to Manny back in 2005. The bases were set up for A-Rod.
I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know why Sonnanstine left a pitch where he did, and I don’t know how A-Rod managed to get a hold of it and take it to right center. All I know is that it dropped beyond the fence, and in the span of one inning A-Rod has gotten to his 30 home runs and 100 RBI. With his three hits in the game he raised his average to .286 after being in the .260s in August. It’s been a wild ride for A-Rod, and now he’s facing his biggest challenge: producing in the playoffs.
Burnett’s tune-up wasn’t all bad. He allowed a home run to Evan Longoria in the first, a forgivable solo shot, and then another run scored on a Jose Molina passed ball. While Burnett allowed seven hits and a walk, a few too many baserunners in five innings, he also threw 55 of his 84 pitches for strikes, 65 percent. He came out after the fifth, but because the Yanks batted first in the sixth he picked up his 13th win of the season, lowering his ERA to an acceptable 4.04.
Afer that, the game was a cinch. The bullpen didn’t allow a hit or walk, and all five Yankees relievers recorded a strikeout. The story, of course, was Joba Chamberlain, who looked sharp in his frame, retiring the Rays with just nine pitches, seven of which were strikes. It wasn’t the setup man Joba were were quite used to — his fastball topped out around 95, though again that’s perfectly acceptable. He mixed that with an accurate slider to put down the Rays as fast as they came up. If this was a true audition for a postseason roster spot, he passed without question.
That’s it, folks. The regular season is over for the Yankees. Their 103 wins matches 2002’s total, which is the highest since 1998. We’ll go over the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, and the creamy middles between now and Wednesday, when the Yankees are expected to play their first playoff game since 2007. The game will start at 6:07 EDT regardless of whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday.
And with that, it’s time for an open thread. Discuss the game, A-Rod, the Tigers-Twins playoff — which will happen Tuesday — or anything else you want.