Well that was unexpected. What looked like another disappointing, forgettable loss turned into one of the very best wins of the season. The Yankees definitely needed that. The ninth inning, come-from-behind rally resulted in a 5-4 win over the Rangers on Tuesday.
Big Game Joe
Texas closer Joe Nathan might be the second best reliever of the last decade, but we all know he has a knack for coughing up leads against the Yankees. That’s exactly what he did in this game, and it all started with a rare Vernon Wells walk. A wild pitch to the next batter moved Wells into scoring position and really put the comeback in motion.
With Eduardo Nunez at the plate and Wells at second, the outfielders had to play in to cut off any potential run-scoring bloops. Sound strategy given Nunez’s generally light bat. It backfired through, as Nathan caught way too much of the plate with a pitch that Eduardo lined off the base of the wall in center field. Had the outfielders been playing at normal depth, center fielder Craig Gentry likely catches it at the wall. The wild pitch changed everything.
Nunez’s triple (!) tied the game at four and gave the Yankees a prime opportunity to plate the go-ahead run with one out. Brent Lillibridge earned his pinstripes not with a productive out like a sacrifice fly, but with a regular old base hit to left field to score Nunez and give New York the lead. Solidly hit and well-timed. It was glorious, and it was the team’s fourth win when trailing after eight innings this season. They had one such win all of 2012.
Although he retired nine batters in a row at one point, Phil Hughes wasn’t particularly sharp on Tuesday night. He allowed four hits (three doubles) and three walks in 5.2 innings, striking out just one. Only two (!) of his 80 pitches generated a swing-and-miss. Hughes exited after allowing two runs in the sixth thanks to some shoddy defense, but he wasn’t long for the game anyway. The Rangers were squaring him up well the third time through the order.
Despite all that, it was a pretty curious decision by Joe Girardi to pull Hughes with two outs in the sixth. Yeah, he did it to get the all-important left-on-left matchup, but the bullpen has been worked hard of late and squeezing one more out from the starter against the bottom of the order seemed like the obvious move. Boone Logan came in and surrendered a go-ahead two-run homer to Mitch Moreland, and just like the 3-0 lead was gone. This was probably one of those no-win situations for the manager – people complain if he goes to the ‘pen, people complain if he sticks to the starter — but it was definitely a weird move that backfired in a huge way.
At long last, the extra-base hit-less streak came to a merciful end at 24 innings (!) when Melky Mesa slugged a double into the left-center field gap to leadoff the third. Austin Romine followed that up with a double down the right field line as the very next batter, so the Yankees got extra-base hits from back-to-back batters after going almost three full games without one. Baseball is weird sometimes.
The Yankees scored two more runs on an Ichiro Suzuki infield single in the third (to score Romine) and a Lillibridge fielder’s choice in the fourth. Wells managed to slide around the tag at home on Lillibridge’s little ground ball to second. I thought he was going to be out by a mile, but he managed to sneak in for the third run. Lillibridge was their last base-runner until the start of the comeback rally. It looked rather bleak for a while.
Logan allowed the homer and a double to the two batters he faced, but the bullpen was perfect after that. Preston Claiborne (1.1 innings), Joba Chamberlain (one inning), and Mariano Rivera (one inning) combined to retire all ten men they faced. Joba needed some help from Brett Gardner, who made an outstanding diving catch to rob Elvis Andrus of extra bases in the right-center field gap. That was a huge play in retrospect.
Fifteen straight Yankees were retired before Wells drew that rally-starting walk in the ninth inning. Nunez was the only guy with multiple hits and Wells had the one free pass. The Yankees had four extra-base hits in a game — Wells doubled in addition to the Mesa double, Romine double, and Nunez triple — for just the second time in their last 15 games. How does that happen? They still haven’t hit a homer since the game immediately prior to the All-Star break … nine days ago.
In case you were wondering, Mesa became the 46th different player to play for the Yankees this season. They used 45 players in 2012. They should pass 50 players easily, but I wonder if they’ll get to 60? I wonder if that’s every happened before.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Now that is a fun graph. For the box score and video highlights, go to MLB.com. FanGraphs has the nerd stats and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees are six back of the AL East lead and three back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column. They need to build off this win and string a few more together, especially since the Rangers are one of the teams ahead of them in the wildcard race.
Same two teams on Wednesday night, when Andy Pettitte gets the ball against the newest Ranger: righty Matt Garza. It’s been a while since the Yankees have seen the former Ray.