And just like that, the Yankees have won four straight games. They hung on for a 4-3 win over the Pirates on Sunday afternoon, in the first game of their doubleheader. The Yankees have allowed four runs total in their last four games.
Early Runs … Then Nothing Else
The start of the first game was outstanding. The Yankees managed to load the bases with no outs against Charlie Morton in the first inning despite not hitting the ball out of the infield — Brett Gardner walked, Derek Jeter bunt singled, and Jacoby Ellsbury was hit by a pitch. Mark Teixeira continued to turn the clock back to 2009 with a two-run single to right-center, then Brian McCann plated another run with a single to center. The Yankees were up 3-1 before making their first out.
An Alfonso Soriano strikeout and a hard-hit Yangervis Solarte double play ended the rally, but the Bombers scored their fourth run when Gardner doubled in Kelly Johnson in the second inning. The double was all speed and hustle. Most players are held to a single on that play. After that though, Morton settled right down and retired 16 of the final 17 men he faced. The one exception was a Zoilo Almonte single, and he was picked off first base immediately. Morton faced the minimum after allowing seven of the first ten batters he faced to reach base.
Good Kuroda, Bad Kuroda
Neil Walker started the afternoon with a monster solo homer in the first inning, but Hiroki Kuroda got into a groove and retired the next nine men he faced before escaping a bases loaded, two outs jam in the fourth. The fifth inning was a bit of a mess thanks to a Tony Sanchez leadoff homer and a Clint Barmes (!?) double, which gave Pittsburgh two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead to 4-3 and put Kuroda on the ropes. He hung around for another inning and finished the day with the bare minimum quality start: six innings, three runs.
During that stretch of nine straight being set down, Kuroda looked like the good version of himself, dotting the corners with his fastball and getting hitters to reach for offspeed stuff out of the zone. He caught way too much of the plate in the fifth inning — Pedro Alvarez fouled off a middle-middle meatball before striking out to end the inning, a pitch he could have hit into the third deck — and looked more like the Kuroda who has struggled for most of the season. Getting through six innings was important in the first game of the doubleheader.
I get the feeling Joe Girardi was not willing to use David Robertson in both games of the doubleheader, so it made sense that he went to his closer for the four-out save with a one-run lead in the first game, especially with the off-day coming on Monday. Robertson fanned Starling Marte to strand Andrew McCutchen at second base as the tying run to end the eight inning — Marte was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, swinging and missing eight times out of 17 pitches — and then he retired the side in order in the ninth for his eighth save in eight chances. Turns out the elite setup man is a pretty good closer, huh? Weird. Matt Daley (two outs), Matt Thornton (one out), and Adam Warren (one base-runner, two outs) helped navigate the seventh and eighth innings. The bullpen will be a little short in Game Two, but preserving the lead in the first game had to be the priority.
Teixeira got hosed in the sixth inning, when he took a Morton curveball to the left knee. Rather than being awarded first base, third base ump Balkin’ Bob Davidson said he swung at the pitch. Replays showed he wasn’t even close to swinging. Didn’t even go halfway around. Terrible call. Teixeira struck out a few pitches later and said either “thanks a lot, Bob” or “good job, Bob” as he walked off the field. The knee seems to be fine.
I was surprised Girardi went to Thornton to face Travis Snider with two outs and the bases empty in the seventh inning, only because Alvarez was due up in the eighth and it was obvious Snider was going to lifted for a pinch-hitter. It all worked out in the end, I just expected Girardi to save his only lefty for one of the premier left-handed power hitters in baseball in the one-run game.
The Yankees did not have a base-runner after Zoilo’s single/pickoff combination. Morton and lefty reliever Tony Watson combined to retire 19 of the final 20 players New York sent to the plate. Gardner had the double while Jeter, Teixeira, McCann, Johnson, and Almonte had one single apiece. Gardner drew his walk and Ellsbury was hit by a pitch. Johnson also stole a base. That’s it. That was the offense.
The Yankees and Pirates are playing a single admission doubleheader on Sunday, so Game Two is minutes away/being played right now. Vidal Nuno and former Yankees first round pick Gerrit Cole is the pitching matchup.