The Yankees certainly know how to keep this game interesting. Right off the top, Brett Gardner is pulled from the game with oblique soreness after an awkward checked swing. While they were able to put in Granderson and still have plenty of players available off the bench. Gardner isn’t the easiest guy to lose, as an oblique injury, even a minor one could bench him for the last 15 games of the season. Bryan Hoch (Yankees’ beat reporter) put it plainly tonight, “Gardner has been one of the Yankees’ most consistent performers this year. In 145 games, he has batted .273, setting single-season career highs in hits (147), doubles (33) and home runs (eight), while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield and stealing 24 bases in 32 attempts.”
But it was Phil Hughes back in action to start today’s game. Both he and his 4th inning replacement David Huff were on tight leashes tonight. The Yankees know that every game is absolutely vital, especially with several really tough series coming up. They each went 3 total innings, throwing to an additional batter in the following inning (Hughes into the 4th, Huff the 7th): Hughes went 50 pitches, 3 hits, 1 earned run (an RBI single in the 3rd), and 1 strikeout; Huff 40 pitches, 2 hits, 1 earned run (a solo homer in the 7th), and a strikeout. Actually, together they make a pretty good pitcher, but since neither can really be consistent as a starter, perhaps this may be the best way to split up a start for them for the next couple of starts. An interesting idea, at least.
Now, before we move on to the next pitcher, we should probably explain why the Yankees were getting nervous at the creeping Orioles’ offense. Because once again, the Yankees were hitting, and hitting really well. In the 2nd inning, Eduardo Nunez hits a lead-off single and scores on Mark Reynolds’ 200th career homer. Then with no outs in the 3rd, Alex Rodriguez walks, Alfonso Soriano doubles, and Robinson Cano walks to load the bases. With a simple swing of the bat, Vernon Wells shoots one into left field for a 2-RBI single, scoring Rodriguez and Soriano. And in the 7th, it’s Curtis Granderson to add to the Yankees’ lead with his own solo home run that bounced into the concourse over the right field seats. (Camden Yards is known for being a “hitters’ park” due to the shortened depth of its fences, but Granderson’s would have been out in the deepest stadium. The man can hit pretty hard, pretty far.)
Adam Warren gets the first two outs in the 7th inning, but with two men on, they opt for fresh Cesar Cabral for that final out, keeping the Yankees’ lead intact. So, of course, going into the 8th 5-2, the Yankees turn to their set-up man, David Robertson to do his Houdini magic. On the 0-2 pitch, the lead-off hitter smacks a long ball deep into left field, but it’s Soriano to the rescue to reach over the wall and rob the runner of his addition to the score — what many people have dubbed the “Catch of the Season” (at least for today). Perhaps it should have been a sign, something a bit too close for comfort, and with 2 outs and 2 on with back-to-back singles, Robertson gives up a 3-run home run to blow the save and tie up the game. Houdini took the night off; it was just David having an off-night.
So they head into the 9th, knowing how vital this game is for both teams to have even a small chance at the postseason. Brendan Ryan singles (his first as a Yankee), and Chris Stewart bunts back to the pitcher who throws so wide of 2nd that most grandmothers could have made the run to 3rd, unless they tripped over 2nd base like Ryan did and had to stay there. So two on, no outs, and Granderson lays down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance both runners. Rodriguez is deep into his at-bat, when a really wild pitch bounces in the dirt and far away from the catcher. With Rodriguez signally furiously, Ryan is able to score standing up (his first as a Yankee) and push the Yankees back in the lead at 6-5. After intentionally walking Rodriguez, a double play send the game to Mariano Rivera.
Three batters and three outs later — game over. Yankees win 6-5 and now sit just one game out of the second wild card spot. The postseason is no longer a dream, but a real distinct possibility. I should also note there was a one hour and eighteen minute rain delay at the start of the game. The skies over Baltimore were anything but friendly.
Also, it was Mariano Rivera who earned tonight’s win. And with everyone wondering how that was possible, it’s actually pretty easy. Even though Robertson pitched the inning before they technically earned the run that won the game, he also officially blew the save. Had the Orioles won, Robertson would have earned the loss and was therefore ineligible for the win no matter what happened. That meant the only pitcher available to earn the win would be Rivera, and thus was scored accordingly. Not a common scoring dilemma, but at least one that makes sense.
I just hope the Yankees take this 3-game (out of 4 in the series) win momentum to Boston — enemy territory, where the enemy is 9.5 games ahead and 99% a shoo-in for the AL East division title. Despite their Duck Dynasty beards, Boston is one of the best teams in the league (boy, is that not a comfortable thing for a Yankee fan to admit). And the last series in the Bronx (friendly territory) was an uphill battle. It will be either really interesting or really devastating to see how this weekend turns out. But with a play-off spot within reach, I don’t think the Yankees are quite ready to give up just yet.
But then again, when are they ever ready to quit? They are, after all, the Yankees.