Big statement by the Yanks last night, with Joba pitching 3 2/3 perfect innings to start the game, and the offense rolling behind A-Rod and the heart of the lineup to a 9-5 win. The Yanks worked over Lester not just for runs, but jacking up his pitch count to an astounding 78 before forcing him to exit in the bottom of the third, when Melky the Once-Again Clutch lined a shot off Lester’s knee and thigh. Thankfully, X-Rays showed Lester had no broken bones, and it remains to be seen how well and quickly he recovers so close to the playoffs. He went down like a ton of bricks and stayed down for a few minutes, but limped off under his own power, a good sign for the outstanding lefty.
The Yanks got on the scoreboard right away in the first when Jeter singled to start the game, yet again, then promptly stole second. A-Rod then laced a 1-1 fastball belly-high through the hole into left, 1-0 Yanks. Location was a problem all night for Lester, sometimes obvious as with A-Rod’s RBI single, other times not having a curve ball with sufficient enticement and bite to get the Yanks swinging for strikes. Lester wasn’t awful; he just struggled by getting behind batters and throwing mediocre curves instead of sharp ones. He found himself facing a formidable and confident foe, instead of a formidable one on its collective heels, and the Yanks made him pay. With Teixeira aboard, A-Rod crushed a 1-1 fastball down but over the plate to deep left center in the third, his 28th of the year, 3-0 Yanks. Matsui singled, Posada flew out, Cano fought off a fastball on the hands for a spray double to left, Swisher walked, and Melky pasted one off Lester’s right leg, just above the knee, 4-0 Yanks. Jones replaced Lester and Jeter’s 5-4 force scored Cano, 5-0 Yanks.
Joba continued to roll until Martinez drilled a two-out solo homer to right center, 5-1 Yanks. Joba allowed a single to Youkilis but retired Big PopUp on an easy comebacker. He settled in nicely, and wasn’t just good, but mature. He mixed up his pitches well and kept Boston off balance for most of the night. The Yanks got the run back right away when A-Rod walked, stole second, went to third on Matsui’s single to left, and scored on Jorge’s single through the hole on the right side, 6-1 Yanks. Cano’s DP ended the threat, however.
Joba showed real grit in the fifth, allowing a lead-off single to Bay and a double to Drew that he went down and steered into left center, second and third, no outs. He got Varitek to pop out, fanned Gonzales, and got Ellsbury on a 3U; great pressure work from Joba, and an important turning point, for Big PopUp hit a two-run, two-out homer to left in the sixth, 6-3 Yanks. Had Joba not held the line in the fifth, the game could have been much tighter. But again, the Yanks responded right away, as JD walked and stole second, Teixeira’s long fly to center moved JD to third, and A-Rod laced a doubled off Ellsbury’s glove, 7-3 Yanks. Matsui walked, they moved up on a wild pitch, and Jorge’s looping single to right center scored A-Rod, but Matsui got hung up in a rundown between third and home. Honestly, I have no idea why he wasn’t sent, for it seemed pretty apparent that the ball would drop. It was 8-3, but should have been 9-3.
A two-out rally in the seventh got that ninth run. After Aceves worked an easy 1-2-3 top of the seventh, Jeter singled to right and stole second, JD walked, and Teixeira lined a single to right, 9-3. Boston scored two in the top of the eighth, getting some help from JD who botched Youkilis’s RBI single to give Martinez an extra base, and he scored on Ortiz’s force, 9-5. Still, some good signs in that eighth. Marte got Ortiz to ground into the force, doing good work, and Hughes entered for him and blew away Bay with heat. The guy is just amazing. Coke walked Baldelli to start the ninth, but fanned Varitek and got Kotchman to ground into a game-ending 4-6-3 DP; nicely done, Coke, and a big win.
Before getting to the very full box score, it is worth mentioning that the Yanks ran wild on Varitek, stealing seven bases. A-Rod stole three and Jeter two, with Jeter reaching 30 for the year; very impressive. The Yanks were also 7-21 with RISP, getting plenty of clutch hits last night. A-Rod was The Man last night, going 3-3 with his 28th homer, a double, 4 RBI (93 this year), 3 runs, 2 walks, and 3 steals, batting .288. I went to the movie store last night to rent “X-Men: Wolverine” for my son, and was saying to myself in the car last night, If A-Rod hits this October and November, he will carry that team. And the ripple effects for the others will be huge. As soon as I got in the door, he homered in the third. The guy is a flat-out difference maker in that stacked lineup, and is really warming up at the right time. Cano was 2-5 with his 47th double and a run, batting .321. Jeter was 2-4 with 2 runs, his 65th RBI, and 2 steals, batting a robust .330. Jorge was 2-4 with 2 RBI (81 this year), batting .286. Teixeira was 2-5 with his 119th RBI and a run, batting .293. Matsui was 2-3 with a run and 2 walks, batting .280. JD was 0-3 but scored, walking twice. Melky the Once-Again Clutch was 1-5 with his 66th RBI, batting .272.
But Joba’s good start was no less important, going six strong and allowing just five hits and a walk with the three runs earned, fanning five on 86 pitches/52 strikes to earn his 9th win. He kept the ball down for much of the start, had sharp breaking pitches that he threw for strikes, and de-emphasized his slider, using it sparingly which I like. It’s a terrific pitch, but I believe he’s overused it. Not last night. I texted Frank the Sage last night that Aceves (10-1, 3.82 ERA, 1.069 WHIP, flexible in short and long relief) this season really reminds me of Ramiro of 1998 (10-2, 3.25 ERA, 1.235 WHIP). He made his inning last night look all too easy. Marte, Hughes, and Coke were good.
The Yanks reduced their magic number to three with last night’s win, and moved to 42 games above .500, 98-56. With eight games to play, the Yanks have a good shot at 104 wins. The Big Guy (18-7, 3.31 ERA) goes this afternoon against Matsuzaka (3-5, 6.80 ERA), with the Yanks looking to take the series and reduce the magic number to one.
Enjoy it, Yankees fans.