The Yankees culminated the long road trip with a big 5-2 win to split the four-game series in Cleveland. Mike Mussina was good, hanging tough through a difficult fifth to minimize the damage to two runs on a night when he was otherwise in control. After five innings of futility against lefty call-up Aaron Laffey, the Yankees “exploded” for four in the top of the sixth, responding right after the Indians took the 2-0 lead. Matsui added a big RBI double in the eighth to salt it, and the bullpen shut things down, making it look easy. Big win, big split after losing the first two, and the pitching was quite good to keep it tight until the Yankees could cobble together runs in their improbable way in the sixth. Mussina earned his 253rd career victory and his second straight.
Laffey was baffling the Yankees with his brand of junk, keeping the Yanks off the board. In the first, Melky worked a walk, Jeter reached on an E4, and Abreu’s deep fly move Melky to third with one out. But A-Rod popped out and Giambi flew out to end the threat. Until Cano was hit by a pitch with two outs in the fifth, Laffey had retired thirteen straight. Thankfully, Mussina was about as good, working out of some trouble. In the second, Peralta was erased on Garko’s 6-4-3 DP. The third was tight, but Mussina came through. Blake reached on Jeter’s second error of the year, Gutierrez singled, Michaels bunted them over, but Mussina fanned Dellucci and got Carroll on a 3-1 in a nine-pitch at-bat to escape trouble.
Tough, clutch work from Mussina, especially in the fifth. Blake, Gutierrez, and Michales hit consecutive singles to make it 1-0, and Dellucci’s single loaded the bases with no outs. But Mussina worked out of it, getting Carroll to pop out, Project Donkey’s sac fly made it 2-0, but was careful in walking Martinez before getting Peralta on a soft liner to Jeter. This could have been far worse, but Mussina’s tough pitching kept it close.
This paid dividends in the improbable sixth. Melky broke up the no-hitter with an infield single to short, Jeter’s weak grounder to third made it first and second, Abreu singled to left to load the bases, A-Rod was hit on the leg to score Melky, 2-1, Giambi’s and Matsui’s chopping ground outs to first made it 3-2 Yankees, and Jensen Lewis couldn’t handle Ensberg’s tapper, scoring A-Rod 4-2. Hardly a hard-hit ball in the mix, but the Yankees cobbled together four runs in highly unlikely fashion. In an odd way, there was some decent situational hitting. One can argue that Giambi and certainly Matsui did the right thing, chopping the ball to Garko playing fairly deep at first. One could see Matsui turn over his wrists to put top spin on the ball on his grounder.
Albaladejo came in and allowed a single and a walk, but fanned Dellucci on a nasty curve to end the sixth. Nuke looked like Cool Hand Nuke during his hot stretch in 2007, working a dominant 1-2-3 seventh that included fanning Project Donkey looking on a 96-mph heater on the outside corner. If the Yankees could get something close to that on a fairly consistent basis from Nuke, that would go far to replacing Bruney in the pen. I’ve discussed how the offense needs to step up to replace Posada’s gaping absence, but to a somewhat lesser but still significant degree, that holds for Bruney. Nuke and Albaladejo can do wonders for the pen with good relief work. This pen, despite some early-season struggles, has been fairly good on the whole and still has some good depth.
Damon batted for A-Rod in the eighth, working a walk, and scoring on Matsui’s roped double to the wall in right center. Michaels’s bobble ensured that Damon, who was showing very good wheels, would score on Meacham’s nice call. Joba then entered and tightened the vice, working an eleven-pitch eighth (after a ten-pitch eighth yesterday). Mariano earned his 451st save (and a very hearty congratulations to Mariano for his 450th save that I missed yesterday), blowing away Gutierrez, getting Michaels on a deep F9, and ending it on a 4-3.
Matsui was 1-4 with 2 RBIs (13 now), batting .317. Melky, Jeter, Abreu, and Ensberg were all 1-4. A-Rod was 0-2 with a walk and the RBI HBP, his 11th RBI, but sat in the eighth probably because of the sore quad. He’s clearly not himself at the plate. Not a good night for the bats, but good enough to win, and that’s what counts. Mussina was good, going five and allowing seven hits, two runs earned, a walk and fanning two on 92 pitches/60 strikes. He hung tough to even his record at 3-3. Again, the bullpen dominated, with the single and walk that Albaladejo allowed in the sixth the only base runners the bullpen allowed in four excellent innigns of efficient work.
Now the Yankees return home 14-13, playing 18 of their next 25 games in The Bronx. It couldn’t come at a better time, as the Yankees face the Tigers in a three-game set starting tomorrow. I’d love to see nothing more than the offense come alive, the good pitching continue, and the team get several games above .500 in the next week. They avoid Verlander this series. Time to put it together, guys.