Yankees 2 Rays 1: Yankees Sweep Short Series; Ponson, Bullpen Outstanding

There’s something happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.–Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth.”

In impressive fashion, the Yankees have now won four straight games, bouncing back against Boston to earn the series split and taking the short series against Damn Tampa with a tight pitchers duel, 2-1 in 10 innings. Jeter’s walk in the tenth off the resuscitated Grant Balfour brought up Abreu who, after fouling off the first four pitches of the at-bat, took a ball then pasted what looked like a slider down–not a bad pitch, really, but over the plate where he could handle it–to the wall in right-center to score Jeter and win the game. Ponson was tremendous, giving up only a run on Pena’s sixth-inning solo homer on a belt-high fastball over the plate–his only real mistake in an otherwise sterling start. The bullpen held things tight, with Veras and Nuke again pitching perfect seventh and eighth innings before Mariano handled the ninth and tenth for the win, seemingly curing his tie-game blues.

I got in around the start of the game in time to hear Giambi drive in Jeter in the first for a 1-0 lead. Giambi ripped a belly-high fastball to the shortstop side of second, through a gaping hole left between the shortstop and third with the shift. Yet the Yanks failed to add on after that, with hard-throwing righty Edwin Jackson keeping them in check and stranding runners. Ponson worked out of a tight jam in the second, when the Rays had second and third with one out, and the bases loaded with two outs, by retiring Reid Brignac on an F7. It stayed 1-0 in no small part from the Yankees defense, which turned a DP on Carl Crawford of all people and saw Molina the Magnificent peg out Upton trying to steal second, as well as Ponson’s excellent and efficient work. Pena’s bomb tied it, and Melky made a good play on Floyd’s hard liner in the sixth. Initially misplaying the liner right at him–always tough to judge–Melky had to retreat quickly and make a leaping catch reaching over his head, nice play.

The Yanks stranded Gardner, who added his fourth stolen base, at third to end the fifth. In the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks had a grand chance to win it. Jorge walked and Christian entered as a pinch runner. Cano laid down a good sac bunt to move him to second, and Christian stole third cleanly with one out. But Melky fanned and Molina pop-up to second meant extras. But it was good to see the Yankees do the little, manufacturing plays well–Cano’s good bunt, the pinch-runner for Jorge which, if there’s a bright side to his bad shoulder, it’s that the Yanks can send in a pinch-runner for him when he is the DH, and Christian’s aggressive stolen base, to set up the opportunity in myriad ways–wild pitch, sac fly, squeeze (one of these days…), chopper, et cetera. Mariano allowed only a walk in his two great innings, striking out four and keeping things tied for Abreu’s tenth-inning heroics.

The exciting walk-off win can’t mask how terrific and important Ponson’s start was. In six innings, he surrendered five hits, one run earned on Pena’s homer, walked two, hit two, and fanned four on only 87 pitches/50 strikes. His ERA of 3.96 is barely above the surprising 3.88 he brought with him when he signed, the result of his only poor start as a Yankee. I have to say that, unless the guy falls apart, he probably stays in the rotation. He’s been tough in two of his three starts, and did a good job minimizing his walks today. He’s forced me to drop the middle name “Stinking” with his work, which I’m glad to do as I pick at the platter of roast crow while I type.  Right now, the Yankees have to stick with not only the good starts but those proving themselves and, when Kennedy and Hughes return after their injuries and poor starts, there’s certainly no guarantee that they will–or should–step right back into the rotation.  Stick with what works, and right now what (who) works is Ponson.

I didn’t mind Girardi’s removing Ponson after six innings for several reasons. It was hot, and the burly Ponson had to be pretty beat despite the low pitch count. Also, while he was very good, the Rays started to hit him hard in the sixth, probably indicating to Girardi that he shouldn’t stick with him much longer. Additionally, the pen was rested and has been just excellent, with Veras, Nuke, and Mariano forming a formidable, hard-throwing back end that is pretty damn tough right now. Veras’s perfect seventh lowered his ERA to a very good 2.45, Nuke’s 1-2-3 eighth on 11 pitches lowered his ERA to a steadily declining 3.60, while Mariano again lurks near the 1.00 mark with a 1.06 ERA. The bullpen has been huge for the Yanks all year, and when Bruney returns, it should be even better.

Abreu was 1-4 with his 57th RBI on his 21st double, batting .274. Jeter was 1-4 with both runs, batting .284. Melky and A-Rod were each 1-4, with Melky batting .247 and A-Rod .317, and Giambi and Molina were each 1-3, with Giambi getting his 54th RBI and batting .257, and Molina at .231. Gardner was 1-5 with his 4th stolen base, but fanned three times. But he’s getting hits and causing trouble on the base paths. Not to be overlooked, Gardner’s quick catch and throw on Navarro’s F7 in the second for the second out kept Pena from scoring.

The Yanks are now back to seven games above .500 and, more importantly, have shaved two games off Tampa’s lead, now standing 6 1/2 games back. They beat the first-place team twice, allowed only one run in two games, won a one-run game against a team that was 16-10 in such games before today, and bested a reliever in Balfour who now has 31 K’s in 19 2/3 innings. Very impressive work before heading to Pittsburgh for the make-up game from the June 26 rainout, then on to Toronto for three before the All-Star break. I had said a couple weeks ago that I hoped the Yankees would finish their run before the All-Star break with a 12-5 mark in their last 17. While they are 7-6 in their last 13, finishing 11-6 or 10-7 would still mean they’ve moved a bit closer to the top especially because of the two wins against Damn Tampa. They’ve still not fired on all cylinders with the bats, and they have had some poor outings from starters. Yet this team is still hanging in there, is playing better all-around ball with the tough bullpen, with running, with an infusion of youth in the outfield and the pen, got clutch starts from Pettite and Ponson in a big series, and is creeping closer to striking distance to Damn Tampa and Boston. They still need to put it all together for a lengthy stretch, but there are signs that this team is finally competing. That’s a welcome sight.

Published in: on July 9, 2008 at 5:32 pm  Comments (11)  

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. tough guy joe maddon and the tampons leave town with their tail between their legs. nothing could be finer.

    you know Hal made a comment today that caught my ear- said something to the effect that yankee fans expected and deserved to see “marquee players” in the bronx.
    this makes me believe ( hope) that perhaps a trade is in the works after all. i know this sounds crazy, but i’m laying my cards on the table…matt holliday in the bronx by august. the rockies are toast. he’s young and we will be able to pay he and boras when the time comes.

    perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but w/o damon and matsui and possibly abreu leaving…why not?

  2. Big-time righty power, left field, solving injury holes–that would be something and some call, Mike. At what cost? I don’t know, but it’s worth considering. Holliday hits a ton but strikes out a lot. Yet I’d like to see how much more often he’d walk in a stacked lineup.

    Very intriguing call, Mike. Big series win today. I was thrilled listening as I was doing stuff around the house.

  3. The Rays won’t stay on top with both Boston and NY nipping at their heels. The season’s way too long for such a young team. I’ll predict the Rays to finish in third by season’s end. Behind Boston and New York, respectively, of course. ; )

  4. Oh, Man here come those dangerous Ray’s. Hey J’ I’m the song guy here. The Yankees are dominant at least on nights filled with a full moon. Mariano four strikeouts, lol.

  5. * Pirates aaargggh. This calls for a closed meeting Girardi.

  6. I worry about the “marquee players” statement. Clemens and the Big Unit were “marquee players”. They were also way past their primes.

    I don’t need or want another washed up “name.” Matt Holiday obviously doesn’t fill that bill, but others do. If a move, no has-beens.

  7. I’m not interested in any Kevin Brown or Randy Johnson types, either. Good, younger players who can fill obvious needs, yes. People at the ass end of their careers, no way.

  8. Oh, please get Mike off the base pads!

  9. Do marquee players include Barry Bonds? Veras just gave it up. How many times do you see that? Take down the bunt sign and boom!

  10. Cleveland is the wort team in baseball and there killing Tampa doesn’t make me feel good about the prior games. The Yankees could use another win but Moose’ doesn’t get the win so I’m less interested.

  11. Shame on the Yankees, Shame on Jeter for not hitting .288 instead of .286 ( his average if he would have got a hit in the ninth). More importantly shame on New York for not landing Giambi in the All-Star game.

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