Yeah, this deserves a post.
Behind a great start by Phil Hughes, the Yankees broke open a scoreless tie with an enormous, ten-run seventh inning that emptied out the stadium, running away with an 11-0 win to end a four-game losing streak. After struggling for days with RISP, the Yankees were a very good 4-9 with runners in scoring position, stranding a manageable seven. Yet without Hughes pitching masterfully in his first start for the Yanks this year, they would have trailed and may well have limped to their fifth straight loss. What a difference money pitching and hitting makes.
The first six innings gave no indication that eleven runs would be scored. Everett robbed Jeter of a hit in the top of the first, and Ramiro Pena made a great diving stop to his right and gunned it to first to rob Magglio Ordonez of at least a single. Pena’s slick play combined with Hughes’s two strikeouts to give the kid and the Yanks a lift. Hughes fanned Curtis Granderson, one of my very favorite non-Yankees, on a 94-mph heater, and Polanco looking on a great curve. He worked around a lead-off single in the second, but the Yanks squandered a shot to give him the lead in the third. Melky had a good at-bat, leading off with a single, and went to third on Jeter’s two-out single. But though Jeter stole second, JD flew out to left, stranding two.
However, Hughes stayed strong, working around a walk to Granderson in the third and pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth–to me the first turning point of the game. With one out he hit Cabrera and allowed a single to Guillen, Laird’s slow comebacker forced Guillen at second and Inge’s walk loaded the bases. But Hughes induced an easy 4-3 to end the fourth, and he had to be good for Edwin Jackson was matching him goose-egg for goose-egg, each breezing through the fifth 1-2-3.
The second turning point came in the sixth for, although the Yanks stranded Matsui at third, they made Jackson throw 27 pitches, boosting his pitch count to 117 and ending his night after six very good but somewhat inefficient innings. Matsui cranked a fastball at the knees to deep right center that bounced in and out of Granderson’s glove as he avoided colliding with Ordonez, with the two clearly not effectively communicating. Cano fanned to end the inning and was tagged out when he thought he fouled the ball off, and didn’t run. But his 10-pitch at-bat had value nonetheless.
The Yanks exploded in the seventh off Detroit’s bullpen. Swisher singled, Melky worked a four-pitch walk, Molina bunted them over, and Jorge pinch-hit for Pena and got credit for a sac fly even though Anderson flat-out dropped the ball, probably because Swisher may have scored anyway, 2-0 Yanks. Jeter walked and JD’s single to center plated Berroa running for Jorge, 3-0. Teixeira popped out, Matsui’s singled scored Jeter and sent JD to third, 4-0, Cano’s single scored JD and moved Matsui to third, 5-0. Swisher walked to load the bases, and Melky worked a very good walk seven-pitch walk, 6-0 Yanks. Then Molina, who again called a great game for Hughes, belted a first-pitch fastball just above the knees way deep to left to bust it wide open, 10-0.
Mark Melancon entered in the seventh and pitched great, quickly setting Detroit down 1-2-3 on 11 pitches punctuated by a K of Inge–two excellent performances by the youngsters on the mound. Swisher pounded his fifth homer of the year in the ninth to deep right to cap the scoring, and Edwar and Veras kept the drama to a minimum in the pressure-free eighth and ninth for the win.
Hughes was outstanding–6 IP, 2 hits, no runs, 2 walks, and 6 K’s on 99 pitches/58 strikes. His curve ball improved as the game went on, and his fastball crackled from 91-94 all night. Along with Burnett’s flirtation with a no-hitter, this was probably the best start by a Yankee this year, and it could not have come at a better time with the team reeling and the bullpen overworked. Hughes earned the win in his first start–one more win than he had all of last year. Kudos to the tremendous work behind the plate by Molina, a true pro. Big effort from the big kid, and no doubt a huge boost for his confidence. Melancon is earning quality time in relief with two good appearances now. I love it. Note too that Melancon, and not Veras, Albaladejo, or Edwar, was warming up in the pen when the game got to 4-0. It’s a testament to both Melancon’s ability and the decrepit performances of some others that he is getting a chance right away. That’s fine with me.
Some batters deserve particular praise as well. Cano is positively torrid right now, going 2-5 with a run, his team-high 16th RBI, to bat a scorching .381. Swisher was clutch, going 2-3 with his 5th homer, 3 runs, 2 walks, and his 15th RBI, batting an even .300 with a terrific .417 OBP. Melky still hasn’t made a believer out of me, since he still has poor at-bats when the team needs them least, but the guy needs to play simply because he’s a hot hand. He too was 2-3 with 2 runs, his 8th RBI, 2 big walks to show some long overdue patience, and is batting .325 with, yes, a .413 OBP. Right now, he’s outperforming Gardner and giving the team some good offense. I love Gardner’s speed, but Melky is on base much more often. Molina called a great game and had the grand slam, his first homer of the year; great for the big guy. Matsui is heating up and has been very good since getting his knee drained, going 2-5 with a run and his 5th RBI, batting .288. Jeter was 1-4 with a run, batting .294. JD is gutting it out with a sore–everything–and was 1-5 with an RBI single, his 8th of the year. Jorge’s RBI is his 14th. Berroa had a hit, and Teixeira (0-4 with a walk) and Pena (0-2, but slick defense) were the only starters without a hit tonight.
Joba (0-0, 3.94 ERA) faces talented young righty Rick Porcello (1-2, 4.50 ERA) in the rubber match tomorrow night before the Yanks head home for 18 of their next 24, starting with four against the Superfluous Acronyms, then two two-game “series” against Boston and Tampa. I hate two-game “series.” If the Yanks can win tomorrow night, then win 6 of those 8 before hitting the road against Baltimore and Toronto, they’ll be 17-12. Those will be 8 tough games at home, but fine with me. The Yanks need a head of steam, get the Angels not playing their best ball early, and get a shot at some payback against Boston in their own back yard. If that’s not enough motivation, I’m not sure what is.
Time to build some positive momentum, and thanks to Hughes for being a great stopper tonight.