The bottom of the order was excellent tonight especially coming through with clutch hits, and the team as a whole hit well with RISP to beat the Superfluous Acronyms of Los Angeles and Anaheim 7-4. Every starter had at least a hit. Burnett was pretty decent, settling down after a rocky first two innings before handing it off to Coke, who was again excellent in earning his first win of the year. Mariano worked the ninth for his fifth save of the year and 487th of his incredible career.
Burnett got roughed up right away when Figgins led off with a triple to center and scored on Izturis’s 6-3. But Burnett stranded Abreu at third to minimize the damage. A two-out rally in the bottom half tied the game when Teixeira doubled to center and Matsui again delivered, going down and ripping a fastball away and just below the knees to center, with an off-line throw allowing Teixeira to score and sending Matsui to second. Napoli led off the second with a homer to right–not a bad pitch, at the knees and outer half, but one that Napoli drove out. That one will fuel the argument that the new Yankee Stadium is a homer park. Burnett compounded the situation by walking Kendrick, who then stole second and went to third on Rivera’s 1-3 and scored on Aybar’s sac fly, 3-1. Yet Swish made a great running catch into the right-field corner, one that Abreu would never have made, on the run and without fear of the well to rob Aybar of at least a double to get Burnett a much-needed second out. Melky singled and stole second with two outs, but was stranded on Pena’s pop out.
After Burnett’s ten-pitch 1-2-3 third, the Yanks got back in it when JD ripped his fourth homer into the second deck in deep right, a no-doubt shot to cut it to 3-2. With two outs in the fourth, Kendrick singled, stole second and took third on a wild pitch, but Burnett stranded him by getting Rivera on a 5-3. Swish was in the middle of the Yanks’ fourth-inning rally, starting things off with a single, going to second on Melky’s 4-3 and to third on Pena’s soft infield single. Jeter then stroked a single to right to score Swish and, after the ball caromed off Abreu, Pena as well to give the Yanks a 4-3 lead. With that RBI, Jeter’s twelfth this season, he moved into 10th on the Yanks’ all-time RBI list with 1,014, passing outfielder Bob Meusel. [This is based on the announcement at the Stadium tonight, but doesn’t seem to jibe with the stats at baseball-reference.com. I’ll look into it.]
The lead was short lived, however, for Aybar promptly doubled and Figgins singled him in to tie the game. But a well-timed pitch-out nabbed Figgins stealing, and Burnett got Izturis on a 4-3 and caught Abreu looking on a sharp curve. Napoli singled with two outs in the sixth but was himself caught stealing to end the inning. Swish’s one-out walk was erased by Melky’s GIDP. Kendrick led off with a single–of course–but was himself erased on a beautiful 5-4-3 DP. Pena made a perfect chest-high throw, and Cano, who makes the DP turn as well as anyone in the game, in one smooth motion caught it and fired it crisply to first with nary a step necessary. It was great glove work all around. Unfortunately, Teixeira made it three DPs in three half-innings, grounding into a 4-6-3 to a smattering of boos for the slumping first baseman.
But Coke kept things locked down. Brought in to turn around both Figgins (batting .111 against lefties going into today) and Izturis, and face the lefty Abreu–a good move by Girardi–Coke got Figgins on a weak comebacker, Izturis on a pop-up to Teixeria in foul territory, and fanned Abreu on a terrific slider. Fine managing by Girardi and excellent work by Coke, who earned the win after the Yanks scored three with clutch hitting in the bottom of the eighth. Cano lined a single, and Jorge belted a hanging change to deep right for a ground-rule double that temporarily robbed the Yanks of a run, for Cano was nearly at third when the ball went over the wall. Swish got intentionally walked so Speier could face Melky, a good move since Melky a.) grounded into a DP earlier, and b.) isn’t Nick Swisher. Yet the outcome was c.) Melky delivering a hard-hit RBI single to right off a change-up, 5-4 Yanks. Well done, Melky. Ramiro Pena also abused Speier’s change, smacking a two-run double to right, 7-4 Yanks. They could have had more, for Jeter walked on four pitches from Bulger to load the bases, but JD popped out and Teixeira looked at strike three to keep it at three. Mariano worked around Hunter’s lead-off single, fanned Morales and Napoli, and got the nuisance Kendrick out on an easy 1-3 for the save and the Yanks’ third straight win.
Swish (1-2, 2 runs, 2 BB, .312/.430), Melky (2-4, 1 RBI [9th], .327), and Pena (2-4, 2 RBI, .269) combined to go 5-10 with 3 runs and 3 RBI. It makes a huge difference for the team when the bottom of the order produces and turns over the lineup for the top. Great work, good to see Pena deliver, and kudos to Melky for earning the CF time back, for the time being. He needs to be steady. Jeter’s 2-4 with the RBI milestone boosted his average to .287. JD was 1-4 with his 4th homer, 10th RBI, and a walk, batting .295 and gutting it out with a sore everything. Matsui has hit in ten straight, going 1-4 and batting .292. Cano has hit in seventeen straight with his 1-4, batting .366. Posada and Teixeira each doubled, but Teixeira is still tight at the plate, batting an even .200. He’ll come around, no question in my mind. When he does, and hopefully soon, the offense will look much different. He’s capable of carrying a team for weeks. The team was 5-11 with RISP, stranding a manageable 8.
Burnett was game tonight, handing tough and getting some defensive help after the rough beginning. Yet he walked only one, threw 66 of 108 pitches for strikes, and went deep in the game to spare most of the pen while keeping it tied. In all, not a bad start. Coke has not allowed an earned run in his last seven innings, dropping his ERA to a more respectable 3.72. Mariano is and always will be The Man, fanning two to get the save, #5 this year and #487 in his amazing career.
Tomorrow, Lefty (2-1, 2.96 ERA) faces Jered Weaver (2-1, 2.45 ERA) as the Yanks look to make it four straight. With Boston and Toronto both losing, the Yanks are just two back, two games above .500 at 12-10.
String some more wins together, guys.
Meanwhile, my Celtics lost a triple-OT classic 128-127 in Chicago, forcing a Game 7 in Boston Saturday. Ray Allen was incredible, scoring 51 and hitting big shots down the stretch and in extra time. Regardless of the outcome of this series, and I certainly want Boston to win, this will go down as one of the greatest series in NBA history, and the best first-round series without a doubt in my mind. It’s been nothing short of riveting, with the basketball played at an extremely high level.