Shift Gears: Matsui Walk-Off Ends Dramatic Night With Yet Another 2-1 Yankees Win

Amazing, just amazing.  Frank the Sage called me at the end of the top of the sixth, just as Teixeira the Great initiated a 3-6-3 DP.  As we gushed over his exploits a first, with my saying that he’s the best first baseman the Yanks have had since Donnie Baseball (with all due respect to Tino whom I love, and Tony Clark as a great defensive first baseman), things got dicey.  Pettite continued to pitch well, ending the seventh with a 6-4-3 DP and at 99 pitches to allow him to begin the eighth.  Meanwhile, the Yanks did nothing off rookie Orioles starter Hernandez, then reclamation project Hendrickson, keeping things tight.  In the eighth, Pettite fanned Wieters, then walked Izturis before allowing a double to right to Roberts.  Yet as The Almighty Sage rightly opined, for the second time tonight, Cano bluffed the runner on the play at second.  This was crucial, for Izturis might well have tried for home had he not seen Cano pretend to wait for the throw from Hinske in right and tracked back from second toward first a good four steps, before reversing course and heading to third.  That is, Cano might well have prevented the go-ahead run from scoring well before Izturis even got to third–a tremendous, heads-up play showing veteran savvy and wits.

This proved crucial, for Coke entered to relieve the gutty Pettite, who gave everything he had to keep the game at one. Pettite induced two DP grounders to end the sixth and seventh.  Crucially, just as Joba eluded trouble in the fifth Sunday afternoon, Pettite likewise averted trouble in the fifth when Reimold walked with one out and  Wieters singled him to third with one out.  Yet Pettite fanned Izturis on a nasty curve in the dirt, and got Roberts to weakly pop out to center.  He was game, vintage Lefty, yet left Coke a real quandry in the top of the eighth–second and third, one out with the game tied at one.

Two tremendous plays on July 20, 2009, might well be worth remembering this season when we look back on the Yanks’ fortunes, no exaggeration.  Coke jammed Markakis on an inside fastball to first, which Teixeira fielded but, instead of trying for the bag first, immediately threw home to Molina–off the wrong foot no less–with a great peg to nail Izturis at the plate for the second out.  Needless to say, in addition to the impressively smooth 3-6-3 he turned earlier, there is no way that Giambi makes either of those plays, period.  The next pitch was equally crucial.  With Roberts having moved from second to third on the 3-2, Coke threw a wild pitch to Jones that caromed off Molina’s chest protector a good 30 feet from home.  Yet just as Cano and Pettite had done earlier, Coke had the presence of mind to immediately head home to cover the dish when the ball deflected off Molina and, after a terrific throw from Molina, applied the tag to the back of Roberts’s upper thigh to end the eighth in dramatic fashion.  Roberts whined to no avail, but he clearly never came within a foot of the plate, and the tag was there regardless.  Out of chaos came order and, with good defense and heady play in the field, the Yanks escaped another jam to keep the game tied at three. When the ball moves, you move–a crucial findamental that several Yanks embodied tonight.

After a feeble eighth from the Yanks, Coke hit Jones with the first pitch, then retired Huff on an F8.  Aceves entered to face Mora and Jones promptly stole second.  But Aceves got him on a shallow F8 for the second out.  After walking Scott intentionally, Aceves retired Reimold on an F7.

At this point, The Sage opined, “A-Rod, Matsui, and Cano sounds like the end of the game.” I concurred.  Another solo shot to win a 2-1 game would be fitting, I opined, figuring that A-Rod would do it.  After he made out on a 4-3, the baton of dramatics passed along to Matsui.  At this point, my call with The Sage dropped, and I called back just in time to hear his laughter as I turned up the computer telecast to hear Matsui crush a 2-2 fastball, mid-thigh and inner half, to deep right center to win the game.  That was the first hit the Yanks had since Hinske’s homer in the second, amazing.  Beforehand, Matsui fouled off a 2-0 pitch and split the handle, holding but a shard fragment of the bat handle as he followed through with one hand as the rest of the bat flung away.  The celebration at the plate was wild and funny, with A-Rod and Melky urging Matsui to shed his helmet, for which they grabbed as groomsmen lunge for a garter at a wedding.

Tremendous game, the third straight game the Yanks won by 2-1.  Matsui got the obligatory walk-off pie from Burnett, and flat-out knew he creamed it as soon as he hit it to deep right center, his 15th homer of the year.  Pettite deserves a lot of credit for his great start, going 7 1/3 strong and allowing 6 hits, a run earned on Markakis’s homer, two walks, and eight K’s on 109 pitches/72 strikes–a terrific performance by Lefty.  Coke was erratic by jammed Markakis on Teixeira’s throw to the plate, and was wise enough to cover the plate.  Aceves was good and earned the win to go to 6-1.

Not much offense from the Yanks, just four hits, but the pitching for the Yanks made all the difference.  It was particularly crucial, for the Red Sox lost to Texas 6-3, and the White Sox beat Tampa 4-3, putting the Yanks in a first-place tie with Boston and padding their lead over Tampa by a game, five ahead in the loss column.  The Yanks have reached their high water mark on the year at 18 over .500.

Frank made a terrific point with which I wholeheartedly concur–time to shift into overdrive for the Yanks.  Time to shed any lingering negativity about the Yanks not beating Boston yet–it will undoubtedly occur at least a few times in the remaining 10 games. Time for the Yanks to beat the teams they should beat.  Time for the Yanks to get into first and stay there.  They have pushed their way into first place ties only to drop back; time to shift gears and surge forward.  As I urged in the spirited chinwag, time to set aside any lingering frustrations from the pre-break series in Anaheim.  The Yanks are rolling, doing it with pitching, and are primed for a good second half.  I also have it in my gut that the Yanks are due for an offensive breakout, and I believe it will come tomorrow to support Mitre.  Lefty Rich Hill goes tomorrow and, while he throws somewhat hard and has a terrific yakker, he can be hit, as his 7.22 ERA indicates.  Something tells me the Yanks score early and often tomorrow.  If I’m wrong, so be it.  But the Yanks have won all four post-break games with all of 11 runs–great considering the tremendous starting pitching they’ve had.  This team is due to put up some crooked numbers on the scoreboard.  I feel it coming and soon–tomorrow in fact.

I love not just that Lefty took the ball into the eighth against a team he has dominated historically, but that the Yanks could rest Mariano after he had saved the previous three games against Detroit.  He needed a blow and got one, as did Hughes.  Something else to consider–the Yanks have used three pitchers in three of the last four games, with Coke (the second of four hurlers) throwing all of one pitch in the clincher against Detroit.  In fact, in the last five games going back to before the break, the Yanks have only used 2-4 pitchers per game, leaving much of the pen fresh if a little rusty.  That Mariano and Hughes got to rest was a huge break for them and the team.

Tied for first.  Beautiful, just beautiful.

Published in: on July 21, 2009 at 1:03 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Cano/Izturis = shades of Knoblauch/Lonnie Smith in the 1991 World Series Game 7.

  2. LOL I think Cano was pointing to first and saying “1 1 1!” XD

    That could turn out to work out for the Yankees in a Boy Who Cried Wolf manner later this series. That’d be awesome if whatever baserunner just kept running thinking Cano was joking, when in reality it was nothing more than a well hit fly.

    Ahah. I’d wet myself with joy if that happened.

  3. nice recap as usual. i thuink you’re right about an offensive explosion coming-they are due. in even better news the pitching match ups for the rays will be aj, cc and joba. which is good news indeed

  4. I like…

    Andy Pettitte’s performance. I mentioned to Jason over the phone that I wanted to see Pettitte go 6 innings and allow no more than 2 runs against a Baltimore team which he owns. Well Andy out did himself and hopefully he posts another good outing against the Oakland As on Saturday.

    Jose Molina and Mark Teixera’s insane defense. Defense is an integral part of run prevention which is an integral part of post season success. Does anybody remember Game 2 of the 2005 ALDs when the defense came apart in the late innings? That allowed the Angels to win Game 2 and get off the canvass.

    Bullpen: I am sorry but you can’t take Hughes or Aceves out of the bullpen. We don’t want to turn into the 2008 Mets who couldn’t hold leads down the stretch. Cashman can acquire a number fourish starter somewhere, think Ian Snell of the Pirates.

    I don’t like…

    Minimal Offense: I really don’t mean to complain, but this point deserves stressing. They cannot keep getting shutdown by starting pitchers they have never seen. Given how tight the AL East is, the Yankees need to buzz through the weaklings of the AL. That begins with beating the Orioles skulls in. Walk offs are fun, but I want to see at least two laughers in the remaining six games of the home stand. Considering they are playing an Orioles team that is putrid on the road in the AL East and the weak hitting As, I don’t think I am asking for the moon.

  5. That play by Teix was just soooo siiiick. I loved it.
    This game was awesome. Despite the lack of offense, Andy did a great job and the dramatic swing at the end by Godzilla made my night.
    ‘Zilla’s pie to the face was hilarious. I waited in my seat as they were showing the guys on the big screen. I saw A.J. lurking in the background. Mo kind of distracted Matsui.. and then A.J. pounced, lol.. This team is such a joy to watch.

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