Tremendous pitching carried the day for the Yankees, beginning with A.J. and going through the bullpen, as the Yanks manufactured a three-run rally in the fourth and held on to win 3-2. I said before the series that I wanted to see the Yanks win two of three in Anaheim to keep distance between them and the tough Angels and Red Sox, and to get past their difficulties there. Yet honestly, given their perennial struggles there, I would have settled for one. Back-to-back wins to take the series, and move back to 6 1/2 ahead of the Angels (six in the loss column), exceeded my expectations. Huge, huge win.
Despite allowing many lead-off runners, A.J. was very good today and good from the get-go, working quickly in the first despite a lead-off single to Figgins. He got some help from Brett the Jet who, with Figgins on second with two outs in the third, retreated in center on a hot liner by Hunter to make a nice leaping catch. That was big, for the Yanks broke through with three in the top of the fourth. Teixeira doubled with one out, Matsui walked, and Shelley singled off Figgins into left. Teixeira should have stayed at third but went home, only to get thrown out by Rivera. Yet that only temporarily halted the Yanks, for Cano came through with a big RISP hit to get the Yanks on the board, plating Matsui and Shelley with a single, 2-0 Yanks, going to second on the throw. Melky then lined a double to the wall in left center, 3-0 Yanks.
Unfortunately, that was all they would get, but A.J. was very sharp. He struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth–Morales, Kendrick, and Matthews, Jr–around a walk to Rivera. He had it all working–hard curve, fastball at 96-97–very impressive start and it could not have come at a better time, both against the Angels and late in the season after struggling through much of August and into September. He got into trouble in the fifth when Napoli singled and Figgins doubled, but minimized the damage by fanning Aybar, allowing a run on Abreu’s RBI ground out, then getting Hunter on an F9 on one pitch. Good work.
Things got tight in the bottom of the sixth, and the bullpen entered and pitched in and out of trouble most of the rest of the way. Burnett got Morales looking, allowed a single to Rivera, fanned Kendrick on a 96-mph fastball, but allowed an RBI double to right that in fairness Shelley botched, looking baffled by the sun and missing the ball in a clumsy leap as the ball sailed past him and off the right field wall, 3-2 Yanks. After walking Napoli, A.J.’s day was over in the extreme Southern California heat (100 degrees, yikes), and Girardi brought in Marte to turn around Figgins, who was .326 as a lefty but .238 as a righty. Marte got Figgins on an F9 to maintain the lead. A.J. finished with an inefficient but good line–5 2/3 IP, 7 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs earned, and 11 K’s on 101 pitches/65 strikes. Good job by A.J.
Marte continued his good work by allowing a single to Aybar but erasing him with a 4-6-3 DP by Abreu. Albaladejo entered and allowed a double by Hunter to right. Coke came in to turn around Morales, who has far more power from the left side of the plate and, after throwing a wild pitch that gave Hunter third, fanned Morales on a nasty slider. Good work, Coke.
In an intriguing call, Girardi went to Ian Kennedy for the eighth, inciting a verbal riot from John Sterling, who called it “the most bizarre half-inning of the entire season.” Really, John? More bizarre than A.J.’s collapse in Fenway that fateful Saturday, April 25th? Really? What was just as bizarre as Sterling’s rant–and again, I like Sterling, his humor, his energy, his sense of history, and many of his anecdotes, but jeez did he pitch a tent on using Kennedy–was his touting Bruney and his fastball as a preferable alternative. Bruney, who has been human kerosene. What Sterling failed to consider was in what esteem Girardi holds Bruney to turn to Kennedy on the road–in Anaheim no less–in the eighth inning when Hughes was out. Now questioning the use of Kennedy was understandable to me. But Sterling’s rhetorical histrionics about not warming up Bruney to use his fastball for the third out of the eighth was genuinely painful. Despite some dramatics, Kennedy prevailed, getting help from Pena, who entered for Hairston who seems to have a wrist injury and made a nice diving stab at Rivera’s liner. He hit Kendrick with a 2-2 fastball, walked Matthews on a 3-2 change-up, fanned Izturis on a good 2-2 fastball, worked around Figgins with a four-pitch walk, and got Aybar on an F7 to end the threat. Good for Kennedy. I’ve maligned him for his shrugging at his poor performances last year, including a poor short stint last year in Anaheim, but Kennedy exercised a few demons from that wretch, and gained some major points with me, for his work in the clutch tonight. Good job by the kid.
Enter Sandman for the ninth, and although Abreu blooped a single, Mariano fanned Hunter and Morales before ending the game by getting Rivera on an F8. Sterling’s end-of-game call was about as excited as I’ve heard him since A-Rod’s walk-off in the 15th against Boston August 7. Great, great win for the Yanks, and hard to overestimate its value, in the standings and psychologically.
Melky the Once-Again Clutch was 2-4 with his 65th RBI, batting .273. Cano was 1-4 with 2 RBI on the big single, 79 RBI on the year for him. Teixeira hit his 43rd double, batting .292. Jeter’s single put him at .329. Shelley the Marauder had a single and a run. Brett the Jet had an infield single that was impressive.
But the arms did the heavy lifting. A.J. was very good, Marte was impressive as was Coke. Kennedy provided some unnecessary dramatics but earned big points from me. Mariano was Mariano, earning his 42nd save of the season and 524th of his incomparable career, lowering his ERA to 1.88. Key was not allowing the Angels a hit with RISP, with the Superfluous Acronyms going 0-10 while the Yanks went 3-8 with RISP.
The Yanks have cut their magic numbers down to five. The pitchers struck out 15 today. They showed grit and resiliency today and last night against a tough opponent whom they may see in October. Raise the glasses high for the Yanks after one of the best wins this season, Yankees fans. This one was splendid. Thanks to Mike for the text updates while I was in transit, and playing whiffle ball with my son and other kids outside my daughter’s school.
One could look at today and say the Angels sat Vlad. True. But that makes this win all the more impressive for me, for the Yanks sat A-Rod to give him some regular rest, Posada because he had a sore foot, and Swish who fouled a ball off his knee. The Yanks won without three important players and three righty bats who surely would have played against the lefty Kazmir, another important facet of today’s win–beating the tough Kazmir. Today was undeniably huge.
Soak it in, Yankees fans. Today was a big day.