Sorry for my recent absence from the site, but this week was finals week, so I have been studying and working for much of time. I just finished up today, so I should be back to writing regularly.
Tonight’s game began following the all-too-familiar script of another frustrating Yankee loss: Phil Hughes was wild and labored through 5 innings, never looking completely comfortable, while Francisco Liriano, his counterpart, was able to prevent the Yankees from getting the big hit, holding them to just 1 run (a Derek Jeter solo home run) in 6 innings of work, despite allowing 10 baserunners (6 via the walk). The Yankees repeatedly stranded runners in scoring position, including Alex Rodriguez’s strikeout with the bases loaded in the 3rd. Liriano did not have his best stuff or his best control, but the Yankees were unable to break through against him. Hughes put the Yankees in a deficit early, allowing 3 runs in 5 innings of work before Jeter broke through against Liriano in the bottom of the 5th.
After Jeter’s homer, Hughes left the game, and handed the game over to a much-maligned bullpen that actually got the job done, allowing just 1 run (a Justin Morneau solo home run off of Phil Coke) in 4 innings of work. Despite the good work of the bullpen, the Yankees faced a 4-1 deficit going into the bottom of the 7th. It was the unlikeliest of heroes, Brett Gardner, who got the Yankees going. Gardner was not even supposed to be playing tonight, but after Johnny Damon was ejected because he argued with home plate umpire Wally Bell (who made some horrible calls against Damon), Gardner was pressed into duty. Considering Damon has been the Yankees hottest hitter, and was riding a 10-game hitting streak (with extra-base hits in each of the 10 games), replacing Damon with the light-hitting Gardner looked like a recipe for another frustrating loss.
Gardner responded in spectacular fashion, going 3 for 4, including a blooper to left off hard-throwing Jesse Crain that Denard Span failed to keep in front of him, leading to an inside-the-park home run, the first by a Yankee in nearly 10 years (Ricky Ledee was the last to accomplish this feat). This exciting play galvanized the frustrated Yankee fans and the Yankee team, and more heroics followed in the 9th inning.
Gardner’s speed was on display again in the 9th, as he tripled off of Joe Nathan, despite tripping over the base while rounding first. Mark Teixeira, who was booed by Yankee fans for much of the game, came through in a big way, produced an RBI single and putting Alex Rodriguez at the plate.
The much-maligned A-Rod drew a walk (1 of 4 in the game), and after outs by Hideki Matsui and Nick Swisher (on a great diving stop by Morneau), and an intentional walk to Robinson Canó, the game was in the hands of Melky Cabrera. Melky has been criticized by Yankee fans for years, but has showed signs of pulling it all together this season. With 2 outs and the bases loaded, the Melkman delivered perhaps his biggest hit of the season, slapping the ball into the gap in left-center, and plating Teixeira and Ramiro Pena (who pinch-ran for A-Rod) with the winning runs.
Kudos goes to the bullpen for limiting the damage, but the hero of the game was definitely Gardner, who got the Yankees back in the game with his inside-the-parker, and led off the 9th with a triple (that might have been another homer if he hadn’t slipped while rounding first). Say what you will about his weak hitting and lack of power, there is no doubt that tonight, his speed changed the game. Gardner was the sparkplug that the Yankees have been looking for, and the hitters behind him responded in kind. This was a big win for the Yankees, coming back from a 2-run deficit against one of the best closers in the game. With Boston’s loss to Seattle and Toronto’s victory, the Yankees sit just 4.5 games out of first place, and only 2.5 behind Boston. At 18-17, they moved above .500 again, hopefully for the last time.
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