After these last two games I’m not sure I could handle a hypothetical Yankees-Rays American League Championship Series. The Yankees beat the Rays 8-7 in 10 innings in a game that felt like one of those classic Emotionally Decimating Mid-Aughts Yankees vs. Red Sox seesaw contests at Fenway Park.
The Yankees were all over Matt Garza in this one, knocking the righty out after 4 2/3 innings and jumping out to a 6-0 lead on the strength of a Mark Teixeira sacrifice fly, and Alex Rodriguez RBI single and a Robinson Cano two-run homer. They added two more in the fifth on an A-Rod solo blast and Francisco Cervelli bases loaded walk.
While a 6-0 cushion heading into the bottom of the fifth felt pretty good, the Rays still had five more frames in which to score, and the game most certainly was far from over. Of course, much to the horror of the entire Yankee fanbase, Ivan Nova fell apart in the bottom of the inning and the Rays not only surmounted the six-run deficit, but ultimately took a one-run lead on a three-run pinch-hit home run by Willie Aybar. Nova was charged with a career-high six earned runs in only 4 2/3 innings, and this was only the second time all year the Yankees blew a six-run lead, the only other time coming on May 29 against the Indians. It was unfortunate, as prior to that fateful fifth, Nova was actually cruising along, entering the fifth having only thrown 50 pitches.
Thankfully the Yankees were able to battle right back, and plated a run the very next inning on a huge Cano RBI double to knot the game at seven apiece. Both bullpens then combined to throw zeroes for the next 3 1/2 innings, with Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and David Robertson coming up big for the Yanks and Chad Qualls, Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano hanging goose eggs for the Rays.
Interestingly, Joe Maddon went to rookie phenom starter Jeremy Hellickson in the top of the sixth after Jake McGee — literally making his MLB debut — walked Curtis Granderson to lead off the inning. I had completely forgotten about Hellickson while writing the series preview, but he could prove to be a wild card in an already deep Rays bullpen in the postseason. Which is why I was pleased to see the Yankees get to him, even if the run was charged to McGee.
After recording two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth, Robertson was aided by a tremendous diving catch by Granderson for the final out of the inning to send the game into extras. One batter later, in the top of the 10th, Jorge Posada — pinch-hitting for Francisco Cervelli — absolutely destroyed a 2-0 pitch from Dan Wheeler to dead center, hitting the top of what is apparently a restaurant (who knew?) to break the tie and give the Yankees an 8-7 lead.
Mariano Rivera came on to close things out in the bottom half of the inning in his first appearance since losing the game last Saturday in Texas, and things didn’t exactly start out smoothly with Carl Crawford leading off with a single. Despite the fact that everyone in the stadium knew Crawford would be running, Mo seemed to throw Crawford’s time off just enough that he was unable to steal during Evan Longoria‘s at-bat. To Longoria’s credit, he nearly sent the Yankees home on the wrong side of a walk-off for the fourth time in five games with a deep blast to center, but it thankfully stayed in the ballpark. Matt Joyce then came up with one out and what followed was one of the crazier things I’ve seen in a baseball game in a while: Crawford stole second, and then Joyce flew out to Greg Golson in semi-shallow right field on a 3-2 pitch. This wouldn’t merit mentioning except for the fact that Crawford inexplicably decided to tag up despite already being in scoring position, but instead was gunned out at third base by Golson on a laser of a perfect throw from right, ending the game on one crazy double play.
As exciting as this game was, I do have to call Austin Kearns out for his general suckitude at the plate of late. I know the Yankees are shorthanded, and I actually do like Kearns in a part-time/bench role, but playing every day has really left him exposed. He went 1-5 with four strikeouts tonight and left five men on base. Last night he went 1-4 and grounded into an unfortunate double play. And prior to last night, he’d hit .094/.275/.094 in his previous 13 games. Unfortunately the Yankees don’t have an alternative with Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner both ailing, so hopefully Kearns can work his way out of his current funk.
The win snapped the Yankees’ season-high four-game losing streak and also brought them back into first place, a 1/2 game up on the Rays. It also evened the Yankees’ season record in extra inning games at 5-5. It’s rather incredible how evenly matched these two teams are — the Yankees and Rays have now played five one-run games in their last eight contests, with the Yankees winning three of those five. As I said at the beginning of this recap, I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to handle a Yankees-Rays ALCS — it would almost certainly be a rerun of the emotional rollercoasters of the 2003 and 2004 ALDSes, with the winning team likely winning in heartbreaking fashion.
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