After 12 pitches and seven consecutive foul balls, the thing that caught my eye was the reaction of Melky Cabrera. Robinson Cano had just fought through one of the best at-bats of the season, and when it ended with a game-changing, three-run home run to deep right-center field, Cabrera reacted as if he’d been expecting it all along. He took maybe a step and a half, then stopped to watch it fly away.
At some point, when you’ve seen Cano enough times, you know something like this is possible.
“Robbie’s going to hit,” Joe Girardi said. “It seems like Robbie was born to hit.”
In his past 16 games, Cano is hitting .422 with five home runs and 22 RBI. Girardi it’s the best Cano’s ever been, and Cano said he’s felt as good as he did last season when he finished third in MVP voting.
“I’ve been more able to drive the ball the other way, something I wasn’t doing most of the first half,” Cano said. “Now in the second half, I’ve got three or four homers the other way, and that’s something you want. You want power to the whole field, not just pulling things and hitting ground balls to second base.”
That fourth-inning at-bat was a perfect example of just how good he can be. A left-handed pitcher was firing fastballs and sliders, and Cano kept fighting them off — including two fastballs that he said were “on the ground” — until he finally got a slider he could handle. Cano said he had been kicking himself for not taking a walk, but he did better than a free pass.
“It’s as good as it gets,” Girardi said. “That’s just a great at-bat. Even just to foul off that many pitches and continue the at-bat is great. To get a hit is great, then to top it with a homer… To be able to recognize a pitch and foul it off when it’s not your pitch, a guy who’s throwing pretty hard up to 95-96 with a good (breaking ball), that’s not easy to do. That’s where you see the talent in Robbie.”
• Alex Rodriguez played six innings in the field and went 1-for-3 at the plate in his Triple-A rehab appearance. Girardi said he had not yet gotten a full report, but all indications were that Rodriguez came through the game just fine and will play again tomorrow.
• A side note: I wrote yesterday that the Yankees are keeping the Triple-A clubhouse closed to media before Rodriguez’s rehab games. Turns out they did the same thing when Derek Jeter was in Trenton. I don’t remember that ever happening when I was in Scranton, but apparently it’s something the Yankees have started doing to control the chaos. Understandable, just struck me as unusual when I first heard about it.
• Cano was asked whether he feels more pressure when Rodriguez is out of the lineup: “Here is always a feeling of responsibility, even with Alex not here,” he said. “But it’s more with Al here, because you want to make them pitch to him, not just walk him and try and face you. That means you’re not doing your thing.”
• Cano’s at-bat was clearly the turning point, and the Yankees wouldn’t win this game without a big night from the lineup, but the bullpen was beyond outstanding. Yankees relievers faced 11 hitters and retired all of them. “They’ve done a tremendous job in these two games here,” Girardi said. “They’ve been really good. It’s how you draw it up.”
• Derek Jeter is now hitting .352 with 17 runs and 21 RBI in his past 22 games. he’s a career .318 hitter against the Royals… Not to be outdone, Brett Gardner is a career .474 hitter against the Royals (9-for-19).
• Ivan Nova’s two worst starts this year have come against the Royals. “They hit me,” Nova said. “They see my ball really well. That’s why I get hit against this team.”
• Girardi and Nova seemed to have different takes on the problem tonight. Nova felt like he got hit on some good pitches. Girardi thought Nova made some good pitches, but got hit on mistakes that were up in the zone. “He was up,” Girardi said. “You look at the hits he gave up, high slider, high curveball, high fastball. He threw some good sliders and good curveballs, but it seemed like when he made a mistake – sometimes with two strikes – they hit it.”
• Nova has won five straight starts and his 12 wins are the most among Major League rookies. It’s the highest win total for a Yankees rookie since Orlando Hernandez went 12-4 in 1998. He’s already matched the Yankees rookie win record for the past 30 years. “A win is a win,” Nova said. “I don’t think I get paid for my ERA. I think I get paid to win games, so a win’s a win, no matter the way you get it.”
• The Yankees claimed left-handed reliever Raul Valdes off waivers from the Cardinals and assigned him to Triple-A. His lefty splits are pretty bad, but he’s spent parts of two years in the big leagues, so apparently the Yankees aren’t the only team to see something in him.
• To make room on the 40-man, Jeff Marquez was transfered to the 60-day disabled list.
• If for no other reason, click the Cano audio to hear Nick Swisher pleading his case for the early bus to wait for him. He was clearly joking, but it was very funny. Also, the postgame song of choice tonight was Smells Like Teen Spirit. Unusual, but solid.
Associated Press photos