It’s easy to miss because his RBI total is so low, but Robinson Cano just might be in the middle of a career year. He’s on pace for the highest OPS of his career, and he just went through a ridiculous home run binge that brought his season total to 20 through 81 games. He’s been every bit as good as during his previous near-MVP seasons.
All that’s been missing were at-bats like tonight’s game-winner.
“I think because of a lot of the names that we’ve had here, he’s been sort of overshadowed,” Joe Girardi said. “Whether its been a Jeet or an Alex, a Mo, an Andy Pettitte, a CC. Some of these guys, for what they’ve done over a long period of time and some of the records that they’re breaking (they take the spotlight), but he’s not overshadowed in our minds.”
Before that eighth-inning at-bat, Cano was 2-for-15 with the bases loaded this season, but is there anyone the Yankees would have rather sent to the plate with the game on the line? Jake McGee fired a 97-mph fastball that Cano shot into center field, driving in the tying and go-ahead runs in a win that finally ended a nine-game losing streak at Tropicana Field and sent the Yankees into tomorrow’s off day feeling good.
“I was just thinking about making contact,” Cano said. “After I chased the high one, just trying to make contact. … Every win is a big win, but it’s good to get that monkey off your back. We’re 0-for-9 here the last nine games, and you want to be able to win one and get it over with. You don’t want to go to Boston losing three games.”
This would have been a miserable loss. Sloppy baseball cost the Yankees on Monday and Tuesday, and a loss today would have hinged on that bases-loaded opportunity in the eighth when Kyle Farnsworth walked the bases loaded, walked in a run and set the stage for the Yankees best player to come through with their big hit.
“We talk about, keep trying to get them on, never stop playing the game, and they didn’t,” Girardi said. “That’s why we won.”
• Mark Teixeira’s game-tying home run was nearly as big as Cano’s game-winning single. To that point, David Price had put just one runner into scoring position. He was absolutely dealing, and more than one Yankee suggested that Price had no-hit stuff this afternoon. “He didn’t make any mistakes until that pitch,” Teixeira said. “(He was) as good as I’ve ever seen him.”
• What made Price so good? Girardi said it was his curveball. The Yankees had never seen Price’s curveball this good. “It was different because that’s the first time we’ve ever seen Price pitch like that,” Nick Swisher said. “More offspeed pitches, a lot more breaking balls tonight. Still has that 97 to go along with everything else. … I’m not much of a guy to give credit to pitchers, but sometimes you have to give it.”
• Through 4.1 innings, David Phelps nearly matched Price. Phelps was occasionally wild — he walked three guys and hit two more — but he also struck out eight and didn’t allow a hit until the Rays 17th batter. “I was getting ahead early,” Phelps said. “I don’t know if they were taking pitches early or trying to get the count up or what, but I felt like I was 0-1 to a lot of hitters, a lot of called strikes. Early in the count I was really able to fill it up and I was able to put them on the defensive from the start.”
• Of course, Phelps expected to get through at least five innings. He had an 85-pitch limit, but that should be enough to get a decision. “I’m obviously frustrated with myself,” Phelps said. “I mean, 85 pitches, I want to obviously get through the fifth and maybe more. It should have happened today.”
• For the record, I don’t think you could have found anyone else in the Yankees clubhouse to use the word “frustrated” to describe the Phelps outing. This was a reminder that the Yankees really seem to have found something in him. “He’s really stepped up for us and deserves a lot of credit for today,” Teixeira said. “He almost matched Price pitch-for-pitch the way he was throwing. When they have a guy like that on the mound, it’s really important for us to keep the game close.”
• The Yankees set a season-high with 16 strikeouts. It’s only the sixth time in franchise history that they’ve struck out that many in a nine-inning game. It was the Yankees fourth game of the year with at least 15 strikeouts, which is already tied for their most in a single season. They also had four such games in 1997.
• Girardi said he was planning to get Robertson in this game no matter what the score. “He’s going to get back to where he was,” Girardi said. “I said it might take some time, and that’s as good as I’ve seen him.”
• That Alex Rodriguez stolen base in the seventh was called back because Rays catcher Jose Lobaton made contact with Mike Estabrook while making the throw. It cost the Yankees a chance to score on what might have been a sac fly by Andruw Jones. “What are you going to do?” Girardi said. “He hits the umpire and the only way it’s not interference is if he throws him out, so basically, only something good can happen for him.”
• Here’s crew chief Joe West explaining the call: “Anytime the umpire interferes with a catcher making a play on a runner stealing, it’s umpire’s interference and no runner may advance. All pitches that happen prior to that do count, but no runners can advance. … It’s as straight and simple as it can be. You put the runner back. It’s a big play in the game, and that’s why the Yankees were over there screaming, but I mean, you didn’t see Girardi screaming. It’s happened to him before.”
• Fransworth on his four walks: “Those kind of guys aren’t going to swing at close pitches, so I beat myself.”
• Girardi said the Yankees will have Darnell McDonald in the lineup at some point this weekend. “We’re going to see three lefties,” Girardi said. “He’s going to play the outfield some this weekend probably. I could DH (Andruw) Jones, or I could give (Curtis Granderson) one of the lefties off in the doubleheader.”
• Girardi didn’t announce a move for McDonald, but he said it’s “safe to assume” that the Yankees won’t have six outfielders on their roster for an extended period of time. Seems that at some point — either Friday or after the all-star break — the Yankees will choose between McDonald and Dewayne Wise.
• Teixeira on the Yankees nine-game losing streak at the Trop: “I blame vitamin D deficiency. You don’t get enough sun in here. It’s one of those things. You’re going to go through weird stretches against certain teams in certain venues. When you play as many games as we do, you’re going to have those weird stats.”
Associated Press photos