That feeling of impending doom seemed hover throughout Yankee Stadium. The Yankees once again looked lifeless against the Baltimore Orioles for the first six and a half innings of today’s game, and the prevailing thought was that the O’s would hold onto cut the Yanks’ lead in the division to just one game. But the Yankees mounted a very un-Yankee-like rally with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to come away with a 4-3 win, pushing their lead over the O’s in the AL East back to three games.
In this case, three seems a whole lot better than one.
“I tell you guys all of the time, I’m a firm believer that you don’t look at the standings,” Derek Jeter said. “In the position that we’re in, if we win games, we’ll be fine.”
Leave it to Jeter to make this win sound like any other, but the truth is that this was a game the Yankees desperately needed. Sure, there’s still plenty of games left to play and a lot can happen between now and October, but this win was important for the psyche of the team more than anything else.
“This is the team that we’re going to have to beat, obviously, if we’re going to get where we want to be,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s a nice win, and you want to carry it into tomorrow.”
• The Yankees had managed only two hits off of Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen going into the seventh inning, who looked like he was going to turn in the same kind of performance that Miguel Gonzalez did last night. Chen was putting away Yankee hitters early in counts, but the Yankees put a string of quality at-bats together in the seventh. Jayson Nix drew what appeared to be a harmless walk with two outs to put runners on first and second, and then the flood gates opened. Eduardo Nunez – who had been announced earlier in the day as one of the Yankees’ September call-ups – got the start at DH, and he came up with a huge RBI single to cut the deficit to 3-2. After Nunez’s single, Ichiro walked to load the bases for Jeter. He fell behind in the count 0-2, but battled back to draw a walk and tie the game. With the score tied at 3-3, Nick Swisher hit a tough one-hopper at Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. Hardy couldn’t field it cleanly, allowing Nunez to score the go-ahead run. “Some of our guys got down 0-2, and they came back and take their walks,” Girardi said. “It was just an outstanding job on their part of taking what the Orioles gave them. Grinding out some at-bats, and getting us the lead.”
• There are so many at-bats from that inning to talk about, but we’ll start with Nunez, who was sporting a grin from ear-to-ear in the clubhouse after the game. Nix put together a great at-bat to draw a walk and keep the inning alive, and then Nunez blooped a single into left field. After everything he’s been through this season — the demotion and the thumb injury — it had to be especially satisfying for him to contribute in his first game back. “It feels amazing,” he said. “It’s like, oh my God, I’m back.”
• Here’s Girardi on Nunez’s day: “Nunie has that ability. Nunie can be a really exciting player. We’ve seen that before. I thought he had some pretty good swings today.”
• Jeter’s at-bat may have been the best of the inning. He went down 0-2 against the flame-throwing Pedro Strop, but fought back to draw a bases loaded walk. “He’s tough to face. He throws 98, 99, and it’s not straight,” Jeter said. “I like to be in those positions, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be successful.”
• Girardi talked about his comfort level when Jeter is up in a big spot. “You know Jeet’s not going to panic,” he said. “Jeet can get down in the count, Jeet can jump on you early in the count – there’s a lot of different things that we’ve seen him do throughout his long career. I think the experience is a big factor there.”
• The final blow came from Swisher, who made good contact, but needed a little help from Hardy. It was a tough play, but definitely an error. It got on him in a hurry and just kind of ate him up. “I think he’s the best shortstop in the league,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Hardy. “I don’t even think twice about it. That time of day, the infield is so chewed up, partly our fault because we had a whole bunch of base runners out there chewing it up.”
• Before the seventh, Chen had been very impressive. He retired the first 11 batters that he faced before Cano’s homer, and he’s been Baltimore’s most consistent starter this season. “In a way, he’s similar to Gonzalez,” Girardi said. “His fastball is sneaky, and he’s able to throw his offspeed over. When he’s behind in the count, he’s able to locate. He’s able to move it in and out, and he’s pitched very well for the Orioles.”
• Yankees starter David Phelps did not fare as well. His command was probably the worst it has been all season — either a product of a simple off day, or trying to be too fine in a big game. His only saving grace was that he induced a couple of double play balls that helped limit the damage, but he could not make it out of the fifth inning. “I’m obviously going to take positives from it, but they’re not going to outweigh my frustration with the way that I threw today,” Phelps said. “Six walks and a hit batter is unacceptable. Regardless of what stuff you have out there, it’s got to be better than that. Throwing strikes should never be an issue for me.”
• Phelps was asked whether or not the pressure of the situation got to him. “I felt it,” he said bluntly. “Early on, I felt like I was trying to do a little too much. That might have led to it, but I just felt like I wasn’t able to make consistent adjustments when I needed to.”
• Give credit to the Yankees bullpen, which has been a bit shaky of late. Cody Eppley, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings. Logan pitched two of them, and Soriano picked up his 35th save of the year.
• The Yankees had a bit of a scare in the second when Curtis Granderson left the game with a tight right hamstring. The last thing that they need with A-Rod and Mark Teixeira out is to lose another power bat, but all indications are that Granderson is fine. “He had what they called a precautionary MRI,” Girardi said. “Everything is good, he just has a little tendinitis. He may even be a player for me tomorrow. There was no tear – none of that. He had a hard time getting loose, and we just felt that if he had to make a burst, it could not be good.”
• A quick minor league note that I got from Chad. The Houston Astros claimed INF Brandon Laird off waivers today.
Associated Press photos