The Yankees did lay down a bunt tonight. It came in the seventh inning, with no outs, the score tied, runners at first and a second, and the No. 9 hitter at the plate. Having Jayson Nix square up wasn’t exactly uncharted territory or a new approach. Execution was the biggest difference tonight.
“The brand of baseball we’re going to have to play in October is one that has to do with a lot of small ball,” Alex Rodriguez said. “You can talk all you want about home runs and strikeouts and all that kind of stuff. What’s going to take us to the next level is what we did tonight: Execute the little things. I think that should be the theme for the rest of the year.”
Make no mistake, the Yankees biggest hits of the night went for extra bases. Russell Martin doubled to give the Yankees a one-run lead in the fourth, and after the Rays came back to tie, Martin hit his 15th homer to put the Yankees in front again. A couple of singles and a well-executed bunt set the stage for a lucky break on Elliot Johnson’s horrible, two-run throwing error.
“We took advantage of one of their mistakes,” Martin said. “And that’s what we’re going to have to do as we go along September here. Every game’s going to be tough, and when a team gives you something, you’ve got to take it.”
Tonight the Yankees took back sole possession of first place. They did it with terrific work out of the bullpen, rocky but effective starting pitching, and a gritty performance by the lineup. The Yankees were actually out-hit tonight, but little things made the difference. And for the first time in what felt like a very long time, the Yankees did the little things.
“You have to,” Derek Jeter said. “There’s going to be times when you have to do that. You’re not always going to be able to come up and hit home runs all the time, especially when you’re facing good pitching. They’re not going to allow you to do it. Everyone knows how good Tampa’s pitching staff is and sometimes you’ve got to do the little things. We were able to do that today.”
• Don’t look now but Russell Martin’s batting average is above .200 after his 2-for-4 night with three RBI as the Yankees No. 5 hitter. “You bat fifth in this lineup, you’re going to have some opportunities to drive in runs,” Martin said. “I’ve hit there before in the past so it’s not like it’s nothing new, but it’s nice for the skipper to recognize that you’re doing the right things at the plate even if you don’t always get the results that you want. Now’s the time. Nobody really cares what my batting average is at this point. Every game’s a playoff game, and that’s how wre’re going to go about it.”
• This was Martin’s first three-RBI game since June 10 against the Mets.
• The thing I know everyone is most curious about: Why did Dave Robertson wear his pants down tonight? “I’m not really a superstitious guy,” he said. “It’s just that I was joking around with Stew and asked if I should wear them down. He said absolutely, so I did.”
• Play of the night had to be Jeter chasing down that shallow fly ball to end the seventh inning, right? “I was a little nervous,” Robertson said. “I knew he got enough of it to possibly dump it out there and get a run, so I sure was real relieved when I saw him catch it. I saw when he kind of slowed down for just a second, I could tell he had it. He was still in a run, but I felt like he knew he was under the ball.”
• Jeter was limping a little bit after that play, but of course he dismissed it as a complete non-issue. “I think he hurt his ankle a little bit yesterday,” Joe Girardi said. “It kind of manifested itself on that play. I didn’t see it earlier. My guess is he’ll continue to be fine.”
• Not a particularly sharp game from Hiroki Kuroda, but after all the games he should have won earlier in the year, he’ll take a sloppy W tonight. “I think most of all, my breaking ball was really inconsistent and my two-seam fastball wasn’t really moving,” Kuroda said. “… Obviously the most important thing today was that we got a win.”
• Hitless series with seven strikeouts for Nick Swisher, who’s a career .277/.374/.650 hitter at Camden Yards. “After this series, man, I’m glad to get out of here,” Swisher said.
• Rafael Soriano is now 36-for-39 in save opportunities. His 35 saves since May 3 — when Mariano Rivera went on the disabled list — are the most in the big leagues.
• The Yankees snapped a streak of five straight games without getting more than six hits. They’ve blown a lead in four straight games, but tonight was their first win in that span.
• Jeter now has 182 hits for the season, the most ever for a shortstop in his age-38 or older season, passing Honus Wagner who had 181 hits in 1912.
• Rodriguez said his legs were sore after three games on the turf, but he called that “par for the course” and said his hand feels fine. He has three doubles off left-handed pitchers this year, and all of them have come against the Rays (two off David Price and tonight’s off Matt Moore). He has a hit in every game since coming off the disabled list. “Each at-bat is getting a little more comfortable,” he said.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “It’s funny, I left here last night very optimistic, as optimistic as I’ve been in a long time. There’s a feel-good thing about what’s going on right here, right now. I think it puts our master plan in order. Obviously today a win was nice, but overall, it’s a good feeling here right now.”
Associated Press photos