Ichiro Suzuki hadn’t hit against left handers this season. That was the reason to sit him against them. But that reason doesn’t really apply after tonight’s 4-for-4 (not to mention the double off a left hander in the afternoon game). Andruw Jones has been awful, and now the Yankees might have found a reasonable alternative.
Is it possible Ichiro will begin to see more playing time against lefties?
“I think it’s very possible, yes,” Joe Girardi said.
Ichiro came into today hitting .246/.255/.284 against left handers, hardly good enough to make him look like a standout alternative, despite Jones’ horrible numbers. But Ichiro’s been hitting a little bit better against lefties since coming to the Yankees, and after today’s 5-for-5 against three different left handers his Yankees slash line is up to .345/.357/.436 vs. LHP. He doubled off lefties three times during his first 95 games with Seattle. He had two doubles against lefties today alone.
“I feel like, when you’re in a pennant race, you don’t really have to focus,” Ichiro said. “This whole atmosphere makes you focus. I think that’s the difference that I’ve felt. It’s the same thing — you still have to focus — but this atmosphere creates this natural way of making you focus more. That’s kind of what I’ve felt.”
As a general rule, I’ve defended Girardi’s decision to stick with Jones because there haven’t been any great alternatives — better to role the dice with a guy who might hit two home runs than to roll the dice with a guy who might slap two singles — but if Ichiro’s recent surge is legitimate — which today certainly suggests — then he’s certainly a better risk. He stole four bases tonight, made a game-saving catch in the afternoon, and came through with the two-out hit that clinched the sweep.
Girardi stressed that he believes Ichiro needs an occasional day of rest, but for Girardi to concede that it’s “very possible” a player has earned more playing time seems to signal a significant shift in this lineup.
“I haven’t done anything different today,” Ichiro said. “I don’t really know what the difference was. I’m very sad that the day is over.”
• Derek Jeter had the one throwing error, but otherwise he seemed fine in his first game in the field in exactly a week. “Physically I was fine,” he said. “I was nervous, and I was a little bit out of sync out there. I don’t think I’ve gone six or seven days in the middle of the season without playing (the field), but physically I was fine.”
• Jeter reached 200 hits for the eighth time in his career, matching Lou Gehrig for the most 200-hit seasons in Yankee history. Only Ichiro (10) has more 200-hit seasons among active players. “It’s a lot of hits,” Jeter said. “I’ve always felt that if I was healthy, and I go out there and play every day, it’s something that I’d have the chance to do because I’ve been hitting a the top of the order. Yeah, it’s a lot of hits. I’m proud of it, but more importantly we’re trying to win games. I just try to be consistent. If you’re consistent throughout the course of the year, you have a chance to do it.”
• A rookie starter allowed one run through 6.2 innings today, but Ichiro and Andy Pettitte managed to overshadow David Phelps. “I knew I needed to go out there and pitch deep into the game,” Phelps said. “We used a lot of guys in that first game. It’s a matter of going out there and trying to get some early contact and I feel like I did a good job of that. … My curveball and change were really working for me. I was able to throw them behind in the count and get some weak contact. I was getting early contact and guys were in the right spot.”
• Aside from losing the strike zone in the second inning, Phelps was terrific tonight and left to a standing ovation that was well deserved. “Anytime I take the mound, I just have to pinch myself,” he said. “The crowd’s huge. It’s surreal, it really is.”
• Jeter’s take on Phelps: “I put him in trouble, so I gotta give him 10 points in the Michigan-Notre dame game, but he was great.”
• Rafael Soriano saved two games in a day for the first time in his career. Mariano Rivera has done it five times. “About the sixth inning I called down and I asked,” Girardi said. “We asked (Mike Harkey) to ask the guys who we got today. Who we got in the second game? Every one of them said, ‘I’m available,’ but we weren’t going to do that. We weren’t going to make every one of them available. Sori basically said, let me try to warm up. He said I’ll warm up in the eighth, I’ll start playing catch and I’ll let you know. I was hesitant to bring him in if we were tied, but once we got the lead he cranked it up and said he felt good and it showed.”
• Soriano has now saved 42 games this season, included each of the Yankees past six wins. “You lose the greatest closer of all time and you’re in panic mode,” Phelps said. “And all of a sudden…”
• Huge outs by Boone Logan, especially the one to strand the bases loaded in the seventh. Good day overall for the Yankees bullpen except for Dave Robertson.
• The Yankees stole a season-high seven bases tonight, four of them by Ichiro. That was their most in a single game since September 25, 2009 against Boston.
• Ichiro became the seventh Yankee since 1969 to have at least three hits in both games of a doubleheader. The others? Jeter in 2008, Johnny Damon in 2006, Willie Randolph in 1987, Dave Winfield in 1983, Matty Alou in 1973 and Roy White in 1972.
• Jeter matched the fewest games he’s ever needed to reach 200 hits in a season. He became just the fourth player to have a 200-hit season 14 or more years after his first 200-hit season (Ty Cobb, Pete Rose, Paul Molitor) and he became the oldest player to reach 200 hits since Molitor in 1996.
• The Yankees have now swept each of their last three doubleheaders against Toronto.
• Which is more important today, Ichiro or Pettitte? “They both were vital in both wins for us,” Girardi said. “Ich was healthy and we knew he could be huge for us when we traded for him, but to get Andy back in your rotation is very important I think as we go down the stretch here with 14 games to go and basically a lead of one game on the loss column. And the experience is important as well, and you get it with both of them.”
• Final word goes to Jeter: “All our games are big, but you said it, doubleheaders are tough. It’s tough to beat a team twice in one day. They were two close games, but our pitching deserves credit. Andy and our bullpen in the first one, and the same thing in this night game. A much needed day for us, that our pitching staff went out there and did what they did.”
Associated Press photos