Derek Jeter just might be the most practical person in baseball. Even after a win like this, when the Yankees were three innings away from folding completely and instead made a come-from-behind statement, the Captain refused to acknowledge any sort of larger significance.
“I thought it was important that we continue to fight and came back,” he said. “But all the games are the same now. If you ask me tomorrow, I’ll say the same thing.”
Nick Swisher is not so practical.
“Tonight was a season-defining game for us,” he said.
The Yankees have to hope Swisher is right because, at this point, their season is being redefined every day. A week ago, they’d won seven straight and looked like one of the best teams in baseball again. They’ve since traded wins and losses day by day, going out with a whimper yesterday and showing a ton of fight this afternoon.
Amazingly enough, if the Rangers lose tonight’s second game of a doubleheader against the Angels, then the Yankees, Orioles and Rangers were be in a three-way tie for the best record in the American League, and not a single A.L. playoff spot will be guaranteed.
“It’s hard to avoid that (out-of-town scoreboard),” Robinson Cano said. “You’re going to see it no matter what. Sometimes, it’s good to see those things, so you see (the Orioles) win already, and you know we need to win this game.”
Yesterday the Yankees lost an infinitely winable game. Today they won a game that looked a sure loss. They won with bunts and sac flies and timely hits (and a couple of gift wild pitches). Eric Chavez homered in the third inning, but the comeback itself was nothing but small ball mixed with some fine relief pitching. It might not have meant any more than any other game, but in this situation, it certainly felt bigger. And a loss would have been about as deflating as they come.
If this game will define the Yankees season, they’ll be in good shape.
“For us to be in a spot that we are right now, we control our destiny,” Swisher said. “We win, we go on. We lose, we’re done. It’s exciting, man. I’m juiced up to go back home. I know the Bronx is going to be going crazy, and we’re excited to get there.”
• I’m actually not sure the Yankees want to clinch a playoff spot tonight. They clinch if the Rangers beat the Angels, but surely they’d rather the Angels win and give the Yankees a shot at the best record in the American League. “It means we’re in the playoffs,” Jeter said. “But you celebrate for winning the division. That’s what you’re trying to do. Our goal going into the season isn’t to clinch a wild card, it’s to win a division, and we still haven’t done that.”
• Up next for the Orioles, the third-place Rays. Up next for the Yankees, the last-place Red Sox. “They would like nothing better than to spoil our season,” Russell Martin said. “Us knowing that, I don’t think anybody is going to take them lightly.”
• Girardi called the Cano bunt single a “heads-up play” and Cano smiled when asked about it. “You’re up by two so you just want to get a (bigger) lead in the situation,” Cano said. “The third baseman was back, so I figured I get a sacrifice, move the runner, (or) we get first and second.”
• Cano and Jeter each had three hits, including some big ones late. The biggest hit of the day might have been Cano’s RBI double off the lefty Delabar in the seventh. It was big for the situation, and also because Cano’s really struggled against lefties this season. “I know he’s a guy who has only two pitches,” Cano said. “So if he throws you a fastball, you hit a foul ball, and you just be ready to hit his splitter, because that’s how he gets guys out. … Those are where you want to get your hit. Doesn’t matter if you go 3-for-4 if you don’t get your hits in big situations.”
• On Jeter’s RBI single in the eighth, pinch runner Brett Gardner was trying to steal third on the play. He and Raul Ibanez both thought Gardner probably would have scored even without running on the pitch, but it certainly didn’t help.
• The Yankees never got much going against Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez. “I thought he was a little more hyped up than he normally is,” Swisher said. “Throwing the ball extremely well and really working that two-seamer. When you’re working at 97-98 mph rather than your typical 92-93, it’s a little different. He did a great job for them, but we were able to get him out of the game early right there which is crucial. We just kind of started the rally from there.”
• Eduardo Nunez continues to hit the ball hard for the Yankees, but it’s hard to imagine him being in the lineup against a right-handers, and the Yankees face just one more lefty this season.
• Phil Hughes lasted just 4.2 innings, his shortest start since August 12 (also in Toronto). This was only his third no-decision in 32 starts this year. “I didn’t throw the ball well and this could have really been a disaster,” Hughes said. “But the other guys battled back, scored some runs and got a win, which is all that matters.”
• Hughes said he wasn’t pitching inside enough in the first inning, and once he made that adjustment, he got on a little bit of a roll before things blew up on him in the fifth. “Some tough locations,” Girardi siad. “Missed some spots and they hit them.”
• Know who didn’t miss his spots? Derek Lowe. This was another good outing for Lowe, and Girardi was praising him quite a bit postgame saying Lowe could get into some bigger situations. “He’s done a good job the last three or four outings,” Girardi said. “He had a really good outing when he first got here and then he kind of went through some up and down periods, but he’s been really good. You pick your hitters that you’re going to use him against. He’s a groundball pitcher for the most part, he has a slider for right handers, so I mean, there’s some value to that, sure.”
• Rafael Soriano was the only Yankees reliever to allow a hit, but after loading the bases with no outs in the ninth, he got out of it with just one run scoring. “A little rusty today,” Girardi said. “We got him a hitter the other day just because he hadn’t worked in a week, but I think it was important and he got out of that with a big double play. He did an outstanding job after getting the bases loaded. He hasn’t pitched much in the last nine days, so I think it was important.”
• Final word goes to Jeter: “We’re trying to win games, we’re trying to win the division. That’s what we’re always trying to do. If we play our games and we win our games, we’ll be where we want to be. That’s the only thing we’re concerned with now.”
Associated Press photos