One big inning, let the Big Man take it from there, then get a little help from the Rays. That’s the formula that put the Yankees back in control of the American League East tonight. A one-game lead with two to play means the Yankees could clinch the division as early as tomorrow night.
“There’s a lot of teams that would love to be in our position right now,” Mark Teixeira said. “And you can count all the things that have gone wrong, but we’re right here where we want to be.”
After letting a winable game slip away on Saturday, then needing a wild comeback on Sunday, the Yankees put this one out of reach early with their highest-scoring inning of the year. That nine-run second was also the third time this season that the Yankees scored at least seven runs in an inning against the Red Sox, another kick to their rivals at the bottom of the division. It was the third time in franchise history — also June 30, 1977 and June 21, 2005 — that the Yankees hit four home runs in an inning. From there, it was Sabathia’s night, his third straight start of at least eight innings.
Teixeira admitted to checking the scoreboard a few times, and Robinson Cano said he couldn’t help but notice the Baltimore score, but Sabathia said he legitimately had no idea that they were losing until he came out of the game. If the Yankees win again and the Orioles lose again, the Yankees will have the division and avoid that roll-the-dice play-in game.
“That’s what you want,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s what you hope that you have all the time when you’re playing this game, that you can control your own destiny. We have to go out and win a ballgame tomorrow.”
• Cano had his seventh straight multi-hit game, the second-longest such streak of his career, and he could match a career-high tomorrow. His solo homer that started that second inning was the 175th of his career, tying Bobby Murcer for 20th place on the Yankees all-time list. He also tied his career high with three extra-base hits tonight. “I’ve seen him locked in plenty over his career,” Girardi said. “But he looks really good right now. He’s hitting pitches all over the place, he’s driving the ball and it’s just great to see at this time of year.”
• By the way, Cano’s home run was a monster to center field. Was he surprised he hit it that far? “I’m never surprised,” he said. “When you have a bat in your hands and make a good swing, you never know what can happen.
• Girardi said there was never any thought of pulling Sabathia early to save him for a possible wild card start on Friday. Sabathia finished with 103 pitches. “I’m not worried about Friday,” Girardi said. “I’m worried about today, and now that today is over, I’m worried about tomorrow. I think if you start thinking too far ahead, you can get yourself in a bad position. We have Phelpsy going tomorrow. I want a full bullpen. I think that’s important.”
• Even with a full start tonight, Sabathia said he could start Friday if necessary. “Of course,” he said. “That wouldn’t matter anyway. It’s time to go, and it’s time to put up or shut up, so I want the ball.”
• Both Sabathia and Girardi said this was the best Sabathia’s changeup has been all season. “It’s been better the last couple times,” Sabathia said. “I think it’s just throwing it. The middle of the year, I got away from it. I’m getting back to it, throwing it on the side, and working it back into the game has really helped me these last three starts.”
• Sabathia is the only Major League pitcher to win at least 15 games each of the past six seasons. Tonight he reached 200 innings, which neither he nor Girardi said was particularly meaningful. He wasn’t staying in the game just to get to 200, although this did give him six straight seasons of at least 200 innings.
• How could you not be thrilled for Melky Mesa? His first big league at-bat was an RBI single in the eighth and he was still all smiles after the game. He said he’s giving the ball to his father. “Exciting moment,” Mesa said. “I never forget that, and I just feel happy right now.”
• Teixeira’s second at-bat back from the calf injury was a two-run homer during that wild second inning. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “But I felt like I saw the ball really well today, and on the home run put a really good swing on the ball.”
• Girardi pulled Teixeira strictly to get him out of the game, not because of a setback with the calf. Teixeira said there’s no doubt he’ll be able to play tomorrow. “Yeah,” he said. “Feel really good.”
• Teixeira never really had to race around the bases or beat out a play at first, but he did have to chase a foul ball to the edge of the dugout. That might have been the night’s biggest test for calf. “I considered diving into the dugout, but I’m thinking that’s probably not the best thing to do,” he said. “I’m not sure I would have caught it anyway, but I had to run over there and test it out.”
• Brett Gardner was given an eighth-inning at bat and is now considered a full, no-restrictions player for the Yankees. That seems to make him a favorite to land a spot on the postseason roster. “It’s definitely something you have to think about now,” Girardi said. “When you talk about a playoff roster, sometimes you have one extra spot for that runner. Now that he’s a full player, it makes it a little bit different.”
• Despite being cleared as a full player, Girardi said he still doesn’t consider Gardner an everyday outfielder the rest of the way. “He just hasn’t had the at-bats,” Girardi said.
• Alex Rodriguez went 0-for-3 but a sacrifice fly gave him 1,950 career RBI tying Stan Musial for fifth place on baseball’s all-time list. It also snapped an 11-game RBI drought.
• The Yankees have three starters with at least 15 wins for the first time since 2006 (Johnson, Mussina and Wang).
• The Yankees have hit 38 home runs against the Red Sox this season, and they’ve outscored them 95-65. They’ve hit at least four homers in a game against Boston four times. Teixeira now has 20 season RBIs against the Red Sox, become the first Yankee with as many RBI against Boston in a single season since Mickey Mantle had 22 in 1958.
• Final word goes to Teixeira: “Any time you have CC on the mound you just want to give him a nice little lead because he’s going to take care of the rest. For us to get nine in an inning, that just doesn’t happen. You don’t see that very often, so it took the pressure off the rest of the game that we could put up a nine spot in the second inning.”
Associated Press photos