It was a little thing, and it was an obvious thing, but I thought this was the most interesting thing Joe Girardi said after today’s comeback win against the Blue Jays.
“I just thought today was a good day to do it, and he made it work.”
He was talking, of course, about the decision to start Travis Hafner against a lefty. The Yankees hadn’t done that all year, but Hafner delivered a game-tying home run and a game-winning triple, his first extra-base hits against lefties this season. CC Sabathia gave the Yankees the distance they needed, and Vernon Wells had another bit hit in the seventh, but there was no one quite so crucial to this win as Hafner. Which means there was no one quite so crucial as Girardi.
He didn’t start Hafner because the binder said so. He started Hafner because he had to try something new and decided to give this shot.
“Ben (Francisco)’s kind of struggled so I thought it was time to give Haf a shot at it today,” Girardi said. “I won’t do it every time because I think for him — who’s had some injury problems — off days don’t necessarily hurt him and I have to be careful. … Part of it is managing him, too. When you have some guys who have some age and some history of health problems, you have to manage them and pick your days. Today I picked to put him in against a left hander, and he was great.”
Girardi is a by-the-book manager, but this season — with its injuries and unexpected roster moves — has required some improvisation. And Girardi’s been able to do it. Joba Chamberlain pitched three straight games and closed today. Jayson Nix was the No. 2 hitter. Sabathia was left out there with a high pitch count in the eighth. Very little about this season has gone as planned, but the front office has have made some adjustments, Girardi has been willing to bend a little, and guys like Hafner and Wells have been terrific.
“(Hafner)’s a stable force, a big lefty who can do damage,” Wells said. “Having guys like that in the lineup, and obviously guys like Cano, it changes your whole lineup and how you get attacked. It’s huge having him. Hopefully we can keep him healthy with the rest of the guys we still have left. … We come here and (are) asked to be in the middle of this lineup. It’s fun. We enjoy putting this uniform on and having the chance to contribute. We’re having fun doing it.”
• This was one of those Sabathia starts when everyone in the ballpark was sure he’d be out after five and he wound up going eight. His stuff wasn’t great — he said as much — but he didn’t walk anyone, and the distance was huge. “I think, honestly, if you look at the first two innings (when the Jays went down in order), they just missed some balls,” Sabathia said. “I left some balls in the middle of the plate and just were popping them up or mis-hitting them. It seemed like I breezed through, but I probably could have made a little bit better pitches early in the game. … Later in the game, I felt better with my fastball command and the changeup started working a little better.”
• Girardi on Sabathia: “I’ve seen him do it so many times, that’s the thing. That’s one of the things that’s impressed me the most about him, and there’s a lot of things to talk about — the wins he’s had since he’s been here, some of his playoff performances, Game 5 against Baltimore, the innings he gives you — the way he competes when he doesn’t have his stuff is probably as impressive as anything. That’s how you become a 20-game winner.”
• Hafner said he was told yesterday that he would start today. “It’s nice to get some starts (against lefties) in there just because you face them late in games and it’s nice to have some at-bats off them,” he said. “I think I will get some starts, but I know they have my best interests at heart too. Whenever they want me to play, I’m ready.”
• Hafner on facing lefties: “I’ve had some really good years swinging the bat against them. I haven’t swung as well against the last couple of years, but I probably feel like my swing is better suited to handle them this year. … Just basically less movement, using my hands better. I think I can use the whole field a little bit better.”
• The Yankees have had go-ahead triples in their past two games, and they’ve been hit by Hafner and Lyle Overbay, who guys who have combined to hit 25 triples in their careers.
• Was Hafner thinking triple off the bat in the seventh? “I don’t think triple very often. It got away from him pretty good. Usually something like that has to happen for me to get to third. … I was just kind of hoping it got over his head. I know that Davis is fast, so I wasn’t sure. Just a matter of inches there. It tipped off his glove, so I was pumped about that.”
• Sabathia said, without hint of joking, that it was the first triple he could remember ever seeing Hafner hit (and, remember, they were together in Cleveland). “He’s been huge,” Sabathia said. “This is the Pronk of old. We knew coming in, if he could stay healthy and get with K-Long, he’d have a good chance of having a good year. And he’s gotten off to a good start.”
• The easy to overlook at-bat had to be Wells game-tying single of Esmil Rogers: “He’s got good stuff,” Wells said. “A guy like that, if you try to do too much you’re going to get yourself in trouble. he started me off with three sliders and then I got a fastball to hit and tried to put the barrel on it.”
• What in the world was Wells thinking stealing third in the seventh? “Robbie (Thomson) and I were talking about it during the pitching change,” Wells said. “If you can get to third base in a situation like that, then a lot of different things come into play. They can no longer bounce breaking balls and things like that. Haf got one up and took advantage of it. Little things, we’ve got to take advantage of.”
• Jayson Nix has reached base in eight of his past 19 plate appearances. … The Yankees have homered in each of their past eight home games and 10 of 12 home games overall. … This was the 23rd time Sabathia had ever pitched eight innings without a walk. He’s pitched at least seven innings in each of his past four starts.
• Kevin Youkilis played for the first time in a week. “I thought he moved around well,” Girardi said. “He was probably a little rusty (because) he hasn’t played a whole lot lately. From a physical standpoint, he looked good.”
• Mariano Rivera and Dave Robertson had each thrown three of four days, so they weren’t available. Joba Chamberlain had pitched back-to-back days, but with limited pitch counts, which is the reason he was available. “That’s fun for me, seeing the energy of the crowd and my teammates,” Chamberlain said. “I can’t help but smile because that’s why you play the game. I’m excited to get that opportunity. Hopefully I don’t get too many because that means Mo’s closing them down, but every day that he needs a break, I’m out there for him.”
• A win tomorrow would give the Yankees their first four-game sweep of the Blue Jays since September 1995 at the old Yankee Stadium.
Associated Press photos