There was a brief amount of time when Lyle Overbay entertained the idea that his playing days might be numbered. The veteran first baseman was released by the Boston Red Sox just days before the start of the season, but the Yankees didn’t allow that feeling of doubt to last very long.
“Probably about an hour and half, two hours,” Overbay said of the amount of time that passed between getting released and hearing from the Yankees. “My agent was on the line from the get-go. He obviously thought that this might be a fit, and Milwaukee. He wanted to touch base with those real quick, and even other teams that were interested in the offseason to see if anything had changed. Realistically, I think this and Milwaukee were the only chances that I had in that short amount of time.”
Overbay is one of several new veterans that have exceeded expectations for the Yankees through their first 24 games, and he provided the decisive blow on Sunday. His two-out, two-run homer in the seventh put the Yankees up for good on their way to a 3-2 win and a four-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been fun,” Overbay said. “I’ve enjoyed it. This is awesome. It’s a dream come true to play for the New York Yankees, and the opportunity that I’m getting, I can’t think of anything better.”
• It seems like each of the new additions — many of whom weren’t expected to play such crucial roles for the Yankees — have had their moments this season. It’s really been incredible to witness guys like Overbay, Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Kevin Youkilis become such integral parts of this team after each had struggled in recent years. “It’s a group that has something to prove, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said. “Some guys that are older that have had some down years or some injury-plagued years, some younger guys that are trying to establish themselves and they found how to make it work. Putting them all together, we had guys coming into our clubhouse as late as Wednesday the week before we started the season, and they have integrated very well. I give them a lot of credit, because it seems to be a close-knit group that feels if we keep it close, we have an opportunity to win.”
• As a guy who has been a starting first baseman in this league for quite some time, Overbay talked about how different his situation has been this year. “It’s weird because I’ve never been in that situation before where you don’t know your future,” he said. “Usually, you go into spring training and know that you’re on a team and you’re just getting ready. It was a different scenario, I guess, but it worked out.”
• Here’s Girardi on what Overbay has brought to the table: “He’s been important to us. Offensively, he’s really contributed, but defensively, he solidifies first base. He knows how to play the position. He moves all over the place, and he’s done a really nice job for us. We got a little bit lucky when he became available at the end of spring training.”
• I wrote before the game that Overbay had the worst numbers off of Toronto starter R.A. Dickey of any Yankee with at least 10 career at-bats, but that didn’t matter in the seventh. Overbay had been 1 for 14 in his career against Dickey, but all it took was one swing to turn things around. He had an interesting (and in fact, very honest) story about how he’s changed his approach against knuckleballers. “I struggled cause I’ve faced (Tim) Wakefield a lot and I’ve struggled against him,” he said. “A couple of years ago – it might have been my last year in Toronto – Matt Stairs’ approach was just to try and pull homers. Ever since I did that, I started hitting them a lot better. You start taking an aggressive swing at it, I think is the biggest thing. If you start trying to feel for it, it ends up beating you. It’s just a matter of taking a big, strong, aggressive hack.”
• With so many new faces making big contributions, Overbay said it’s made it easier to fit in and just go about his business. “It kind of takes the pressure off of you a little bit,” he said. “You know that those guys, if they get a chance, are going to come through, so it’s like, ‘I’ll just sit back here, and if I get a chance, I’m going to enjoy it and get a good pitch,’ and that kind of thing. It’s relaxing that they’ve been able to do that… We’ve been doing it all year, so why not again?”
• Brennan Boesch got the start in right field with Brett Gardner getting the day off (Ichiro slid over to center), and he hit a solo homer in the second. It was one of only four hits allowed by Dickey, as Girardi continues to push the right buttons. “We didn’t have a lot,” Girardi said, referring to the hit total. “We had four hits, and two of them were homers. That’s what helped. It’s tough cause you’re used to guys throwing in the 90s, and all of a sudden you’re trying to hit a butterfly. It becomes very difficult. He knows how to change speeds with it, he knows how to manipulate it to make it move different ways – it’s tough to center a ball on him.”
• While Dickey threw well for the Blue Jays, Phil Hughes brought the best pure stuff that we’ve seen from him so far this season. He didn’t go as deep into the game as you would have liked considering how sharp he looked early — he was done after six innings with his pitch count at 111 — but he was aggressive and generated some ugly swing-and-misses, resulting in nine strikeouts. “Coming out of the spring where I really didn’t get much time, I felt like it was going to take a little while,” Hughes said. “I was hoping it wasn’t. I was hoping I would be able to go out there in my first start and be good to go, but that’s kind of the way it was. I’m happy with the last three starts, being able to show some improvements and give our guys a chance to win.”
• It’s not just the fact that Hughes struck so many guys out that made this such an encouraging start, but how he got those strikeouts. When he first came up, he was almost exclusively a fastball-curveball guy, but we’ve seen him really work to improve his slider and changeup. Girardi talked about him mixing his pitches better, but I really thought the key today was the slider. It’s an improving pitch for Hughes, and it was his go-to today to finish guys off. If you ask him, though, it all starts with fastball command. “I think I was just being aggressive with my fastball and making good pitches early on. I was really attacking guys and locating when I needed to,” he said. “I’m kind of a guy that attacks with four-seam fastballs, and the result of that is when I’m really good there will be swings and misses or sometimes foul balls.”
• Hughes was cruising through his first few innings, but his pitch count got driven up a bit in the fourth. Edwin Encarnacion, Melky Cabrera and Adam Lind came up with three consecutive singles to tie the game at 1-1, but none of them were hit particularly well. It was certainly the softest run that I’ve seen scored so far this season. “I could have made better pitches,” Hughes said. “None of them were really hit that well, but I think I have to do a better job of letting those frustrations go and not taking them over into the next at-bat.”
• The Yankees pen was effective once again, with Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each pitching a scoreless inning. They combined to allow just one hit, no walks and struck out four. “That’s been the M.O. for the last few years,” Hughes said. “We have a lights out end of our bullpen, so we know if we can give us six, seven solid innings that we have a good chance to win.”
• Rivera is now 9 for 9 in save attempts after missing most of last season with the ACL injury. “Having nine save opportunities in a month is pretty good, too, No. 1,” Girardi said. “I felt that Mo threw the ball well in spring training. He didn’t really throw a lot of back-to-backs, and you wondered how he’d respond throwing three out of four days. He’s a little bit like Jeet and Andy – there’s not much that they can do that will surprise you, because you’re so used to seeing it.”
• Random thought: The obvious choice to be released when Curtis Granderson comes off of the DL is the slumping Ben Francisco, but what will the Yankees do when Mark Teixeira is ready to return? It wouldn’t make much sense to keep Overbay with Youkilis’ ability to back up Teixeira at first, but it would be tough to let him go if he continues to play well. That might be the Yankees only option if everyone else stays healthy, but you’d have to think that some other team would snatch Overbay up quickly.
• Speaking of Youk, there was no update from Girardi on his cranky back after the game. I would expect him to miss at least another game or two.
• I’ll give the final word to Hughes, who spoke about how well the new Yankees have performed: “We know what these guys can do, whether it’s been Hafner, Overbay or Wells. They’re guys that have experience in this league, and they’re good hitters. That’s the bottom line. We felt like if we pitched well, we’re going to get contributions from somebody, and that’s been the case early on… I think guys around here have kind of learned to deal with the negative stuff that swirls around. It hasn’t really impacted us in the past, and I don’t think it’s going to impact us going forward. It’s just part of the game, and we’ve dealt with that before… First meeting of spring training we talked about that and how it’s not going to affect us.”
Associated Press photos