One way or another, the Yankees keep winning baseball games. Early in the season, the lineup’s surprising power stole the show. For a while, the rotation seemed to be carrying the most significant load. Lately, it’s been the bullpen that’s provided the stability. Through injuries and call-ups and minor trades, this team has defied expectations in every which way, and surely there’s some satisfaction in that.
“I don’t know if anybody cares,” Travis Hafner said. “We just want to win. I don’t think anybody cares what people think. (There are) a lot of guys just coming together that just want to win ballgames and get to the playoffs and go from there.”
One thing that’s noticeable in the absence of some familiar veterans is that the Yankees clubhouse hasn’t changed all that much. It’s still a generally friendly place, relatively soft spoken and business-like. Veterans have filled the leadership role, and young players have been developed to fall into place.
The Yankees might be defying your expectations, and they might be defying my expectations, but there’s a sense that none of that matters in that room. It was never about your expectations or my expectations.
“What I’m seeing is guys are coming through,” Joe Girardi said. “Guys are getting the job done. There’s no quit. They come to the ballpark excited to play every day, and they’re finding ways to win games. Sometimes when you look at our stats, we’re not at the top of anything. But these guys have just done a really good job.”
Tonight’s was a game of expectations being destroyed. The Yankees haven’t blown a lot of leads this season, but they blew two of them tonight — with CC Sabathia on the mound, no less — yet they found a way to win by coming back against Jim Johnson and the Orioles bullpen, which fully asserted itself last year.
Four home runs in the first nine innings, culminating in Hafner’s tying shot in the ninth. Then the Yankees played small ball in the 10th, taking the lead on doubles by Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells. Mariano Rivera, of course, did what he’s done 17 times already this season.
The Yankees didn’t make it easy on themselves, and at times they didn’t make it look pretty, but if you expected them to lose, they proved you wrong once again.
“We definitely keep you guys on your toes, that’s for sure,” Wells said. “We haven’t gone out and slaughtered too many teams. We need to go out and score a few more runs, let the back end of our bullpen relax a little bit. We’ve kept them taxed for pretty much every day of the season. We need to hopefully do a better job. It will come, we just have to continue to be consistent and win these close ones. We’re starting to get pieces of the puzzle back here slowly but surely, so things will work out.”
They have so far.
• Of course, this was supposed to be a day of rest for Wells. He would up driving in the winning run. “Nice and refreshed,” he said. “… The way the game was shaping up, close ballgame, any time any of us have an off day we want to be ready in case something happens. Joe asked me if I was ready in the eighth and I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘Go play.’ Obviously the most important one came in my second at-bat. It was good to get in that situation. Early on in the at-bat I was trying to get him over, but he’s got good stuff. I got to two strikes and it was just a matter of trying to put the bat on the ball.”
• With his 10th inning double — the one that ultimately led to the go-ahead run — Ichiro now has a 20-game hitting streak at Camden Yards. He has the third-highest batting average (.353) among active players against the Orioles.
• Of course, that 10th inning also included Hafner’s second hit of the night, an RBI single. His first hit had been the game-tying homer in the ninth. “You’re just kind of looking for a pitch to drive, something up,” Hafner said. “He made a pretty good pitch there, and I put a good swing on it and hit it out the other way. I was pretty pumped about that.”
• Jim Johnson has now blown three straight save opportunities. Before this slide, he had a club-record 35 straight regular-season saves.
• Lyle Overbay’s home run off Troy Patton was his first homer off a lefty since May 28, 2011. That’s nearly two years! “I know he throws a fastball, slider,” Overbay said. “It’s just a matter of getting a pitch up in the zone and taking it from there. I swung at a bad one earlier in the count – kind of go too aggressive – and obviously he hung that pitch, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
• Robinson Cano’s home run made him the first American League hitter to reach 13 home runs this season. An inning later, Chris Davis also hit his 13th.
• Big night for David Adams, who went 2-for-4 with his first big league homer. “It was something special,” Adams said. “After that we took a early 2-0 lead, so I was pretty happy. And then, when they took the lead, I was like, oh man, this isn’t what it’s all supposed to be. I was like, man, now I’m going to be upset after the game. And then freaking Hafner came up with that clutch hit so it’s like, OK, now I can smile again. It’s something special to be a part of.”
• The Yankees security team actually tracked down the person who caught Adams’ home run ball and was able to get it for Adams. “If I saw (the security guys) coming at me, (I’d say), ‘Here, whatever you want,’” Adams said. As you can imagine, the Yankees security guys are big boys. Very, very nice guys, but plenty intimidating.
• Rivera tied Hoyt Willhelm for fifth place on baseball’s all-time games pitched list. … Dave Robertson tied Fritz Peterson for 19th on the Yankees all-time games pitched list. … Shawn Kelley struck out three more guys as the bullpen continues to come up big for the Yankees.
• Austin Romine was knocked in the head by a Steve Pearce backswing in the fifth. The Yankees medical staff came out to check on him, but Romine said he was fine. “They came out and asked me questions I don’t even know the answers to, even if I wasn’t concussed,” Romine said. “I was laughing. They asked me where we were, and I said, I don’t even know what day of the week it is, come on. He knew I was joking around. If I was in a daze, I wouldn’t have been able to joke around.”
• It’s easy to overlook it now, but CC Sabathia allowed 11 hits tonight. He didn’t walk anyone, and he did a nice job limiting the damage until the seventh, but it nearly cost the Yankees. “Just not being able to make pitches, leaving some balls up,” Sabathia said. “And I’ve just got to do a better job with two strikes of making pitches and getting outs. We took the lead right there, and it’s just up to me to shut the door.”
• We’ll give the final word to Wells: “Those are fun ones. Those are the ones we act like little kids in the dugout. You’ve got Johnson on the mound and he’s one of the best there is, I don’t care if he’s going through a rough patch or not. He’s one of the guys you’d love to have on the mound when you have a lead. Travis was fortunate enough to work his way into a hitter’s count and he didn’t miss a heater. That’s impressive coming off a guy like that. It’s not easy to do.”
Associated Press photos