“There’s so many big things that happened in this game to give us an opportunity to win.”
Where to start with this one? There’s something to be said for starting at the beginning, with Vidal Nuno pitching well and the Yankees becoming the first team to win a game against Matt Moore this season. There’s also something to be said for starting at the very end, with Mariano Rivera getting his 18th save on the same night that Fernando Rodney — much like Jim Johnson earlier this week in Baltimore — blew a save in the ninth. There’s also plenty to be said for both Brennan Boesch and Ivan Nova, the two guys who rejoined the Yankees this weekend and without whom the Yankees could not have won.
But on this night, let’s start with Lyle Overbay. Let’s start with the guy who was without a job in the final week of spring training, and let’s start with the guy who might not have a role to play a week from now. Overbay’s eighth home run of the season was a game-winning, a two-out shot capped the comeback and put an improbable win in the hands of an unflappable closer.
“I want to kind of take it and enjoy it, because I could be sitting at home right now,” Overbay said.
Mark Teixeira’s wrist injury started the series of dominoes that brought Overbay to the Yankees, and he’s been a tremendous source of stability for this lineup. He’s three home runs away from matching his home run total for the past two years combined, but Overbay can do the math as well as anyone. Teixeira could be activated on Friday, and it’s hard to know whether the Yankees will have room on their bench for a left-handed first baseman.
“I want (Teixeira) back,” Overbay said. “I’ve always said, he’s real good and he’s going to give us a good chance. I just hope that I can coexist with him. We’ll soon find out. You try to think all of these scenarios, and the last time you think of it, something else comes up. Just try to enjoy this, and give my undivided attention to the team right now.”
If I had to guess right now, I’d say the Yankees will find a way to keep both Overbay and Teixeira on the roster for at least a little while, but it’s hard to carry three players who are limited to first base and DH, especially when two of the three are left-handed. It’s an awkward situation, but even with Teixeira’s locker just a few feet away here at Tropicana Field, it’s clear that Overbay’s mind is clear and his bat is still potent. Girardi called him a “professional” and a “great teammate” and said “the guys love him around here.”
“It’s going to come down to numbers,” Overbay said. “I mean, obviously you’ve got to be doing well, but I think we’re all doing well. It just comes down to where you’re comfortable, where Joe’s comfortable, all that kind of stuff. We’ll see. It will work out either way.”
Found out last night around 11:30 that he would be replacing Curtis Granderson on the big league roster. He flew out of Scranton at 6:20 this morning, connected in Detroit and got to Tropicana Field just a few hours before first pitch. Boesch said slept fewer than three hours last night.
“I did not sleep much,” Boesch said. “But I had a feeling that I was going to get an opportunity there just the way the game was shaking out and the way Joe has been using me in those situations late in the game. (Fernando) Rodney is, for me, one of the toughest pitchers. I was just trying to do anything I could to put a good at-bat on him. I kind of did one of those Pronk swings where I didn’t really follow through too much. It worked out. I’m just happy to contribute.”
Boesch’s two-out, RBI double pulled the Yankees within one in the ninth. Then he scored from second on the game-tying single by Brett Gardner. A half inning later, Boesch was out of the game, back on the bench having been given a tiny opportunity and made the most of it.
“I can’t imagine what time he left this morning,” Girardi said. “To be able to be a part of this, he’s done some things. This kid’s done some things in his career, and he has been in some tough situations. He knows how to play.”
Rivera got the save, his 18th of the season without blowing one all year. His farewell tour has, so far, proven to be a final reminder of what a remarkable pitcher he’s been. But in the grand scheme of things, the pitches that truly saved this game came from Nova in the 10th inning.
This was Nova’s first relief appearance in more than two years, and the fact he’s been moved to the bullpen is a clear sign that the Yankees have lost some short-term faith in his ability to be a starter. He loaded the bases with one out and the game tied, then he struck out James Loney and got Matt Joyce to ground to second.
“I got to take advantage of every opportunity that I got,” Nova said. “Today was the first one, and they said that I was like a little in trouble, so I get the inning and I get the out and we win the game and that’s all that matters. … After I see my manager and all the excitement, it really made me feel real good. He made me the opportunity. He got Adam (Warren), he’s been pitching tremendous. He can get that guy in that situation, but he called me in, so that make me feel real good.”
Moore is 8-0 this season, and the Rays had won each of his first nine starts this season. But the Yankees countered with their own young lefty, and Nuno basically matched Moore inning-for-inning. Both lefties pitched six innings. Moore allowed one run, Nuno allowed two only because the leadoff single he allowed in the seventh came around to score when the Yankees bullpen faltered.
“It feels good to go out there and compete, and just knowing they’re giving me a shot and giving the ball to go at least five-plus,” Nuno said. “… Just trying to attack the zone, just mix it up, so, it worked out. That was my game plan. Just be around the zone.”
Look back just a couple of years and Moore was an elite prospect, while Nuno was pitching in independent ball just hoping for a second chance. The Yankees gave him one, and Nuno has taken advantage in a big way. This was his second spot start, and both have been tremendous.
“This has been a tough place for us to win,” Girardi said. “It’s been a lot of games like this and we’ve come out on the short end sometimes. Today we didn’t. We got an outstanding performance by Nuno again to give us the innings that he gave us. He kept them off balance with a number of different pitches and threw strikes. Another good performance.”
• The Yankees will go for a series sweep tomorrow. This is already their first series win at Tropicana Field April 9-11, 2010. The Yankees have gone 0-7-2 in their past nine series in this goofy stadium. “I had no idea until someone else said it,” Overbay said. “I was like, oh really? You think, we’re the Yankees. We beat everybody, right?”
• Let there be no doubt, the guys who have been with the Yankees for a while are well aware of their struggles in this building. “I don’t know the numbers – I don’t think I really want to know the numbers,” Gardner said. “But it doesn’t seem like we’ve won a whole lot of games here the last few years. They’ve really had our number. It feels good to come in and win the first two.”
• Overbay was kicking himself before that home run. In that two-run seventh, a hard-hit double just past him. It could have been a double play that might have kept the Rays from scoring at all that inning. “I thought I could get in front of it and I should have backhanded it,” Overbay said. “It was hit pretty hard, but I should have backhanded it and it cost us. Those are two runs right there that could have been (outs). I mean, that’s an easy double play because he hit it so hard, you just make the play. I’m fortunate enough to help the team win, because I did help them (almost) lose.”
• It was kind of confusing, but in the ninth, the umpires ruled that Rodney balked on the pitch when Overbay took second base. “I called it from third,” umpire John Hirschbeck said. “With a runner at first, he’s got to stop (in his delivery). He didn’t stop.”
• Girardi went out to argue two plays. He briefly argued the call at the plate when Joyce scored the Rays third run. The ruling was that Joyce was able to slide in ahead of the play because of a high tag. I thought it looked like the right call on replay. Girardi said he hadn’t seen a replay, but had heard different opinions from different people. Girardi argued more when Gardner was thrown out stealing in the ninth. I didn’t see a replay on that one, but Girardi seemed pretty sure Gardnerr was safe. “I thought I had a better look at that one,” Girardi said.
• By the way, Gardner was running on his own in that situation.
• It goes unnoticed in all of the heroics of this game, but Ichiro made a terrific and potentially game-saving catch in the ninth. “I heard some people in the stands close to the dugout say, ‘There it is,’” Girardi said. “They thought the game was over.”
• Gardner on his game-tying hit in the ninth: “Just trying to get something to hit. He’s pretty tough, throwing 98 with an 84 mph changeup. It’s hard to cover both. I got to two strikes and he just left me a changeup up that I was able to scoot up the middle.”
• We started with Overbay, but we’ll end with Boesch, giving him the final word to talk more about his huge pinch hit: “For me, the most difficult thing about pinch-hitting is you’re sitting one minute and you’re in the game the next. To try to time Rodney is difficult as it is, then you look up and he’s throwing 99 with his first fastball. He’s got that trick changeup, that super-pitch. I was kind of expecting the changeup but at the same time, he’s got 99. It’s a combination of things that he can get guys out with. I was able to get it done.”
Associated Press photos