Chris Stewart knows he’s not necessarily the guy you wanted at the plate in that ninth inning. He knows there were better resumes on the bench: A three-time all-star, a left-handed hitter with 29 RBI, even a rookie who’d shown an early ability to make hard contact.
“Usually I don’t even get a chance to be in that spot, especially with a right-hander out there,” Stewart said. “Fortunately, Joe had confidence in me, and I went out there trying to see a ball up and out over the plate, and fortunately he left one for me and I was able to sneak it through the hole.”
Stewart’s game-winning RBI single was his second hit of the day, and it raised his batting average to .276, the second-highest on the team behind Brett Gardner and ahead of Robinson Cano. Stewart hasn’t hit for much power, but he’s gotten on base at a decent rate, and he’s been a surprisingly solid source of offense at the bottom of the order. Girardi stuck with him in a tied game, with two outs in the ninth and the go-ahead run at second base. Kevin Youkilis was available, Lyle Overbay was available and David Adams was available. Stewart came through.
“We talked a little bit about Overbay hitting somewhere at the bottom of the order, but we knew they’d bring in their lefty and then we’d have to make another change,” Girardi said. “We liked the idea of the matchup with Stew, and we left it. … Without getting too much into it, K-Long and I talked about it. K-Long liked the matchup, and I did, too. We stuck with him. Sometimes you’re thinking about your hitter and what he likes.”
Stewart’s game-winner game on a 97 mph fastball, giving the Yankees a late lead for the greatest closer in baseball. The offense is still struggling, but the Yankees won three of four here in Seattle.
“I’m going to hit until Joe tells me I’m not,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m playing a guessing game up there and then I end up going up to hit and my mind’s elsewhere. I want to make sure my mind’s right going up, and if Joe pulls me, then Joe pulls me. … It’s a huge confidence booster (that Girardi didn’t pinch hit). Joe felt good about the situation, and I felt good going into it. I know I’ve been seeing good pitches and putting good swings on the ball. Fortunately I had another one.”
• Six innings, one run, three hits by David Phelps. Yet Phelps seemed disappointed. “It’s refreshing, but that’s not how I want to pitch,” he said. “That’s two in a row where I’ve really had to battle. They’re making plays behind me, which is huge. … I was still throwing stuff all over the place today. It was a battle, that’s for sure.”
• Both Phelps and Stewart acknowledged that Phelps’ fastball command got much better later in the game, in fact, Phelps said he was “really locked in” the last three innings, but the command wasn’t really there in the early innings. All of Phelps base runners came in the first three innings. “Fastball command, that’s what it was,” Phelps said. “I’m getting by right now because I’m able to throw my offspeed stuff for strikes, but I’ve got to have my fastball to be successful in the long run.”
• If you’re looking for something mechanical, Phelps said his adjustment had to do with staying over his back leg a little longer. It’s something he and Larry Rothschild had talked about. “I was able to get down through the pitches a little easier and hit my spots a little more,” Phelps said.
• Four-hit day for Brett Gardner, who’s actually hit better than .300 against Hernandez in his career. “I’m not sure (why),” Gardner said. “He’s a guy that has real good stuff. I’ve always just tried to bear down and have good at-bats against him. I don’t really have an answer for you.”
• Gardner now has the highest batting average on the team. He’s hit in 15 of his past 17 games, but his stolen base in the first inning was his first stolen base since May 16, when he’d stolen four bases in a span of three games. Weird. He’s so oddly streaky about running.
• Jayson Nix has a five-game hitting streak. He’s hit in 12 of his past 13 games in which he’s had an at-bat, hitting .340 in that span. “I know we kind of make a joke of it, but he’s a ballplayer,” Girardi said. “That’s what he is. He’s an old-school guy that just finds ways to get the job done.”
• Youkilis was available if necessary. “I think I could have used him, but my goal was to stay away from him today,” Girardi said.
• Ichiro said he felt some relief to get that ninth-inning walk and score from second base, if only because it erased some of the memory of dropping a fly ball in foul territory. The drop didn’t hurt the Yankees, but it was fairly stunning. Ichiro said he remembered dropping only one other fly ball in his big league career. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Ich drop a ball,” Girardi said. “I probably never will again, either.”
• Here’s Ichiro explaining what happened on that play: “Obviously I was able to get there, so I needed to make that play. There were a lot of fans out there today, and they were pretty loud, so I kind of hesitated a little bit thinking that maybe Robbie didn’t hear me. I called it, but because it was so loud, I thought maybe he didn’t hear. But I got there so I needed to make that play.”
• Stewart made a fairly crazy comparison about reliever Yoervis Medina: “The guy was similar to Felix,” Stewart said. “I think it kind of helped. He had a kind of similar fastball — a sinking fastball — so I think it kind of helped. Felix was kind of pounding me down and in the whole day, and the guy kind of left a pitch out over the plate, same kind of pitch sinking down, and Felix kind of set me up for him. I didn’t have to face Perez out there, because it’s completely the opposite of Felix. It was kind of similar when Medina came in.”
• If you’re curious, Girardi said Michael Pineda threw 68 pitches today and got his fastball up to 95 mph.
• Final word goes to Ichiro: “I do think it’s big to beat their best. I think that has some effect on us, as a team, so it is big. It’s tough to say why it’s good, but just the atmosphere after the game, it can go into something else. Of course, everybody wants to do something, overcome something that’s difficult, so when you beat their best, there’s gratification.”
Associated Press photos