Hard to imagine how bad this might have been, the punch to the gut the Yankees might have felt had Mariano Rivera not thrown three pitches — sinkers, not cutters, he said — to strikeout Albert Pujols and preserve a much-needed win.
“There’s nowhere to put him,” Rivera said. “Get him out; that’s the only approach that I had.”
In the span of one inning, a 6-0 lead became a 6-5 near nightmare. The tying run was in scoring position when Rivera had to face Mike Trout, and the winning run was at second after Trout walked and Pujols came to the plate. Lyle Overbay would later say he’d never seen so many “perfectly placed” base hits.
“I was like, man, our luck isn’t going our way,” Overbay said.
Rivera said he never thought about the magnitude of the situation, that the greatest closer of all time was facing one of the greatest hitters of a generation in a make-or-break at-bat. It wasn’t a playoff game or anything, but it was the at-bat to determine whether this was a good day — a relatively clean MRI for Mark Teixeira, a big inning for the offense, a win (finally) for the team — or the worst day of a horrible road trip.
“You’ve got the greatest closer of all-time on the mound, so you feel pretty good in that situation,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s not what to want to get to, 6-5, bases loaded and Albert Pujols up. But we did, and we got him out.”
And that made all the difference.
“It doesn’t matter how we did it, we got a win,” Dave Robertson said. “It probably would have been better if we won 6-0, but we still won. A win is a win. Nothing is easy in this league. Any time you can pick up a win, it’s good.”
• With one swing, Travis Hafner drove in more runs than the Yankees had scored in any of their past four games. His two-out, two-strike, three-run homer in the third inning seemed to provide a lift that went beyond the scoreboard. “Guys definitely loosened up after that, and it was good to have some fun there offensively in the third inning,” Hafner said. “Everybody was pretty pumped up. It seemed like it really relaxed everybody. Then Vern got a hit, and Lyle got a big hit, and Nixy. It really loosened people up.”
• Yes, Hafner called Jayson Nix, “Nixy.”
• Truth be told, Hafner had been as cold as anyone lately. “It was good to get a hit,” he said. “This road trip has been brutal for me the last few days. I’ve just been working hard the last couple of days and trying to get back to square one again. It was nice to have some success there and really put up four good at-bats today.”
• Hafner’s big hit, and the three hits that followed it, came two innings after the Yankees blew a two-on, no-out opportunity in the first inning. In that moment — from the outside — it seemed certain this was going to be another letdown. “I didn’t sense a lot of panic,” Lyle Overbay said. “We got second and third again, it’s like, ‘OK.’ We could have shut it down and not even given ourselves another chance. We gave ourselves another chance, and that’s what we’ve been doing so well. If it doesn’t happen, we’re going to give ourselves another chance. More times than not, it’s going to happen.”
• Five extra-base hits were the Yankees most since May 20. … Brett Gardner had another two-hit game, but his stolen base was only his second in his past 28 games. … Hafner’s home run was his first in his past 18 games against the Angels. Hadn’t homered against them since 2010. … Jayson Nix had the 12th three-hit game of his career and his first since April 7.
• CC Sabathia was terrific, but he said he didn’t argue when Girardi came to take him out of the game in the ninth. Sabathia had allowed a double and a walk and the Yankees were going to the bullpen. Sabathia shouted as he came off the mound, but he said that was directed at himself. “I was just more frustrated with leaving the runners on base,” Girardi said. “Joe has a job and he does it pretty good of knowing when guys are done and taking guys out, so I had not gripes with him. I was just frustrated with myself.”
• How did it feel to actually pitch with a lead? “It feels good, but at the same time, I told myself just to keep pitching and stay aggressive and keep attacking,” Sabathia said. “They scored five runs in the ninth. I didn’t want that to happen after we’ve been struggling, and for (the lineup) to put up five, I didn’t want it to go to waste.”
• Everyone seemed most impressed by Sabathia’s fastball command to both sides of the plate. “You know he’s going to give you a lot of distance if he’s doing that,” Girardi said. “I thought his changeup and slider were also effective today. He was in control the whole game.”
• Robertson’s comebacker hit him just above the right knee. He said it had no impact on his pitching. “I knew he hit it; it was loud,” Robertson said. “I had a pretty good idea it was coming at me. … Better than getting hit in the knee. It would have been even better if it turned into a double play ball.”
• Sabathia’s comebacker hit him in the belt.
• Final word goes to Hafner: “I don’t know if pressing is the word, we’ve just been struggling. Overall it’s a pretty loose group and we have fun playing, but just one of those stretches where the results weren’t there. … The guys that are here just have to play our best and win games. It’s kind of back to the original team out of spring training. We’ve got to go out there and play good baseball.”
Associated Press photos