Granted, the Yankees always beat up on the Twins. And yes, they’re 11-3 all-time at Target Field. And it’s true, the Twins are not very good this season. But think back to Monday when the Yankees had lost five in a row, giving themselves a legitimate chance of falling below .500 and into last place in the division before getting back to Yankee Stadium.
Four days ago, the Yankees did not look like a team capable of beating the Twins. Now the Yankees have won four straight and are heading home with some momentum heading into the final 10 games before the All-Star break.
“Wins are wins,” Travis Hafner said. “Every night you’re playing somebody good in baseball. I think we can take a lot away from this series, getting the wins and swinging the bats well.”
Here’s the part that seemed most infuriating about the Orioles series: The Yankees had scoring opportunities in those games, and only one of them got truly out of reach. The Yankees were left shaking their heads, trying to answer for an offense that seemed incapable of taking advantage or battling back.
Then they came from behind on Monday night, taking the lead with a three-run eighth and burying the Twins with a four-run ninth. They scored in big bunches again on Tuesday, then came from behind again on Wednesday. Today they grabbed an early lead with a three-run first, then put the game away with a four-run sixth. And this time they did it with no significant help from hitless Robinson Cano.
“There’s a lot of momentum that’s involved when it comes to a lineup,” Vernon Wells said. “You get guys getting some key hits, and it’s different guys throughout the lineup. Obviously Robbie had a great series for us, but today we allowed him to take a day off and not have to carry us. That’s the important thing, just to have different guys doing it. If we’re able to do that like we did in April, we’ll win our share of games.”
Does a four-game sweep in Minnesota mean the offense woes are over? Of course not. But it’s obviously a good sign, and a good opportunity heading back to Yankee Stadium for a rematch against the Orioles. The Yankees looked completely lost four days ago, but this week they did exactly what a good team should do against a struggling team like the Twins.
“Baltimore was frustrating because we really had a chance to win a couple of games there and we weren’t able to do it,” Joe Girardi said. “We hadn’t won a series in a while so I think it was pretty important. … After some disappointing games in Baltimore, we win all kinds of different games here. It’s encouraging. We swung the bats well here and that’s encouraging.”
• If you haven’t already, check out Bob Nightengale’s story on Alex Rodriguez’s rehab. “I know people think I’m nuts,” Rodriguez told USA Today. “I know most people wouldn’t want the confrontation. Most people would say, ‘Get me out of here. Trade me. Do anything.’ But I’m the (expletive) crazy man who goes, ‘I want to compete. I want to stay in New York. I refuse to quit.’ Maybe it’s stupidity, I don’t know, but I’m wired to compete and give my best. I have a responsibility to be ready to play as soon as I can.”
• Cano snapped his streak of six straight games with multiple hits — he went 0-for-4 with a sac fly — but Wells has now had multiple hits in his past two starts. That’s a bit of a step forward for a guy who was completely lost not so long ago. He had three RBI in the first three innings today. “I think the swings are better,” Wells said. “The things that K-Long and I are working on, we’ll keep working on them, keep taking several swings until it’s as comfortable as it can be. The biggest thing is, you get results, you’re happy. You want to make sure you continue doing what you’re working on. He’s critiquing each and every swing and so far it comes back with a thumbs-up.”
• Speaking of slumping guys who are hitting better, Hafner went 3-for-4, his first three hit game since April 30. “Probably my last six or seven at-bats is probably about as good as I’ve felt in a long time,” Hafner said. “So at this point, it’s just about consistency, and hopefully keep that going and keep swinging it well.”
• Ichiro Suzuki was a home run short of the cycle. Was he planning to go for it that last at-bat? “Look at my arms,” Ichiro said. “I don’t think I had a chance. Maybe an inside-the-park home run.”
• Another multi-hit game for rookie Zoilo Almonte who went 6-for-18 during this four-game series. He’s locking himself in as an everyday player at this point. He’s reached base in six of his past seven games.
• David Phelps was far, far, far from excited after the game. That is to say, he was happy — “It’s a big league win, no matter how you look at it,” he said — but he was clearly disappointed by that seventh inning, which really forced a good start to end on a sour note. “It was frustrating,” Phelps said. “Go out for the seventh and give up three hits. Got to do better than that.”
• Through the first six innings, Phelps did do better than that. His only run allowed in those innings was the first of two Justin Morneau home runs. It was a significant improvement after his previous start in Baltimore.
• One specific thing that bothered Phelps is the same pitch that bothered him against the Orioles. “My curveball’s still got to be sharper,” he said. “The home run was on a curveball. I gave up an 0-2 pitch to, I think it was Hicks, on a curveball. Got to get back to trusting it and bouncing it when I need to.”
• Bottom line for Phelps, he was given an early lead, and he never gave it up. The Yankees scored three runs in the first, and Phelps didn’t allow a run until the fourth. “That’s when you really want to put up a zero,” he said. “You want to get us back and hitting as soon as possible. You’ve got a chance to really put your foot on their throat right there early. We did a good job of that today.”
• Final word goes to Wells. “I think our offense as group, we were glad to see June go away and July start. The important thing is scoring runs and adding runs on, taking advantage of mistakes. We’re getting pitches up in the zone and we’re not missing them. This is obviously a good thing heading back home, where we can obviously do some damage in our park.”
Associated Press photos