That game had a little bit of everything, didn’t it?
Mariano Rivera blew a third consecutive save for the first time in his storied career, but his teammates picked him up with the long ball. Alex Rodriguez hit his first homer of the season in the second inning, Alfonso Soriano jacked one out for his 2,000th career hit in the fourth, and Brett Gardner provided the final blow in the ninth for a 5-4 walk-off win against the Detroit Tigers.
“Mo’s bailed us out quite a few times,” Gardner said after his second walk-off hit in three games. “It was big just to be able to get the win today. It doesn’t matter how it happened.”
The Yankees needed the win badly, that’s for sure. Gardner mentioned that he couldn’t remember the last time that they won a series, and it’s hard to blame him. You’d have to go all the way back to July 5-7, but they finally got back on the winning track against arguably the top team in the AL.
Their playoff hopes are still pretty far-fetched, but that shouldn’t diminish the value of one of the most exciting wins of the season.
“It’s a great win for us,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s extremely important because we had the lead, and we lost the lead. We’re going to be playing in our division a lot and we’re going to be playing a lot of good teams. We need to win games.”
• There’s a lot to talk about, but let’s start with perhaps the most surprising part about today. We’ve seen Rivera go through brief struggles occasionally in his career, but never before has he blown three saves in a row. While Girardi and Rivera’s teammates didn’t seemed the least bit concerned about the unprecedented skid, Rivera acknowledged that he has been having trouble with his location. He entered the game with a 4-2 lead, but gave up solo homers to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez to tie the game. “It’s not surprising. You’re talking about professional hitters,” Rivera said. “At the same time, I’m not putting the ball where I want it.”
• A loss today would have been as deflating as they get, but Gardner hit an absolute bomb into the second deck in right field before we even had much time to process the blown the save. “He threw me a first-pitch changeup, down and away,” Gardner said. “It was pretty close, but it was a ball. And then he gave me a good fastball to hit.”
• Before Rivera’s rough ninth inning, David Robertson had allowed a solo homer to Brayan Pena in the eighth to cut the Yankees’ lead to 4-2, but Gardner made a potentially game-saving play in center field. Torii Hunter hit a deep fly ball with a runner on, but Gardner made the catch before colliding into the wall. He went down hard, but had the wherewithal to roll the ball to Soriano, who relayed it to the infield for an inning-ending double play. “It just completely knocked the breath out of me,” Gardner said. “I didn’t get hurt at all. I knew Sori was coming over to play it in case the ball came off the wall. I kind saw him as I was going down, so I just rolled the ball in. I ended up fooling (Austin Jackson) on the bases. It worked out perfect.”
• Gardner might not have the flashiest numbers, but you can’t deny that he’s been one of the Yankees most consistent position players this season. He plays hard — as we’ve seen time after time when he gives up his body to chase balls down in the outfield — and just seems to have a grittiness about him. “He’s been outstanding for us,” Girardi said. “He’s had a really, really good year for us, and we need that to continue. We really missed him last year when he was hurt, and he’s had a chance to play everyday, and he’s been really good.”
• Prior to Rivera’s implosion, Rodriguez had been the story of the game. In his first at-bat, he took a 1-0 fastball from Justin Verlander and deposited it in the right field seats for his first homer since Sept. 14. “It felt good to get that first one out of the way,” the embattled third baseman said. “We definitely want to answer the bell against a guy like Verlander, and not let him get too comfortable. He’s one of the two or three best guys in the game, if not the best.”
• In the third inning, A-Rod came through again with a two-out RBI single down the first base line. He looked confused when the ball came off the bat and didn’t start running at first, which he attributed to rust because he said he thought he fouled it off into the upper deck. Still, the fact that he had two big hits off of one of the best right-handers in the game was an extremely encouraging sign. “I think all great pitchers, they have one thing in common – they attack you and throw strikes. No matter if they hit you, they come back at you the next time,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. I should get better, hopefully, everyday. Today was a step in the right direction.”
• A-Rod made an error in the third on a tough play, but he also made a few plays that you probably didn’t expect him to make. I noticed this morning when he came out early to take grounders that his arm looked strong, and he put it on display in the game. He definitely looks better physically than he did towards the end of last season, which was also evident based on the way he was able to turn on a pitch in his first at-bat and pull it out to left. “Too much tests,” he said with a laugh. “That’s always the case when you have Andy Pettitte pitching. Jeet and I usually get tons of work. Those are days we get ready for. Today was a good day all around. I felt pretty good.”
• Obviously, after he homered early in the game, many of the boos directed at A-Rod turned into cheers. He seemed to take notice. “I think the fans have been incredible. I said that yesterday,” he said. “You want to turn boos into cheers. You want to make them proud, and all you want is really an opportunity and a chance. I think New York always gives you that.”
• Pettitte only allowed one run, but he certainly didn’t give the team the type of length that he would like to. For the eighth consecutive start, he gave up a run in the first inning, which resulted in an elevated pitch count. He ended up allowing eight hits and three walks over 4 1/3 innings while striking out three. He threw 101 pitches, which isn’t exactly economical, but Girardi was pleased with the way that he battled. “I thought it was gritty,” Girardi said of the outing. “He was in trouble a lot, and figured out ways to get out of innings and only give up the one run. I thought it was extremely gritty on his part.”
• I’ll give the final word to A-Rod: “I had a couple days like this, but they were in Scranton and don’t count as much. Look, we’re going to fight all the way to the end. I like the way we’re playing. We lost a couple tough games here, but we’ve won a couple good ones, as well.”
Associated Press photos