“If I don’t want him to get to third, I’m not giving him the green light. And that’s what I tell my guys:
‘If I give you the green light, I want you to get to the next base, if you can.’ ”
The message came from the bench, a green light after Alfonso Soriano’s one-out double in the 11th. It was risky, but Rays reliever Jamey Wright is a big man with a slow delivery. And Soriano might not steal 40 in a season any more, but he can still run. It was a risk worth taking, in a game when Girardi had already burned through nearly his entire bench, all of his go-to relievers, and used Dave Robertson for two innings for the first time this season.
“Each day that ticks off, we got to make up more ground,” Girardi said. “This is obviously one of the teams we’re chasing, and this place has been a tough place for us to win. You’re making a lot of moves. … You get into these tight games, you’re going to have to do some things. We tried a few things, and it worked out.”
Soriano said his first thought was to wait until Wright’s second pitch. He wanted to see one pitch to get a better feel for the situation, but that plan changed when Wright looked to second base twice before throwing his first pitch.
“When he looked twice, I just changed my mind to go (on the first pitch) because most pitchers, they’re not going to look three times,” Soriano said. “So when he looked twice, and he looked home, I just took off because 99 percent (of the time) when they look twice, they’re going home.”
Soriano guessed right. After two checks, Wright threw home, and despite a bad jump — “I kinda went, uh-oh,” Girardi said — Soriano was clearly safe on a close play. It made all the difference, opening Curtis Granderson’s at-bat to only one goal of getting the ball into the outfield. He said he never even considered trying to hit to the opposite field to take advantage of the extreme shift. In that moment, a sac fly was all he needed and all he wanted.
“We needed a win so bad,” Robinson Cano said. “Nothing you want less than to get swept here.”
There was no sweep, and if Girardi’s message to Soriano was silent and subtle, the Yankees message to the American League was loud and clear: They’re not finished just yet, and they’re ready and willing to get aggressive to stay in this wild card race.
“This group has been resilient,” Girardi said. “I’ve said it all year long. People have wrote us off a few times, and they find a way to bounce back, and that’s what we did today.”
• Weird start for Ivan Nova who allowed 12 base runners — twelve! — but pitched into the seventh inning and limited the Rays to just two runs because of three double plays and two runners caught stealing. “Even when I was behind in the count, I made some good pitches and got some big ground balls, some double plays,” Nova said. “That helps. … Even though I walked six guys, I got to the seventh inning and I gave the team a chance to win the game. I’m not worried about that. That’s personal. We needed a win, and we got it today.”
• Nova’s biggest problems came with Evan Longoria at the plate. Longoria homered in three straight games this series. In his career, he’s hit 23 homers against the Yankees, more than he’s hit against any other team. “I made a mistake with a curveball,” Nova said. “I think if I bounce it, he has no chance with it. You have to give him credit. He’s hot. He’s a tremendous hitter.”
• Mariano Rivera finished the game with his 38th save of the season. He’ll finish his career with 37 saves at Tropicana Field, the most ever by a Rays opponent. Next on the list is Jonathan Papelbon with 10. Including Rays pitchers, Rivera’s save total at the Trop ranks fourth all time at the ballpark.
• That said, the Yankees have had some trouble at this stadium. How did Rivera feel about playing his final game here? “You don’t see me crying,” he said.
• Robertson’s first two-inning appearance of the year: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K. He needed 28 pitches.
• Three-hit game for Robinson Cano including his 27th homer of the year and the Yankees first two RBI of the night. He is 7-for-19 lifetime against Alex Cobb, with four of those hits going for extra bases. He’s reached base in 31 of his past 60 plate appearances.
• Ichiro was bunting on his own in the 10th. “He’s trying to get a base hit,” Girardi said. “He’s bunting for a hit. It’s not the worst thing in the world if you get first and third and Robbie Cano coming up, because then they’re probably going to pitch to him.”
• When Joba Chamberlain came in, the plan was to have him face only those two batters no matter what. Girardi was going to Boone Logan to face David DeJesus — or more likely force the Rays to use a pinch hitter, which they did — and to force Ben Zobrist to bat right-handed.
• Great base running won the game for the Yankees, but bad base running cost them when Cano was thrown out trying to stretch an RBI double. Girardi called it a bad read. “That was my fault,” Cano said. “I shouldn’t have gone.”
• Alex Rodriguez getting doubled off in the 10th was more bad luck than a bad read. “You’re trying to get a jump to score,” Girardi said. “They’re not playing deep on Ich. He hits a line drive to the pitcher. There’s not much you can do about that.”
Interesting comment from Soriano about his only concern going for the steal: “My leg is not loose 100 percent,” he said. “Being DH, being on the bench, sometimes my mind is 100 percent but my legs are not. … My mind was ready, but my legs, it’s like 80 percent and my mind 100 percent because I just play DH, my body is not warm.”
• Final word to Rivera: “It’s important to win the game. It’s important to win games, period. It’s not about just avoiding a sweep. We need to win. That’s what we come here for every day; to win.”
Associated Press photos