Tonight was the kind of night that makes you feel like the Yankees might just pull this off. They’ve been playing well of late, but seemed destined to lose against a tough lefty who always seems to give them trouble in White Sox ace Chris Sale. But once the Yanks were finally able to get Sale out of the game in the eighth, the magic started to happen.
“You knew you still needed a couple of big hits, but I’ve got to say, it was good to see him leave,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Their guys in their bullpen do a good job, but he’s just been so tough on us.”
Baseball is the type of game where momentum is usually only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, but if there is any situation where the good vibes could carry over, it’s this sort of late comeback. The Yankees pounded out five runs in the eighth once they got to the Chicago bullpen for a huge 6-4 win, and could move to just one and a half games out of the final wild card spot in the AL with a Tampa Bay loss tonight against the Los Angeles Angels.
You guys getting excited yet?
“It’s a great comeback, but every game is important. It’s like the playoffs,” said Eduardo Nunez, who broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth with a two-out, two-run double. “Now, we have to win tomorrow.”
• There’s a lot to talk about tonight, but let’s start with the most obvious — the five-run rally in the eighth. The White Sox were leading 4-1 entering the inning and Sale was cruising, but the Yankees were finally able to chase him with one out after Derek Jeter singled and Robinson Cano doubled to put runners on second and third. Nate Jones came on in relief and gave up a two-run single to Alfonso Soriano, which cut the Yankees deficit to 4-3. “I played him like four or five times, so I see the ball well against him. He throws a hard fastball,” Soriano said of Jones. “With the lineup that we have, when I get the hit, I think we have a chance.”
• Alex Rodriguez followed with a single to move Soriano to third, and then Curtis Granderson’s pinch-hit RBI single off of lefty Donnie Veal tied the game at 4-4. With the right-handed Jones still in the game and Vernon Wells coming up, Girardi went to Granderson and Chicago manager Robin Ventura countered with Veal. Some questioned the move, but I think that Girardi had to force Ventura’s hand there. Granderson has proven that he can do damage against lefties, and it paid off. “Grandy has been a guy that has put the ball in the air,” Girardi said. “He’s a guy that can hit some deep fly balls, and at least, you’re looking for a sac fly. Grandy has hit lefties, he’s hit home runs off of lefties, and I think they understand that, too. It’s a tough at-bat for a pitcher to face him in that situation.”
• After Mark Reynolds struck out for the second out of the inning, Nunez came through with a huge two-out double to complete the comeback and give the Yankees their 16th win in their last 23 games. “Don’t hit like I’m a power guy. I was looking for a single,” Nunez said of his thought process in that situation. “The first two pitchers were sliders. One was down the middle, and one was down. Then, I got a sinker in.”
• Nunez has caught a lot of grief over the years — whether it’s for his shaky defense or habit of losing his helmet while running the bases — but he’s been really good for the Yankees since coming off of the DL a month or so ago. His average is up over .250, and he’s come through with some big at-bats. Perhaps none bigger than tonight’s, but he doesn’t think that this teammates will let the glory last long. “For a couple of hours,” he said with a big smile. “They all like to laugh at me.”
• For the second consecutive game, the Yankees mounted a big rally without any help from the long ball. They’ve been criticized for their lack of home runs this season, but after being so reliant on homers in recent years, they’ve shown that they can score runs in a variety of ways. With a lot of guys healthy now, this lineup looks as versatile as it has in a long time. “It’s just grinding out at-bats and taking what they give you in a tough situation. And an important situation,” Girardi said. “Great at-bat by Sori, great at-bat by Al – I think they both got to two strikes. Grandy had two strikes. It was just one good at-bat after another.”
• Hiroki Kuroda’s start will get lost in the madness of the late comeback, but he still wasn’t quite where the Yankees would like him to be. He probably put out his best outing during this recent rough stretch, but he still allowed at least three earned runs for the fourth start in a row. He did wiggle out of a trouble in a few big spots — particularly in the first with back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning with the bases loaded — but he also gave up four runs on seven hits and two walks over 6 1/3 innings. If you’re looking for a positive, it’s that he generated some swings-and-misses with seven strikeouts. “I thought his stuff was better tonight, I did,” Girardi said. “The top of the order has been tough on him, and they were tough on him again tonight. But I thought his stuff was better, and that’s a good sign to me.”
• Very gutsy call from Girardi in the second to give the Yankees their first run. With weak-hitting catcher Chris Stewart up with runners on the corners and two outs, Girardi called for the double steal. Wells was safe at home and Nunez was safe at second, giving the Yanks their only run. Stewart, for those who may have missed it, grounded out.
• Jeter went 2 for 3, recording his 3,314th career with a third inning single to pass Eddie Collins for sole possession of ninth place on the all-time hits list. “It’s amazing what he’s accomplished, and obviously he’ll continue to move up,” Girardi said. “He has a big at-bat in that eighth inning to get the rally started. You can’t say enough great things about what he’s meant to this organization and this team, and what he’s done in his career.”
• In other news, Girardi announced after the game that David Huff will replace Phil Hughes in the rotation. Huff will start on Saturday against the Red Sox, while Hughes will be used out of the bullpen. Huff has been great in long relief since being called up, but he actually denied that this will be the biggest start of his career. In a bizarre take, he referred to his starts in the 2010 and 2011 Triple-A championship games while playing in the Cleveland Indians’ organization. “No, just probably another start. I’m just going to go out there and try to win a ballgame and put up some zeros. That’s it,” he said. “It’s always exciting, but I’ve got to go out there and do what I’ve always been doing, and that’s attacking the hitters and making them uncomfortable out there. If I get away from that, we’re going to have some issues.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “It’s a great win for us,” he said. “You think about what we’re fighting to do. We’re trying to gain ground on teams, and every game is important. Sale has been extremely tough on us. He was tough on us there, and Robby gets that big double that gets him out of the game. Then guys just put great at-bats on their relievers.”
Associated Press photos