Each time, Ichiro Suzuki’s first step was forward. On the fly ball in the top of the ninth, and again on the wild pitch in the bottom of the inning. Toward what seemed to be an innocent pop fly, and on his way to a no-doubt walk-off win.
“Anybody could make the read once that (wild pitch) got by him,” Ichiro said.
He then scanned the crowd of reporters gathered in front of his locker and noticed one of the Yankees broadcasters.
“Suzyn (Waldman) could have made it,” Ichiro said. “But I always prepare myself. I’m ready. I didn’t know it was going to come on that first pitch, but I was anticipating that to happen.”
What a perfectly stunning way to end this stunning four-game series, with the Yankees’ first walk-off wild pitch victory since 1977. And what a perfectly appropriate way to set up that game-winner, with Mariano Rivera blowing a two-inning save to cap a series of pitching blunders throughout the long weekend. Joe Girardi said he had no hesitation in using Rivera for six outs — something Girardi hadn’t done except in the playoffs since becoming Yankees manager — and Rivera said he was fully prepared for such an assignment.
“I’m holding nothing (back),” he said. “I’m not coming back next year. … I don’t think it’s a risk. You can do it or you cannot. You have to know how you feel. We are looking to go to the playoffs, and if we think it’s going to be a risk, why do it? I need to pitch if we’re going to the playoffs.”
Rivera threw 35 pitches, his most since June 23, 2010. He allowed two hits, pitching around a single in the eighth inning and then watching a routine fly ball become a game-tying home run in the ninth. Ichiro’s immediate reaction had been to come in toward the ball — “If the wind wasn’t blowing it would have been a pop-up in front of me,” he said — but Will Middlebrooks’ fly ball just kept carrying.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Rivera said when asked if he thought the ball was a home run off the bat. “When the ball got up in the air I said, well, that’s a pop up.”
It wasn’t. But a half inning later, Rivera was standing in front of the Yankees dugout laughing and celebrating Ichiro’s winning dash from third base. Everything about these past four days was fairly stunning, but perhaps most stunning of all was that the Yankees got through the weekend without completely destroying their playoff hopes. There’s not much time left, but the wild card hasn’t slipped away just yet.
• Random and unexpected postgame event: Today was rookie hazing day, with the first-year guys dressed as various pop music stars. Stealing the show was Kuroda’s translator Jiwon Bang as South Korean rapper Psy. Brett Marshall was dressed as Psy’s sidekick in the Gangnam Style music video, and those two came charging into the clubhouse doing the Gangnam Style dance side-by-side. It was outstanding.
• That picture is from the Yankees PR department by the way. From left to right: J.R. Murphy as Justin Bieber, Cesar Cabral as Rick James, Bang, Marshall, David Adams as Vanilla Ice and Preston Claiborne as Billy Ray Cyrus.
• For actual postgame news: Chris Stewart said he has strained ligaments on the top of his left foot. It might have happened trying to move out of the way of that hit by pitch. Nothing is broken, but he’s likely to miss a few games. His foot was throbbing after the first at-bat and he was having a hard time throwing. “I was able to get through it, get Hiro through the game, and that’s what we were trying to do,” Stewart said. “Get that done and get somebody else in there.”
• Also, Boone Logan said he got a cortisone injection yesterday. He’s hoping to be back by Friday’s series opener in Boston. Girardi said he’s hoping Dave Robertson — and possibly Logan — could be back during the upcoming Baltimore series. “Basically, Robertson and Logan are probably going to have three complete days off,” Girardi said. “They’ll play catch on the fourth day if we think they’re ready to play catch and go from there. I hope at some point, because it is a four-game series, that we get one or maybe both of them (in Baltimore).”
• Hiroki Kuroda allowed two runs through six innings, his fewest runs since eight scoreless on August 12 against hte Angels. “I wasn’t really sharp today, but if I hang in there, I knew our hitters were hitting well,” Kuroda said. “If I stayed resilient, I thought we had a chance.”
• Kuroda threw a season-high 117 pitches, giving the Yankees decent distance despite a high pitch count early. The Yankees badly needed him to go as long as possible. “We checked with Kuroda a little bit, but not too much,” Girardi said.
• Another big game from Robinson Cano who had three hits and two RBI. “I was ready from the beginning,” Cano said. “Thank God that I was able to give us two hits, the first one and the second one with men in scoring position. That’s what you want because they’ve scored a lot of runs. You want to score early. That’s what you want, you want to do the little things when men on base and you don’t want to do too much. You’re just trying to get a single. At least one run scored and thank God it was a double and two runs scored.”
• Cano has driven in at least one run in his past four bases-loaded plate appearances.
• Shawn Kelley made a strong return from his triceps issue. He got Dustin Pedroia in the seventh to avoid facing David Ortiz with runners on base. “It was huge,” Kelley said. “Obviously it’s kind of pick your poison there, because Pedroia is a good hitter. But Ortiz does what he does. So I was really trying to throw the perfect slider right there, really being behind in the count, and it worked out.”
• Ichiro on the stolen base in the ninth: “If I had an opportunity, I wanted to take it. I wasn’t going to go crazy and do something that wasn’t there. It wasn’t anything special. I just took what was there.”
• Final word goes to Ichiro: “Obviously if we lose this one today, it would have been a big hit mentally. It would have been tough, to be honest. But we did win, and hopefully we can take this win here, get on a run, and really use it to our advantage.”
Associated Press photos (plus one from the Yankees)