Just in case the past four days wiped your memory clean, it’s worth a reminder that the Yankees had lost their last five home games before going on an 11-game road trip leading into the All-Star break. Do the math, and it had been exactly three weeks since the Yankees last won a game at Yankee Stadium.
The winning pitcher for that most recent victory in the Bronx was Vidal Nuno.
Clearly the Yankees are trying to become a different team in the second half. They’ve shipped Nuno to Arizona, gotten Carlos Beltran back from his latest injury, and tonight they played a pretty good game for a much-needed win. The infield defense got sloppy in the fourth inning, but otherwise David Phelps pitched deep, the bullpen was dominant, and the supposed-to-be big bats delivered.
“I think if we’re healthy and we have good at-bats, we can score runs,” Carlos Beltran said. “As a player, you always want to do well. We’re competitive. We play every day. You want to start the right way all the time. You have to focus on (the fact that) the season is long and you have to believe in yourself, believe in your abilities.”
The Yankees are committed long-term to Beltran, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury. Replacing any one of them would be easier said than done, and the Yankees are going to need them to be productive in the second half if they’re going to keep winning games like this one to stay in the race.
“We know they’re accomplished hitters and we know that they’re going to contribute,” Joe Girardi said. “We believe they’re going to contribute big in the second half. It was nice to see Carlos (get two hits). He was swinging the bat pretty well, then he has that freak injury. To get a couple hits tonight, to get a big RBI, to get him going again is really important to our lineup.”
A lot of things are really important for this team. The rotation needs to give some distance to preserve the strength of the bullpen. The lineup needs to be productive to support that pieced together pitching staff. And the Yankees need to win at home to take advantage of the home-heavy schedule that remains. But ultimately…
“Wins are important,” Derek Jeter said, “regardless of where you’re playing.”
• Last time the Yankees won a Phelps start was nearly a month ago on June 19. In a nearly a month since then, Phelps had excited a start with the Yankees trailing only once. “He’s been great,” McCann said. “Huge pickup. Huge fill-in. And I don’t know if you even want to call him that. He could’ve easily won the spot out of spring training, but it’s really nice to have depth. It’s kind of what we expect.”
• Phelps hadn’t pitched in more than a week and said his stuff was pretty sloppy in the bullpen, but once the game started, his fastball command really carried him. “I didn’t feel like I had my best offspeed stuff,” he said. “But I was able to get back in some counts and put guys away with my fastball.”
• The secret weapon for keeping Phelps sharp? “Credit my brother-in-law who played catch with me over the break,” he said. “That was one thing that I was worried about is I wasn’t able to be on the mound these last four days, and it ended up working out.”
• Should have been an easier start for Phelps, but Brian Roberts botched a double play and Jeter couldn’t handle a bouncing grounder in the fourth. “Where he could have buckled in the inning when we made a couple of errors and shouldn’t have given up a run, he did a heck of a job,” Girardi said. “He kept throwing pitches and getting ground balls. He gave us distance and I thought he did a really good job there. It starts off with a single, we get a double play ball and we don’t turn it. A couple more errors. He did a really good job.”
• McCann on Phelps: “For me, pitching’s about location. It’s about executing pitches, setting guys up. And he’s been doing that as well as anybody. He’s got two different fastballs, he’s got a great slider, front door to righties. He can go anywhere he wants.”
• Speaking of McCann, he’s hitting .356 with three doubles and a home run over his last 11 games. He’s raised his season average from .220 to .239. “I’ve been feeling pretty good at the plate for the last 10 to 12 games so hopefully I can keep that up and drive in some runs,” McCann said.
• Two hits for Beltran in his return from the disabled list. “I feel good,” he said. “I think after I had that hit in the face, the next day I woke up feeling good. The team was concerned and just put me on the seven-day DL, making sure everything was well. I feel good.”
• Jeter made his 2,610th start at shortstop, surpassing Omar Vizquel for the most shortstop starts in Major League history (that’s from Elias). He’s hitting .333 in his past seven games at Yankee Stadium.
• Quite a bit of CC Sabathia talk in the clubhouse postgame after the Yankees officially announced that Sabathia’s season is finished and surgery is up ahead. Girardi acknowledged that, before the latest setback, the Yankees were lining Sabathia up to return before the break. “We thought we were going to get him back,” Girardi said. “He was throwing the ball, we had rehabbed him and gotten him up to 55 pitches. We had even talked about him throwing right before the All-Star break; we had kind of lined it up that way. It’s extremely unfortunate. The big thing is that we get him back healthy. Hopefully this surgery takes care of it and moving forward next year he gets his 32 starts.”
• Glass half full on Sabathia: “He’s young,” Beltran said. “So we’re hoping that he can recuperate soon and be ready for next year.”
• Final word goes to Ellsbury: “I think you always want to play well at home, and you feel you should play well at home. I think we’re going to. It’s definitely nice to get that win tonight, but hopefully we can come out tomorrow early afternoon and pickup another one.”
Associated Press photos