When asked how big Sunday’s 7-4 walk-off win to complete a series sweep of the Chicago White Sox was for the Yankees, Ichiro Suzuki simply smiled and extended his hands out as far as he could.
No words necessary. The gesture pretty much said it all.
Four days ago, the outlook for the Yankees was bleak as they lost the first two games of the homestand to the lowly Houston Astros. But Brian McCann’s first walk-off homer as a Yankee gave them their fourth straight win to keep them in the playoff hunt with 34 games to play.
“It was special,” McCann said. “Rounding the bases, that was definitely a moment that I’ll never forget. I’ve been able to do some cool things in the game, and that ranks right up there.”
On a day with a few different heros for the Yankees, Ichiro and McCann had the two biggest hits.
Ichiro’s came in the sixth inning, when his two-out, two-run single gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead and completed the comeback against one of the most dominant pitchers in the game in Chris Sale. In the 10th, it was McCann’s turn, as his two-out, pinch-hit homer provided the fatal blow.
Biggest win of the season? Joe Girardi seemed to think so.
“I think so,” he said. “Considering who we were facing, we got down 3-0, we were able to comeback, they tie it up, and then we get the big hit to win the game – yeah, I think that’s fair to say.”
• This is the type of game where it makes sense to work backwards. Let’s start in the 10th, where two very good two-out at-bats turned out to be the difference in the game. The first came from Carlos Beltran, who doubled into the left-center field gap to keep hope alive. Chase Headley was intentionally walked to get to Francisco Cervelli, but Cervi never made it to the dish. Girardi called on McCann — one of a handful of Yankee starters that swing the bat left-handed who were given the day off against Sale — and he worked the count before pounding one into the right field seats. “It was awesome,” McCann said. “To come off the bench – and pinch-hitting isn’t the easiest thing to do – so to lay off some tough pitches and to get a pitch up in the zone and not miss it with the game on the line was really special. … There isn’t a better feeling than a walk-off hit.”
• McCann said that he had been staying loose at the indoor batting cage all game, knowing that his number could be called in the late innings. “I was just down there getting loose throughout the game just in case my number was called, and it was,” he said. “I had the right scouting report and I went up there with a game plan.”
• In the previous inning, Girardi had elected to use Stephen Drew as a pinch-hitter before calling on McCann. I think anyone would rather have McCann up over Drew, but since he was replacing second baseman Brendan Ryan, Girardi said it made more sense to save McCann. “No, because I would have to use two players,” he said when asked if he considered McCann in that spot. “And I had a feeling that they might walk him anyway.”
• David Robertson blew just his third save of the season on a homer that likely stays in any other ballpark. Avisail Garcia hit a liner on the first pitch of the inning that barely made it over the right field fence to tie the game at 4-4, putting the Yankees on the verge of a crushing defeat. “It’s obviously a pitch that I want back,” Robertson said. “I tried to throw a curveball for a strike. I didn’t mean to hang it as bad as I did. I didn’t see that outcome coming, but I have to be a little bit better with the first pitch.”
• This was Robertson’s third straight appearance, so it’s safe to say that he won’t be available tomorrow in Kansas City. Any regrets about using him today? “If he tells me he’s OK, I’m going to use him,” Girardi said. “Now, I won’t use him tomorrow.”
• Chris Capuano was solid again, but he gave up two homers that amounted to three runs for the White Sox. The second from Conor Gillaspie put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole. “Again, he gave us six innings and did a nice job,” Girardi said of Capuano. “He kept us in the game, and he’s done his job.”
• Sale looked dominant early, but he began to lose his command in the sixth and the Yankees took advantage. An error from left fielder Dayan Viciedo put Martin Prado on second with one out, and he would score on Mark Teixeira’s RBI double down the third base line. That’s when Sale began to make mistakes. Two walks to Beltran and Cervelli loaded the bases, and then Zelous Wheeler was hit by a pitch to make it 3-2. From there, Ichiro – the only left-handed batter to start for the Yankees against Sale – came through with a clutch two-out single to put the Yankees on top 4-3. “I wouldn’t have swung if I wasn’t being aggressive right there,” Ichiro said of swinging at the first pitch. “Obviously, every at-bat against (Sale) is difficult.”
• While it probably gets overlooked after such a dramatic win, David Huff did a very nice job in the 10th after Robertson’s blown save. With two men on and two outs, Huff went right after Jose Abreu — far and away Chicago’s best hitter — and struck him out looking to preserve the tie. “It was extremely impressive,” Girardi said. “He made a bunch of really good pitches. It looked like he threw a cut-fastball in, a fastball in and then he painted him away. And it’s a really good hitter. We talked about, ‘If you get behind him, don’t worry about it. We’ll walk him and take our chances with the next guy. But don’t give him anything to hit.’ ”
• After the game, McCann referred to the meeting that the team held a few days ago during the Astros series. Not sure exactly what was said, but it sounds like the point got across. “I feel like one through nine, the at-bats have been a lot better than they were about three or four games ago,” McCann said. “We all came together as a team. Kevin Long had some things to say, and we’ve responded really well.”
• It’s really difficult to overstate how big these last four games have been. Let’s face it: the Astros and the White Sox aren’t very good. Had the Yankees gone 2-4 or even 3-3 on this homestand heading into a tough road trip, their playoff hopes would have been all but crushed. And while they remain three and a half games back of Seattle for the second wild card spot in the AL — the Mariners just keep winning — it certainly could have been much worse. “It’s a lot different because we’re chasing teams and we need to win,” Girardi said. “I said that we need to win series, and when you don’t win a series, you have to make up for it. We were able to have a 4-2 homestand, which is pretty good, and we need to go and have a good road trip.”
• How different is the feeling in the Yankees’ clubhouse now compared to earlier in the week? “That’s the thing about the game – you can change the mindset on a daily basis,” Girardi said. “We don’t have to wait a week to play. We don’t have to wait two or three days to play. We’re out there the next day, and that’s why as players, you try to stay even as much as you can because you can change the script the next day.”
• Final word goes to McCann: “I think the last three games going into today, we’ve been playing really good baseball. Then to get a win like today, it gives you momentum, and that’s how you sustain long winning streaks,” he said. “Winning cures everything. When you win, the atmosphere is better – everything is better.”
Associated Press photos