From his spot at third base, Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t sure what just happened. He knew something looked wrong about Anibal Sanchez’s throw to the plate, but he couldn’t analyze the particulars. He was concentrating on something else.
“I was planning on going if he had continued to roll through his motion,” Ellsbury said. “I haven’t looked at the replay, but I think they said maybe because he stepped off in the middle of his motion. Something just didn’t look quite right, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure.”
It was a balk, an awkward one at that as Sanchez started his delivery and then seemed to notice Ellsbury farther off third base than usual.
“When you’re in those shifts, sometimes it’s not what a pitcher’s used to seeing, a guy so far down the line,” Joe Girardi said. “You have to prepare for it.”
Ellsbury was prepared, all right. He was set on trying on steal home. Or at least, as set on the idea as he ever is.
“You can’t really say, ‘I’m going to go,’ because if you don’t get a big-enough lead (it won’t work),” Ellsbury said. “In the past, I didn’t know until I went that I was going to go. It’s not predetermined. There are a lot of variables. … I was getting ready to go. I initially took off, then he stepped off and I stopped. I was like, ‘Whoa!’”
There was no call initially, but third-base coach Rob Thomson and hitter Chase Headley immediately signaled for some sort of call – “I was like, ‘You can’t do that!’” Headley said — and Girardi said the Yankees were screaming from the bench.
“(Sanchez) started his delivery and then stepped off the rubber to throw home,” umpire Gerry Davis explained. “I took a couple seconds to process what I saw. I wanted to be sure he had started his delivery before I made the call.”
It was a balk that brought in the Yankees’ tying run, a run they needed to finish off a wildly successful week in Tampa Bay and Detroit. And while the balk itself scored that run, it was Ellsbury who set up the situation with his speed and ability to get one base. The Yankees had only three hits today, but Ellsbury was on base three times and turned two of those opportunities into runs. He got into scoring position once with a stolen base and once with a hustle double.
“That’s what he can do,” Girardi said. “He creates and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. He’s going to take advantage of the extra base when he can. He did it today, and it paid off a lot.”
• Five days after his seven shutout innings against Tampa Bay, Masahiro Tanaka was terrific again this afternoon. And this time he did it against one of the best lineups in the American League. “I’m really satisfied with the way I was pitching today,” Tanaka said. “To put it in perspective, I’m as satisfied as I was pitching against Tampa.”
• What made Tanaka good today? “Location,” Brian McCann said. “That’s it. I feel like when he’s hitting the mitt, he’s really hard to hit. He had everything going. He had the cutter going, the sinker in, he had the split obviously – I feel like it’s always there. He got a lot of early count outs, which I think is a big deal for him to pitch deep into ballgames.”
• It was really cold today, and last night we saw what cold can do to a pitcher, but Tanaka was sharp. “Actually, I spent my high school years in a really cold area,” Tanaka said. “So as I was pitching I was remembering about those days.
• The Yankees had three hits today. Ellsbury obviously had one of them. Petit, believe it or not, had one of them. And Chris Young, of course, had one of them. Young is hitting .357. He struck out twice, so this clearly wasn’t one of his better games, but he still did what most guys couldn’t.
• Good defensive game by Headley at third, and a nice play by Gregorio Petit to get a force out on a low throw from Headley to second. “When you get late in the game, you know every run’s a premium,” Headley said. “Obviously I was able to stop it and Gregorio made an unbelievable pick. I threw it straight into the ground. I thought we were going to have a chance to turn the double play, and Cespedes really got down the line, so I hurried the throw and he picked us up over there.”
•Why did Dellin Betances go with nothing but breaking balls in that key at-bat in the seventh? “In that situation, first and third with two outs, I’m trying to go with the best pitch I can throw right there,” Betances said. “I rely on my breaking ball to get big outs. I’m going off McCann, whatever he calls.”
• Girardi said there was no thought of leaving Betances in to face the middle of the Tigers’ lineup in the ninth. “I just think we were able to do it last year, but we had to give him two days off, three days off,” Girardi said. “I’d like to have him available as much as possible, and with all the other strong arms we have down there, I feel we can do that.”
• Another strong save by Andrew Miller, who sent down the heart of the order, starting with a strikeout against Miguel Cabrera. And Cabrera didn’t look good in that at-bat either. “I hate to say overmatched,” Headley said. “But you don’t see him take a lot of bad swings and swing at bad pitches. He’s the best for a reason. That just shows what Andrew’s capable of.”
• Is this the best bullpen Girardi’s ever had? “We have as much power as I’ve ever had in this bullpen,” Girardi said. “And it has a chance to be really special. I’m trying to think of the bullpens that I’ve been a part of. As a player I was with some pretty good ones here, and as a manager, but we have as much power as we’ve ever had.”
• Final word goes to Girardi answering the question, were the Yankees as bad as they looked the first week? “I didn’t think so,” Girardi said. “Did we play bad? Yeah. I mean, we played very poorly, and I said that I think this team is much better than what we played. And (the team) came out on this road trip and showed that we can play baseball, and we can win different types of games. We won one-run games. We had a couple of big offensive explosions on certain days. So we won a lot of different types of games. But we weren’t too good the first week.”
Associated Press photos