The Yankees aren’t out of this American League Championship Series just yet. Today they played a complete game, their first truly complete game of the series: Starting pitching. A few timely hits. A few extra-base hits. Aggressive base running. Dominant relief pitching. Today, the Yankees played like a team actually capable of winning a World Series.
Next up, Phil Hughes gets a second chance in Texas.
“Same as CC,” Jorge Posada said. “Loation is important, and execute the pitches that we are going to call. Obviously we are going to go through a nice game plan and hopefully we can execute that. We haven’t been able to until today.”
Of all the things that went right today, it was CC Sabathia who stood front and center. It was a start that reminded me of Andy Pettitte: Huge pitches at key moments in a game that Yankees literally had to win.
“I just felt like I wanted to keep them in it and give us a chance to win,” Sabathia said. “The first two starts of the postseason, I just felt like I wasn’t able to do that. We ended up winning the games, but you know, tonight I just felt like I made some pitches when I needed to.”
The two best examples: The Josh Hamilton double play in the fifth inning, and the Mitch Moreland strikeout to end the sixth. Both came with two runners on base, when a big hit would have let the Rangers right back in the game.
“I think it starts with your starting pitcher,” Joe Girardi said. “Putting up zeros and getting a couple of runs early. I think that’s momentum. Because when you look at both of these clubs, there’s a lot of talent out there. And if you don’t make your pitches, or you don’t hit the pitches you should, no matter what kind of momentum you have, you’re probably not going to win the game.”
• What did Lance Berkman hurt the most on that tumble in foul territory? “My pride,” he said. “No, it felt like I got lit up in football. I initially thought I’d hit my head. I was looking up at the ball and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back looking up at the sky.”
• Berkman was wearing plastic spikes when he fell, then switched to his metal spikes. Yankee Stadium’s foul territory is notoriously slick — one player said it was like running from grass to ice — and Berkman wasn’t expecting it. He said he stood through most of the game, and sitting for a four-hour flight won’t be pretty. “They may have to carry me off the plane,” he said.
• Sabathia said one of the biggest adjustments since Game 1 was hit ability to stay tall over the rubber. He said Posada came to the mound more than once to let him know he was starting to fall. That helped him keep his mechanics together.
• Posada on his base running that led to a run: “I pretty much thought that Francoeur is going to go home and try to take advantage and try to get to third base, even if they were coming towards me. Get that run to score. And the ball gets away, and you know, I don’t see anybody back there, because obviously he was backing up home plate. As soon as the ball hit, I was like, oh, God, and I got lucky and he threw it away.”
• Posada took some grief from the dugout for his running. “I don’t know if there was ‘guys’ (giving a hard time),” he said. “I know Derek was all over me.” Girardi said there were some, “giggles on the bench when they saw Jorge running and running.”
• Robinson Cano on the reaction to seeing Posada run like that: “We always make fun of him.”
• Cano hit his fourth home run of the series, twice as many as his teammates combined. Fans have been chanting MVP when he comes to the plate, and Cano has been listening. “Oh, you can’t avoid the fans,” Cano said. “They are really loud and like I said, just focus on the game and we can’t afford to lose the game. Just go out there and give what I got and try to win the game.
• Kerry Wood said he almost never tries to pick off twice in a row at second base. For whatever reason, he did it tonight and even he was surprised to catch Elvis Andrus napping. “When his (Andrus) game is flowing, he thinks he’s invincible,” Ron Washington said. “So you know, right there we got three, four, five coming. You want to be very careful. Sometimes our game does that to us, but we are not going to stop playing it.”
• Phil Hughes threw in the bullpen during the game, but it was just a regular side session to prepare for Wednesday. Chad Moeller said he was laughing at the idea of a full stadium thinking Hughes was on his way into the game.
• Cano and Nick Swisher went back-to-back in the third inning. It was the 12th time Yankees hitters hit back-to-back home runs in the postseason, including one back-to-back-to-back. The last time was the 2000 ALCS when Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez did it.
• Sabathia is the sixth pitcher to ever allow 11 or more hits and allow no more than two runs in a playoff game.
• Cano snapped Mark Teixeira’s streak of 22 straight Yankees playoffs games as the No. 3 hitter. That was the third longest such streak in team history behind Babe Ruth’s 20 straight from 1922 to 1932. That sort of streak means a little less these days.
Associated Press photos of Sabathia, Berkman and Cano
Postgame notes: When it all went wrong • 10.20.10
From the moment Mark Teixeira went down, everything about this game took a turn for the worse for the Yankees. That fifth inning had started with a one-run lead. A.J. Burnett looked pretty good, the Yankees had scored in each of the past three innings, and Teixeira came to the plate with two on and no outs. He hit a ground ball to the left side, and that’s when the night unraveled.
The Yankees first baseman is finished until next year. The MRI showed a Grade 2 strain. “In this case, doctors said it’s probably six to eight weeks,” Teixeira said. “The season is only going to be hopefully two weeks longer, so it’s not good.”
It’s obviously what Teixeira was trying to do. He’d nearly hit into a double play, and he was trying to avoid that, give himself some chance of rebounding from brutal first three games of this series.
In so many ways, the Teixeira injury was the beginning of the end for the Yankees. Maybe it was more symbolic than anything, but from moment Teixeira went down trying to beat out that double play ball, the Yankees night just kept getting worse. “I didn’t hear a pop,” he said. “But I definitely felt it. I knew. I knew right away it wasn’t good.”
It was a bad moment in every way possible. That at-bat started with a double play being the worst-case scenario. It became even worse than that. Ever since that eight-inning rally in Game 1, the Yankees at 3-for-33 with runners in scoring position.
Molina’s home run
One half inning after Teixeira went down, Molina went deep. It was a first pitch fastball from Burnett. “All night I stayed away from the righties and I missed away,” Burnett said. “That’s the only one I leaked over.”
To that point, Burnett had been pitching pretty well. The Rangers didn’t have an extra-base hit against him, and their only runs had scored in an inning in which they never got the ball out of the infield. “We liked the way A.J. was throwing the ball,” Joe Girardi said. “… He was throwing hte ball good and we decided to leave him in.”
Burnett said he was surprised to get the call from the dugout to intentionally walk David Murphy. Then again, “If I make that pitch to Molina then you don’t have to ask that question,” he said. Girardi said he liked the matchup of Burnett against Molina more than Burnett against Murphy, who has hit right-handers pretty well this season and had a home run off Phil Hughes in Game 2. “We liked the matchup, A.J. against Molina,” Girardi said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
The bullpen’s implosion
The game actually got worse from there. Dave Robertson was the worst of the Yankees relievers in Game 3. Tonight he was the only one who gave the team a chance.
All told, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain and Sergio Mitre combined for five earned runs in 2.1 innings. Girardi said he didn’t want to use Mariano Rivera because he wanted to have him for multiple innings in Game 5. “If we didn’t score, we talked about tomorrow might be a day to use Mo for six outs,” Girardi said.
Josh Hamilton hit his third and fourth home runs of this series. He’s now homered off of ever left-handed pitcher on the Yankees roster, plus he took Mitre deep just for kicks. Nelson Cruz also went deep off Mitre. The Rangers were 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position tonight. The Yankees were 2-for-13, and stranded the bases loaded in the eighth.
“We just have not been able to get the big hit,” Girardi said. Texas has gotten plenty of them. The Yankees have gotten enough to win one game.
• Girardi didn’t say so, but Berkman said he’s expecting to play first base tomorrow. The Yankees are also expected to activate Eduardo Nunez.
• Just like Andy Pettitte on Monday, Burnett was undone by one bad pitch. “He did a good job,” Derek Jeter said. “You couldn’t ask for him to do much better. We had our opportunities to score some more runs.”
• Brett Gardner said there was “no doubt” he would have caught that ball knocked away by a fan in the stands. Given the situation, that would have been a massive turning point had Hamilton done anything other than make an out.
• The Yankees will turn to their ace to try to keep them alive in Game 5. “We have a very good starter on the mound tomorrow,” Girardi said. “CC has been there for us all year long. He’s been there for us the last two years, and I expect CC to be tough tomorrow.”
• Umpire Jim Reynolds on the Cano home run: “From the angle I had, I was very confident that the ball was in the stands.” Reynolds said Ron Washington did not ask for a review.
• Gerry Davis on the possible HBP on Swisher: “We looked at it. Obviously in Angel’s judgment the ball had not hit him, and we looked at the replay, and even from different angles, it’s inconclusive.”
• ESPN New York is reporting that the fan who ran onto the field last night was trying to attack Alex Rodriguez. But that’s only the beginning of the madness. The whole thing apparently had something to do with Cameron Diaz.
• The Captain gets the final word again. He always talks about keeping things simple, and this is pretty simple. “At this point they’ve been a lot better than us,” Jeter said. “… We have to win a game. We can’t worry about winning three. Three doesn’t mean anything unless you win one.”
Associated Press photos of Teixeira, Burnett, Chamberlain and Gardner
Marcus Thames has odd career numbers against Cliff Lee. Thames is a career .147 hitter with 15 strikeouts against the Rangers ace, but of his seven hits, three have been home runs and two have been doubles. Thames has a career .500 slugging percentage against Lee.
There is a lot of good and a lot of bad in those numbers, and in some ways, that makes Thames exactly the kind of hitter the Yankees want in the lineup tonight.
“The guy’s got good stuff, but when he’s made some mistakes, Marcus has got him,” Girardi said. “We talk about a guy that, when he makes mistakes, you’ve got to get him. Marcus is that type of guy.”
The Yankees have a patient lineup. Brett Gardner is off-the-charts patient. Nick Swisher is patient. Girardi singled out Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada as hitters who show quite a bit of patience from time to time. Against Lee, Girardi said, those hitters need a slightly different approach.
The Yankees plan to be more aggressive tonight. Not aggressive to the point of always swinging at the first pitch, but to the point of always being ready to swing at the first pitch.
“We have guys that will go up, take a pitch and try to work the count,” Girardi said. “When we say ‘Be aggressive,’ it’s being ready to hit the first pitch. If it’s not your pitch, don’t swing at it. But just be ready to hit the first pitch… Chances are you’re not going to get (a seven-pitch at-bat) off of him.”
The Yankees came from behind against Lee back in August. The rallied a little bit against him in Game 5 of last year’s World Series. How did they do that?
“We had good at-bats,” Girardi said.
• Girardi has not decided who will catch A.J. Burnett tomorrow. “We’ll worry about that tomorrow,” he said.
• Any chance he changes his mind about the Yankees Game 4 starter? Girardi laughed. “We are on rotation is probably the easiest way for me to put it,” he said.
• Lance Berkman is a career .375/.375/.625 hitter in eight career at-bats against Lee, but Girardi said he never considered taking Thames out of the lineup. “Marcus has been our DH against lefties this whole time,” Girardi said. “He’s done a good job. I don’t see any reason why we would change.”
• While he stood by his decision to go with Burnett in Game 4, Girardi said A.J.’s somewhat wild sim game might have been a product of his time off. “I think it played into it,” Girardi said. “The only thing he had done was some light bullpens. He couldn’t really get the work he would normally get in between starts because he was active in the bullpen for us. He couldn’t throw a 35-40 pitch side session, because he wouldn’t have been available the next day for us.”
• Ron Washington said he went with Mitch Moreland at first base today, “Simply because of the at-bats he’s been giving me, how he’s been hanging in there.”
• Washington, doing his best John Sterling impression: “You are very reassured that you have a guy like Cliff Lee, but as I said, it’s tough to predict baseball. You can have your very best out there and things don’t go your way. You can always do things right in this game, and you still get bad results.”
• The Yankees have been pitching very carefully to Josh Hamilton ever since Hamilton homered in his first at-bat of this series. “We all know the numbers he put up against right-handed pitchers,” Girardi said. “He hit over .400 from June to August, and those three months are probably as good as any player has ever had. You have to be careful.”
• Girardi talked pregame with Hal Steinbrenner. He said the conversation was nothing out of the ordinary, just a general chat about the state of the team. “It was a good conversation,” Girardi said.
• Have the Yankees always had the POW/MIA flag, the Purple Heart flag and the City of New York flag at the top of the stadium in right field? They’re there now, which seems new, but I might simply have never noticed them.
• Tino Martinez is here to throw out the first pitch.
Associated Press photos of Cano, and of Martinez with Reggie Jackson
Right now, Lance Berkman and the Yankees are a perfect fit. The Yankees need a designated hitter against right-handed starters, and Berkman needs a place where his veteran bat won’t be wasted on a middle-of-the-pack, no-longer-playing team in the National League Central. Last night was a perfect example of just how well the two fit together.
But this might not be a long-term match.
“I don’t like to platoon,” Berkman told Brian Heyman this afternoon. “If I was the manager, I would platoon me because I’ve been so bad right-handed this year, but I don’t think that’s a permanent problem. I’ve never been as good right-handed as I have left-handed, but I certainly can be a lot more competitive than I’ve been this year. And I like to play everyday. The DH is great, but I like to play the field. I feel like I’ve got something to offer still defensively. I’m not saying I won’t consider coming back as a DH. But I like to play.”
There’s a lot of honesty in those 100 words. Berkman has a $15 million club option for next season, and it’s hard to imagine the Yankees picking it up. Even if the Yankees wanted to bring him back on a different deal, first base isn’t open and it’s been a long time since Berkman played the outfield. This might be a short-term match, and one that really helps both parties.
As for where Berkman ends up next year, the obvious possibility is Houston.
“I would think that they might (have interest), but once you’ve cut ties, they might want to go with a youth movement,” Berkman said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking.”
Associated Press photo
Finally, a defining moment for Berkman • 10.08.10
If he hadn’t already, Lance Berkman certainly arrived last night. It was obviously in the Yankees clubhouse that Berkman was one of the guys in every which way: He was the guy getting clutch hits on the field, and guy being the butt of the joke off the field.
“You know these games are important,” Alex Rodriguez said. “I actually saw him in the weight room a couple of days ago. I almost had a heart attack.”
That’s the kind of thing players don’t say about the new guy. They don’t make jokes about the guy who doesn’t quite belong. They don’t kid unless they know a guy’s playing his part.
“That will bond you to your teammates really quickly when you start getting big hits in the playoffs,” Berkman said. “Let’s say we won the World Series. If you don’t participate, if you are just sitting on the bench and watching and don’t do anything, it’s hard to take as much joy as if you help them win the game.”
For a while now, Berkman has been talking about wanting to make some sort of mark with this team. It’s a brand new situation for him – you think the Astros ever considered batting him eighth? — and Berkman needed to contribute to really feel a part of what’s happening with this team. Last night he had the Yankees two biggest hits: A go-ahead home run in the fifth and a go-ahead double in the seventh.
Berkman’s postgame press conference ended just as Andy Pettitte’s was beginning. Pettitte walked onto the stage, gave Berkman a fist bump and then said: “I told him I hadn’t won a game since he’d been here, and I was going to get rid of him.”
Players only say things like that about one of their own, and it was clear Berkman one of them.
“It’s a good start,” Berkman said. “That’s why I wanted to come over here was just the chance to play in these games. They were going to make the postseason with or without me in the regular season. I just want to be able to contribute and maybe help us win a few games here in October.”
**REMINDER** Sam and I will be chatting at 3:15 this afternoon. It will be a quick on, 30 minutes or so, in the middle of the Yankees workout at Yankee Stadium. See you then.
Associated Press photo of Berkman and Rodriguez
Lightning striking twice • 09.23.10
Spike emailed that picture last night. It was obviously taken during the storm and, yes, I used it to justify a headline about tonight’s pitching matchup.
It’s impossible to know what last night’s game might have been. A.J. Burnett was limited to three innings because of the rain and the Yankees had to lean on a string of relievers who had hardly been used the past two weeks. Aside from Royce Ring, none of them had an especially good night.
Which leaves tonight. The final regular season game between the Yankees and Rays will be a rematch of last week’s terrific pitching matchup between CC Sabathia and David Price. If you saw it the first time, it’s probably going to be worth seeing again. Hard to imagine either team would pick anyone else to have on the mound.
If it comes down to the bullpens again, the Yankees should have Kerry Wood, Boone Logan and Mariano Rivera available. All three had the past two days off. Dave Robertson’s availability might depend on his sore lower back, and Joba Chamberlain would be iffy at best. He was off yesterday, but before that he pitched three out of four, and Girardi has said he wants to give his relievers two days off after they’ve gone three out of four. Whether that changes because the back-to-back games were at the beginning instead of the end of the four games, I have no idea.
Regardless, the Yankees will lean on Sabathia as long as possible. If they win tonight, taking three out of four will have been a huge success. If they lose, it’s easy to remember what Lance Berkman said on the last day in Baltimore: “In a four-game series, usually if it’s two good teams it’s 2-2 and then we’re right back where we were and nobody gains any ground.”
Postgame notes: The obvious silver lining • 09.19.10
Before the Luke Scott home run, before the bases-loaded were loaded in the 11th and before the Orioles were storming the field, this actually seemed like a good day for the Yankees. A very good day. Yes, there were stranded base runners in the early innings, but Andy Pettitte was the most important thing about this afternoon, and Pettitte was terrific.
“As the game went on I felt like I was coming even harder and harder off the mound as far as getting through my pitchers a little better,” Pettitte said. “All and all, in that end, it was a good day.”
Joe Girardi said before the game he was hoping for six innings out of Pettitte, and the Yankees could hardly have gotten six better innings. After allowing two-out RBI bunt single in the first inning – one that seemed to catch everyone off guard — Pettitte retired 15 of the last 17 batters he faced, including the last 11 in a row.
“There’s always a little bit of question of, are you going to be able to make those little adjustments that you need to make when you’re out there?” Pettitte said. “When you’re rushing and you know you’re rushing, sometimes it’s not that easy to fix it. I was dragging the first few innings with my arm a little bit, and I was able to get my arm warm a little bit and get it all together. I feel like I’m going to be fine.”
This was Pettitte’s first big league start since July 18. He said the weather was cool in his two minor league rehab starts, but it was pretty hot today, a good test of Pettitte’s stamina and conditioning. He actually got better as the game went deeper, and said he felt like he could have thrown another inning.
As for his groin, the biggest test was that first-inning bunt, just past the mound on the third-base side of the infield.
“I wasn’t expecting a two-out bunt from their four-hole hitter with a runner on third base,” Pettitte said. “I slipped right when I broke. My left foot went right out, the dirt kind of moved on me, and that was about as good of a test as I was going to get.”
• A quick take on Pettitte from his friend Lance Berkman: “He’s the biggest winner I’ve ever played with.”
• Mariano Rivera blew a save for the fourth time this season. “Not a good pitch for a lefty,” Rivera said. “It was down, and that’s where he pretty much makes his living. Tough loss. Having the lead and going in there and not saving the game to me is unacceptable… I didn’t do my job, and everything fell after that.”
• Two of Rivera’s blown saves came on this road trip. Of course, so did two of his saves. Pettitte said it’s a reminder that Rivera is human. Joe Girardi said he has no concerns. “He gave up a couple of runs on this road trip,” Girardi said. “It happens.”
• Given a chance to finish the road trip strong, the Yankees instead finished with a game like so many others. “This whole road trip was like this for us basically,” Girardi said. “We’re going to go through tough times in the course of a season. The good thing is we won the series and we get to go home and we’ve played well at home.”
• The Orioles have 12 walk-off wins this season, six of them since Buck Showalter became their manager.
• A few more Pettitte notes: Brian Roberts’ first-inning steal was just the second stolen base Pettitte has allowed this season… Pettitte missed out on his 29th career win against the Orioles. The only pitcher with more is Whitey Ford, who has 30… A win would have moved Pettitte past Frank Tanana for 51st place on baseball’s all-time wins list.
• Berkman was hot coming into Baltimore, but he went 2-for-13 with two GIDP this series. “Pretty terrible. It’s a crazy game. I have felt great. I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball well. Yesterday, they pitched me tough. I wasn’t really that upset about it. There was one at-bat where I felt like I should have come through, but at that point the game was out of hand anyway. Today was frustrating because I felt like I had pitches to hit. Obviously when you hit third, you’re counted on to carry a little bit more of the burden. I had a great chance to put us up there. It’s probably a different ballgame if I can.”
• Derek Jeter was excited to hear Joe Torre and Don Mattingly are scheduled to be at the stadium for Monday’s pregame ceremony honoring George Steinbrenner. “I’m sure they will be well received by everyone,” Jeter said. “I’m glad they get an opportunity to come back because I know Mr. Steinbrenner has meant a great deal to both of their careers.”
• Asked if the next four games mean a little more than most, Jeter surprised every reporter in the group. “Nah, just like all the rest,” he said. Then he started laughing. “ Of course. We’re battling for our division so these are some important games and we’ll see what happens.”
Associated Press photos of Pettitte and Ramiro Pena
The first five Orioles reached base tonight. Aside from one walk — when Felix Pie swung at two of the first three pitches — none of those at-bats lasted more than three pitches.
“They were just aggressive, swinging early and it kind of took my aggressiveness away,” CC Sabathia said. “(I was) trying to be aggressive in the strike zone, and they were swinging early. They put some good swings on some balls.”
Of course, there’s a way to adjust to that aggressiveness, but Sabathia had trouble making the change.
“Just try to get them to chase a little bit more,” he said. “Throw some offspeed pitches early in the count. I pitch off my fastball, and I just wasn’t able to get offspeed pitches over for strikes early in the count.”
Most of the early hits were pretty weak, but as Sabathia said, the Orioles hit some balls hard off him too. Bottom line, Sabathia didn’t have it tonight. You don’t expect it from a guy like him, but it happens. No. 20 will have to wait.
“Sometimes when you give some hits off the end of the bat, it can be just not quite exactly where you want it,” Joe Girardi said. “I didn’t think he threw terrible, I didn’t feel that. I just felt it wasn’t quite down in the zone as much as we’re used to seeing.”
• Sabathia had not lost a game at Yankee Stadium since July 2 of last year, a streak of 21 undefeated starts. He remains tied with Whitey Ford for the longest undefeated streak of starts by a Yankee at any stadium.
• This was Sabathia’s second career loss against the Orioles.
• Lance Berkman matched his season high with three hits. He reached base to leads off three innings but scored only once. He’s 8-for-16 since coming off the disabled list. “We liked the way he was swinging the bat right before he got hurt, too,” Girardi said. “I think he just started to get comfortable before he got hurt, it was unfortunate that he got hurt and I think he’s just kind of carried it over.”
• Alex Rodriguez is hitless in 11 career pinch hit appearances.
• Girardi on the decision to not let Rodriguez play the field: “I hadn’t planned on putting him in the field. I just wanted to make sure he was OK after he came out. I had talked about him pinch hitting and that would be it tonight. I didn’t pinch run for him just in case his spot comes up again in the inning. He’s not the tying run. At that point, we still have some runs to get.”
• Girardi on the goofy seventh inning that saw a 6-4 force out and a 5-6-4 force out: “I don’t fault our base-runners. I think you have to be smart about it. You get a popup that’s probably going to be caught most of the time and it’s not caught. You can’t have Curtis (Granderson) being doubled up the other way. You have to play it somewhat cautious. Then you get Alex hitting a line drive to the third baseman that he doesn’t catch. It’s just some bad luck on our part.”
• Girardi and Derek Jeter were both actually happy with the way the Yankees hit against Jake Arrieta. Girardi said the Yankees hit into some bad luck. “Early on we hit a lot of balls hard, but a lot of balls right to some people,” Jeter said. “After that, he seemed to settle down. He worked quick, threw strikes and we couldn’t get much going.”
• Curtis Granderson is the Yankees nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for sportsmanship and community involvement.
• As you’d expect, Sabathia said the idea of reaching 20 wins never entered his mind today.
• Kerry Wood. Still really, really good since coming to the Yankees. He’s allowed one earned run and struck out 20 in 16.2 innings.
• Two more hitless innings from Chad Gaudin. The guy who was cut in spring training has been pretty good in that long role.
• The Yankees are the only team in the Majors that has not lost four straight games this season.
• Jeter on the Yankees three-game losing streak: “We’re right back here in a couple of hours. There’s ups and downs and you ride them out. Hope that the highs last a while and the lows are over quick. We don’t have much time to think about this one.”
Associated Press photos of Sabathia and Berkman
It’s been just seven days since Javier Vazquez was knocked out of the Yankees rotation. He’s already making a case that he should be back in it. This was a two-run slugfest when Vazquez came into tonight’s game. He shutdown the Oakland lineup while the Yankees lineup kept hitting. That’s why this thing became a lopsided blowout.
In two relief appearances since being banished, Vazquez has pitched nine innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He’s struck out eight.
“When the decision was made I was disappointed,” Vazquez said. “I’ve always been a starter. I would love to be in the rotation, but if they feel like I can help the team in the bullpen, that’s fine by me.”
As Joe Girardi said during his postgame press conference, he had “just walked in the door” when he was asked whether Vazquez had put himself into contention to rejoin the rotation. Girardi couldn’t have decided anything in those few minutes, but he seemed to know the question was coming.
“This is a continued evaluation process,” he siad. “But right now we’re on rotation.”
There is a slight mechanical adjustment that seems to be helping Vazquez’s fastball. When he lifts his left leg in his delivery, Vazquez is bringing the leg farther back. It’s not more of a twist, he said, and the leg’s not coming up any higher, it’s just coming a little farther back toward second base.
“The arm angle also has to play a part of it, but (pitching coach Dave Eiland) feels like that’s going to give me better momentum, and it has,” Vazquez said. “The ball was true to where I wanted it to be.”
The ball has been true ever since the Yankees pushed Vazquez out of the rotation, and given the uncertain nature of every Yankees starter except CC Sabathia, it’s hard to rule out another Vazquez move before the end of the season.
Here’s Javy talking after the game.
• Alex Rodriguez came through his pregame workout just fine. “We’ll just continue to try to increase it a little bit every day,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure if he’ll do anything on the field tomorrow as far as hitting, but he came through today ok.”
• Same for Mark Teixeira and his bruised right hand. “Bone bruises just get slowly better,” Teixeira said. “It’s a little sore now and maybe in the next couple of days it will get a little bit better. We play with a little soreness all the time… I woke up this morning feeling really good and called Kevin Long right away.”
• Jorge Posada’s take on Vazquez: “He belongs in the rotation. He understands that, and today was another step.”
• Girardi’s take on Dustin Moseley: “Mose was just kind of struggling a little bit today. I didn’t think his stuff was quite as sharp. He was in long counts all night and so I decided to make the change.”
• Teixeira and Robinson Cano tonight: 6-for-7 with six runs, one double, two home runs and four RBI. Cano’s 26th homer of the season gave him a career-high this year. Cano has homered in five of his past seven home games. He’s seven RBI shy of a career high.
• Not much more to say about Marcus Thames. The guy has been a beast with a home run in each of his past five starts. Tonight’s was a real blast into the second deck. “I saw a little bit of it,” he said. “I got it good. I’m just trying not to miss my pitch.”
• Ramiro Pena has a hit in seven of his past 10 starts. He also has five RBI in those 10 starts.
• Vazquez has 11 straight 10-win seasons.
• Lance Berkman was 2-for-5 with a run scored in his first rehab game with Double-A Trenton. He was the designated hitter.
• Alfredo Aceves allowed one run on two hits through an inning and a third for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He threw 33 pitches, 21 for strikes. That’s a better outing than his previous two.
• Joba Chamberlain was not available tonight, and the Yankees were trying to avoid using Boone Logan and Kerry Wood.
• The championship belt was in Vazquez’s locker.
Associated Press photos of Vazquez and Swisher
Hard to believe the difference between the first game of this series and the last. On Friday, the Yankees were in trouble. The team had lost three out of four, Joe Girardi was talking about shaking up the rotation and the road trip had the potential to be the Yankees worst of the season.
This afternoon, the mood was light and upbeat. Andy Pettitte had come through a strong bullpen, Lance Berkman was heading for a rehab assignment and a 23-year-old kid had the game ball sitting in his locker, having just pitched his way to a one-run win that was his first in the big leagues.
“We’re asking a young man to step up and that’s exactly what he’s doing,” Girardi said.
Ivan Nova said he felt no nerves, “just emotions” when he went to the mound today. It was 92 degrees at first pitch, the stadium was packed for Frank Thomas Day and the Yankees were in the thick of a pennant race. Nova had exactly one big league start under his belt, but he struck out seven, walked one and allowed just one extra-base hit.
“Maybe you guys never had an opportunity to see him in the minor leagues, but he’s always been the same way,” Francisco Cervelli said. “That’s what we try to do. It’s nothing different. Just a couple thousand more fans.”
Two starts into his career, it’s Nova’s poise that stands out. He’s been comfortable mixing all four pitches, and the curveball he promised would be better this time, was in fact better. Girardi waited only seconds into his postgame interview to announce that Nova would be making a third start.
“I’m ready, of course,” Nova said. “All the time.”
Here’s Girardi’s postgame. All the bangs and clangs you hear in the background is the truck being loaded with all of the Yankees bags and equipment.
• Big game for Cervelli. He came into the game with three hits this month, then went 4-for-4 for the first time he can remember, but he and Girardi each said Cervelli’s biggest moment was throwing out Brent Lillibridge trying to steal in the eighth inning. “I think every manager watches numbers, the percent of my throws,” Cervelli said. “It’s low, so they’re going to do it. I was ready and I had a good throw. That’s it.”
• Asked to remember his last four-hit game, Cervelli thought for a moment: “I think… never.” he said. Then he tried again to come up with a four-hit game he might have had in the minor leagues somewhere, but he again came up blank. “No chance,” he said. “Just three, that’s it.”
• I would imagine there are now a lot of Marcus Thames fans out there. He has a hit in 13 of his past 14 starts, and now has a home run in four straight starts. Five of his nine homers this season have come off righties.
• The scouting report on Thames is that he hits fastballs. At this point, he said, he’s used to getting nothing but breaking balls when he comes to the plate. “I’m just trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Thames said. “If they hang something, I get it.”
• Nick Swisher went 5-for-13 this series and is hitting .385 against the White Sox this year. Think he likes playing his old team?
• Brett Gardner hit .333 this road trip, including an RBI single that stood as the decisive blow today.
• One night after the bullpen was a little shaky, Boone Logan, Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera combined for 3.1 scoreless. Wood has a 0.71 ERA over his past 11 appearances.
• Girardi pulled Nova after 88 pitches because he thought Nova was starting to get up in the zone. “I decided it was time to make a change,” Girardi said.
• Mark Teixeira is day-to-day and wasn’t able to do much this afternoon. He said his bone bruise did not feel significantly better, but he’s hopeful a day of treatment will do him some good. “It didn’t feel good so I figured best to give it a rest and hope for the best tomorrow,” he said.
• Lance Berkman said he has still not been officially told he’s going to Trenton tomorrow, but he’s heard that “through the grapevine.” Girardi confirmed it during his pregame session, so you can count on Berkman being there tomorrow for a short two-game stint.
• A glimpse into Berkman’s personality: When the group of reporters asked him how quickly he thought he could be back, Berkman immediately went to his brand of self-deprecating humor. “I’m sure fans can’t wait for me to resume my pursuit of the Mendoza line,” he said.
Associated Press photos of Cervelli, Jeter and Thames