Thursday, June 4, 2009

Got Melk?

Some guys just have that knack.

Their numbers may not rank them among the game's elite players, but they have a certain intangible that allows them to make the big plays or come up with the big hits in the big spots.

Melky Cabrera is quickly becoming one of those players.

Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the eighth and the Yankees rallied from a four-run deficit to beat the Rangers 8-6 Thursday at Yankee Stadium to remain tied atop the AL East, sharing the best record in the AL with the Sox at 32-22.

The come-from-behind victory was the the Yankees' 19th of the season and it was the second from a deficit of at least four runs.

While this one didn't add to Melky's three walk-off hits this season, it was his fourth game-winner and was no less dramatic.

With the score tied at 6, Robinson Cano led off the eighth against hard-throwing lefthander C.J. Wilson with a walk before Hideki Matsui flew out to center. That brought up Melky in yet another big spot. He delivered, lifting an 83 mph changeup into the first row in left, just out of reach of David Murphy.

And with Mariano Rivera ready for the ninth, that's all the Yankees needed. Rivera finished up with his 12th saves.

Melky is hitting .311 with six homers -- all at Yankee Stadium -- and 22 RBI this season. But with game on the line in the late innings, there is no one the Yankees have more confidence in right now. The Melk-man just keeps delivering.

But, for a while it looked as if the offense wouldn't click and the Yanks would drop a second straight to the AL West-leading Rangers.

Chien-Ming Wang returned to the rotation with mixed results. He breezed through the first two innings, his power sinker diving through the zone and topping out at 94 mph.

But he ran into trouble in the third and started to lose a little steam off that fastball as the outing went on.

All-or-nothing hitter Chris Davis led off the third with a ground-rule double and advanced to third on Taylor Teagarden's sacrifice. Wang got Elvis Andrus to ground to third and seemed to be on the verge of getting out of the inning unscathed.

But he walked Ian Kinsler, slipping while delivering ball four for a wild pitch that allowed Davis to score and tie it at 1. Michael Young followed with an infield single before Hank Blalock drove in Kinsler with a single. Wang struck out Cruz to end the threat.

Wang, though, wasn't the same pitcher in the fourth, clearly starting to get tired. Murphy led off with a single and advanced to third on Marlon Byrd's double. Davis followed with another double and the Rangers had a 4-1 lead.

Wang settled down to strike out Teagarden and get Andrus and Kinsler to ground out to second.

Joe Girardi tried to get Wang through the fifth, but after retiring the first two batters, Wang left a fat pitch up in the zone that Cruz hammered to the seats in left for a 5-1 lead.

Wang's day was done: 4-2/3 innings, 7 hits, 5 runs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts, 47 of 69 pitches for strikes. He recorded eight groundouts, one flyout and actually lowered his ERA to 14.46.

It clearly wasn't the kind of start the Yankees and Wang were hoping for, but it also wasn't a disaster like his first three starts. He threw the ball well for a short while, but just doesn't have the stamina he needs.

The Yankees are going to continue to throw him out there, next at Boston on Tuesday. They have no choice but to rebuild him and help him progress toward being a top starter again. The stuff is still there, but patience is required now. We might not see the old Wang until the second half.

Certainly things did not look good when Wang was lifted. Aside from Johnny Damon's leadoff homer in the first, the offense struggled and looked as if it would struggle to score again.

After Damon's homer, Nick Swisher followed with a double and Mark Teixeira reached on an error by Murphy. The Yankees were set up and Alex Rodriguez lifted a fly to right that easily moved Swish to third, but Teixeira was thrown out at second, short-circuiting the rally.

The Yanks had another chance in the fourth when Teixeira led off with a double. After a great stretch of producing runs with runners in scoring position, the Yankees are starting to struggle, going 21-for-80 (.263) with RISP in the last seven games, including 2-for-10 Thursday.

And when there's a runner on second with no outs, this team should be able to bring that runner home more often by being more productive with its outs.

But A-Rod followed Teixeira's double by grounding out to short before Cano grounded to second. Matsui walked and Melky ended the inning with a grounder to third.

Fortunately, the offense rediscovered its groove in the fifth. Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Pena led off with singles and Damon walked to load the bases. Swisher followed with a well-earned walk to drive in Cervelli and make it 5-2.

Teixeira followed with a topper down the third base line that got past Young and went down the left field line for a three-run double to tie the score. A-Rod followed by doing what he failed to do the night before -- go with a pitch and drive it to right for an RBI single.

The inning fizzle after that when A-Rod was doubled off second on Matsui's liner to Kinsler near the bag, and the Rangers tied it on Kinsler's homer of Alfredo Aceves in the sixth.

But Phil Coke and David Robertson were strong out of the pen, giving Melky his shot to be the hero yet again.

Explain To Me...
How A.J. Burnett gets suspended for six games for firing a message pitch that hit no one, but Vicente Padilla gets off scott-free when he drilled Teixeira twice -- INTENTIONALLY?

I have no problem with Burnett's suspension, but if Bob Watson is going to dole out that punishment, he also needs to take action against Padilla, who actually hit a batter -- twice. And that penalty should be more severe than Burnett's.

Burnett is appealing. Expect Selig to make the same offer he made to Josh Beckett earlier this season of a reduction of one game.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-10 (.200)
139-for-506 (.275)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
73-for-238 (.307)

Up Next
Friday vs. Rays, 7:05 p.m., YES
David Price (1-0, 3.00) vs. CC Sabathia (5-3, 3.46)

Sabathia is coming off a fifth straight strong outing (4-0, 2.08) and will try to continue that dominance against the Rays. The Yankees best bet will be to wait out the young phenom Price, work the pitch count and get him out by the fifth inning. Price is being babied and on a strict pitch count. He struggled to be efficient and get past the fifth in his first two outings. Once he's out of the game, the Yankees should be able to feast on Tampa's bullpen.


Dave said...

This is the front-runner for Punniest Title of the Season.

Aviv said...

And you love it silly!