Monday, July 27, 2009

Count On The Captain

Derek Jeter didn't deliver in one second-and-third, one-out situation and he wasn't about miss another opportunity.

With the Yankees trailing by one in the sixth, Jeter lined a two-run single to center to propel the Yankees to a 7-5 victory over the A's Sunday at Yankee Stadium. The victory moved the Yanks 2-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and completed a 9-1 homestand.

They Yankees will play 19 of their next 28 games on the road, including a nine-game, 10-day trip that begins today in Tampa.

"We made a big leap on Boston coming right off the All-Star break, and we're playing some great ball. To go 9-1 on a home stand right after the break is pretty awesome," Brian Bruney said. "We're playing good right now and we just need to keep going."
Most of the wins on the home stand have been built on outstanding starting pitching, but the Yankees needed their bats to deliver them Sunday.

Sergio Mitre was mediocre at best, pitching into the sixth, allowing four runs on nine hits, and Phil Coke was not as sharp as usual, serving up a two-out, two-run homer to left by Mark Ellis to give the A's a 5-4 lead.

The offense, however, wasn't about to be deterred.

With one out in the bottom half of the sixth, Melky Cabrera walked and Cody Ransom doubled to set up Jeter.

Two innings earlier, Jeter was in the exact same spot -- one out, runners on second and third and a chance to a chance to expand on a 4-3 lead. He flew out to shallow right before Johnny Damon popped to second.

Jeter has a well-earned reputation for being a clutch player. That doesn't mean he comes through every time, but when he gets multiple opportunities in one game to get a run in, you can bet he'll deliver at least once.

Given the a second chance, Jeter gave the Yankees the lead for good before getting picked off for the second out. Damon, though, followed with a double and Mark Teixeira singled him in to give the Yankees a 7-5 lead.

From there it was academic as the bullpen, which has been dominant since Phil Hughes emergence as the eighth-inning man closed it out.

Hughes came on in the seventh and struck out three in 1-1/3 innings before allowing a walk and a double in the eighth. Bruney got a big strikeout in a big spot before Mariano Rivera got the last four outs for his 29th save and 25th in a row.

Hughes has not allowed a run in his last 16 appearances, spanning 23-1/3 innings. He's reminding me of what Rivera did as John Wetteland's setup man in 1996. Just don't count on him to remain in the bullpen long-term. The Yankees believe he'll be a top-flight starter and he'll likely replace Andy Pettitte in the rotation next season.

But that's next season.

That the outcome of this game rested on the shoulders of the offense is no surprise. Mitre was in trouble from the start.

Orlando singled with one out in the first, stole second and scored on Scott Hairston's double. Jack Cust then singled to put runners on the corners and Mitre was staring at a disastrous first. Kurt Suzuki gave the A's a 2-0 lead with a single, but Mitre got Ryan Sweeney and Daric Barton to ground out to escape the threat.

The offense didn't waste any time getting the runs back on the strength of two, two-out hits. Jeter singled to lead off and went to second on Damon's walk. But after Teixeira struck out and Jorge Posada popped out, it looked like this would be another wasted opportunity.

Hideki Matsui, though, got Jeter in with a single. Nick Swisher then walked to load the bases before Robinson Cano, who has been beyond awful with runners in scoring position all season, lined a double into the gap in right that scored all three runners. Cano was thrown out a third on the play, but the Yankees had a 4-2 lead.

Mitre gave one back in the fourth on Ellis' sacrifice fly, but you just knew the A's didn't have enough fire power in this game.

They gave the Captain one too many opportunities ... and he made them pay.

Injury News
Chien-Ming Wang is headed to Birmingham, Ala., to visit with Dr. James Andrews about his ailing shoulder. A trip to see Andrews usually results in bad news. Andrews is going to look at Wang's MRI to determine if he has rotator cuff tear or if scar tissue from a previous surgery is causing Wang's problems. If it's a tear, Wang will miss the first part of next season. What a miserable season this has been for Wang.

Meanwhile, Brett Gardner's been placed on the 15-day DL after breaking his thumb Saturday. The Yankees will reassess Gardner's situation when his cast comes off in two weeks. They've recalled up Jonathan Albaladejo to reinforce the bullpen, but they are expected to eventually call up another outfielder.

Joe Girardi has wisely ruled out calling up prospect Austin Jackson, not wanting to disrupt the kid's development. Ramiro Pena , who has been learning to play the outfield but has not had enough experience out there yet, is a possibility to replace Gardner, as is Shelley Duncan and John Rodriguez.

Runners In Scoring Position
Sunday
4-for-14 (.286)
Season
241-for-911 (.265)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
24-for-92 (.261)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
175-for-639 (.274)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Monday at Rays, 7:08 p.m., YES
A.J. Burnett (9-4, 3.74 ERA) vs. James Shield (5-5, 3.70)

This is the start a big trip for the Yankees and with Burnett, CC Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain lined up to go in Tampa, they have a chance to deal a death-blow to the Rays, who have had some struggles of late. The Yankees, though need Burnett to go deep into this one. Hughes likely won't be available, meaning Bruney, Coke or Alfredo Aceves will have to handle the eighth.

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