Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Great Start To An Important Trip

Now, that's the way to begin a trip -- especially one that takes the Yankees to Anaheim.

CC Sabathia pitched seven dominant innings and the bottom third of the lineup (Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli) combined to go 7-for-14 with five runs and six RBI as the Yankees rolled past the Twins 10-1 Tuesday in Minnesota, their 11th win in 13 games and sixth straight on the road.

It would have been much easier win if not for a Carlos Gomez doing his best Torii Hunter impersonation, but the victory allowed the Yankees to remain a game back of the Red Sox in the AL East.

Though the Red Sox have won all eight meeting against the Yankees this season, whenever asked about why the Sox hold such a slim lead of the Yankees in the division, Dave and other Sox fans will point out Boston has already made all of its West Coast trips for the season, while the Yankees haven't made one.

This is the start of the first of the three trips that will take the Yankees out West. You have to hope the Yankees go at least 3-3, especially when you consider the difficulties the traditionally have against the Angels. The last thing this team wants to do is stumble in the All-Star break.

"That's what you want to do," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You want to win the first game and just get off on the right foot, because these are tough places to play, Minnesota and Anaheim. To have a game like that and start the road trip like that, it's very nice."

Tuesday the Yankees got things off a fast start, and we also saw how dominant they can be when they hit with runners in scoring position.

A day after going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, wasting numerous opportunities in a 7-6 loss to the Jays, the Yankees came up with clutch hit after clutch hit, going 7-for-17 with runners in scoring position and scoring all 10 runs without benefit of a homer.

Every Yankee starter had at least on hit, seven scored at least one run and seven had at least one RBI, including Cano.

The Yankees didn't waste time in this one. Derek Jeter led off with a single and went to third on Mark Teixeira's single after Johnny Damon struck out. Alex Rodriguez then popped to first, but Hideki Matsui brought in Jeter with a single to make it 1-0.

Matsui hated interleague play as the Yankees struggled to find him at-bats, but the rest clearly has done him a ton of good. In the seven games since the Yankees resumed intraleague play, Matsui has been a monster, going 10-for-21 with 11 RBI and six extra-base hits. Girardi's mission for the rest of the season is to get him enough rest to keep him fresh and keep that bat smokin'.

But the Yankees didn't let up there. Cano (2-for-5) doubled to lead off the second and went to third on Gardner's single. Cervelli brought in one run with a sacrifice fly to left. After Jeter flew out to right, Damon singled to put runners on the corners and Mark Teixeira (4-for-6) brought in Garnder with a single to make it 3-0.

It was demoralizing start for the Twins, as the Yankees pounded out seven hits in the first two innings against starter Scott Baker.

"They got up so early," Twins outfielder Denard Span said. "It was almost like snatching your heart out. So many runs, you could tell [Sabathia] just got confident. I think he knew we were taking strike one. He'd get ahead of us. Once he got ahead of us, it was kind of hard to put aggressive swings on it."

Taking strike one against a pitcher who likes to pound the strike zone, is a mistake, and CC wasn't messing around, not after allowing six runs and failing to pitch seven innings in his previous start.

The lead allowed Sabathia (8-5, 3.70 ERA) to just sit back and deal. He kept his fastball down in the zone and mixed in his breaking pitches effectively.

The only mistake he made was allowing a homer to Michael Cuddyer with one out in the second. The Twins couldn't touch him otherwise. Sabathia allowed one run on three hits and one walk in seven innings. He struck out just three and threw 68 of 100 pitches for strikes.

The Yankees finished off Baker in the fourth, though Gomez kept the Twins in the game with a spectacular catch.

Cervelli, who went 2-for-4 in what was likely his final game with Yankees for a while, led off with a single before Jeter and Damon walked to load the bases and knock out Baker.

Brian Duensing came in relief and got Teixeira to pop to first. He then grooved one to A-Rod, who sent a shot to center that appeared destined to be a grand slam.

Gomez, however, raced back, timed his leap and somehow caught the ball high over the fence. Very few center fielders are able to make plays like that. Hunter is one of them and the Yankees saw him make his share of terrific plays over the years at the Metro Dome before he moved on to Anaheim.

So instead of four runs, the Yankees got one on the play as Cervelli trotted home. Matsui and Nick Swisher followed with walk to plate another run and make it 5-0.

The bottom of the order finished off the Twins in the sixth.

With one out Teixeira singled and A-Rod walked. After Matsui flew out to center, Swisher walked to load the bases and bring up Cano, who had been 0 for his last 22 with runners in scoring position.

But all streaks eventually come to an end and Cano was long overdue. He laced a two-run single to center to make it 7-0. Garnder (3-for-5) followed with a triple, reminding everyone how fun it is to watch him run, before Cervelli finished off the scoring with a double to left.

With Jose Molina expected to return to the Yankees today, Cervelli made sure to leave a last impression. His ... and the Yankees' ... future are bright and I'm looking forward to seeing him again in September and next season.

Sabathia breezed through the next two innings, before handing the ball off to Brett Tomko, who allowed Brendan Harris' RBI single in the eighth, but finished off the game, giving the bullpen a well needed break.

Of Note
Alfredo Aceves said he was told that he will start Thursday's game. It's a good move. After Hughes, who is not stretch out , Ace is the next best starter the Yankees have available. With Jonathan Albaladejo pitching well in his first two appearances since returning from Scranton and because the Yankees won't need the fifth starter again until July 21, the bullpen won't be weakened much in the short-term.

Runners In Scoring Position
7-for-17 (.412)
203-for-775 (.262)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
137-for-503 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Wednesday at Twins, 8:10 p.m., YES
A.J. Burnett (7-4, 3.83) vs. Glen Perkins (4-4, 4.38)

Burnett, 3-1 with a 0.99 ERA over his last four, will look to continue that dominant run and get this trip off to a 2-0 start.

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