Friday, August 7, 2009

Melky Proves The Importance Of Persistence

A year ago Melky Cabrera found himself back in the minors. The Yankees had grown tired of his struggles and felt a demotion was in order.

Many, both inside and outside of the organization, has started to write him off, believing that would be the last the team would see of him.

Melky could have gone back down and sulked. He wasn't the first player to be sent back down to the minor and many players with much more talent never were able to recover.

But Melky went to Scranton and got to work, and his persistence and determination are paying big dividends for the Yankees.

Melky hit a big three-run homer in the eight-run fourth inning giving the Yankees a 13-6 victory over the Red Sox Thursday at Yankee Stadium, New York's first over Boston in nine games this season, giving it a 3-1/2 game lead in the AL East.

There is no way to overstate just how important this victory was for the Yankees. It was beyond huge.

After losing their first eight games of the season against the Sox and being thoroughly outplay, New York had to get off the schneid and rebuild some confidence against the dynasty wannabes from the north. A loss and continuation of the Sox's domination could have meant all the good work the Yankees have done since the All-Star break could have been wiped out in a matter of just a few games.

And for a little while, this game was shaping up to similar to the previous eight. Melky's blast made sure that didn't happen.

Joba Chamberlain, who had been dominant in his first three starts, could at-best be described as mediocre. I'm not sure if he was due for a letdown or if the extra three days off affected his mechanics, but he struggled to throw strikes. It was as if the plate was moving around on him.

He ended up allowing four runs on six hits and a career-high seven walks in five innings, but earned his career-high fourth straight victory. He struck out five and threw 62 of 108 pitches for strikes.

But Joba (8-2, 3.73 ERA) just didn't look like the guy who was nearly unhittable over his previous three starts. But the reality is no one, no matter how great, is going to look like that every time out. This start was just a blip and Joba will regain that rhythm and form his next time out. He is on his way to being a dominant and elite starter. The bullpen is just a blip in his rearview mirror. Anyone who doesn't see or understand that just isn't paying attention.

But he struggled from the beginning in this one, escaping jams in the first and second, an ominous sign for the Sox, who struggled to hit in the clutch for a change, going just 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position.

But in the second inning, Yankee fans got that pit in their stomachs, fearing the night might go wrong. With one out Jorge Posada singled and Robinson Cano walked. Nick Swisher then hit a single that should have scored Posada, but the slow-footed catcher who has never been the greatest baserunner, didn't slide into home and was tagged out.

It seemed as if that mistake might loom large for the Yankees, but Posada would get a chance to make amends.

Things got worse in the third when Dustin Pedroia got the Sox on the board with a leadoff homer. Johnny Damon got that run back in the bottom half with his 20th homer of the season against ought-to-be-retired John Smoltz.

But when Casey Kotchman lined a two-run homer into the first row in right in the fourth to give the Sox a 3-1 lead, the game appeared head the way the first eight did. Joba was struggling and the Sox just got the kind of break they always seem to get against the Yanks.

Entering this series, the Yankees had been saying they were a different team than the one that lost the first eight to the Sox. But then needed to go out prove it. They did in the bottom half.

Posada led off with a double to right and scored when Cano actually delivered a hit with a runner in scoring position to make it 3-2. Cano's hit with runners in scoring position, though, was a great sign as the team went 6-for-13 with RISP. In the previous eight games vs. the Sox, the Yanks were 11-for-82 (.134).

Swisher then walked to bring up Melky, who absolutely crushed a 91 mph, 1-and-2 Smoltz fastball deep into the stands in right to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead and seize the momentum.



It was just the latest in a series of big hits this season for Cabrera, who is hitting .286 with a career-high 11 homers and 43 RBI.

Cabrera is about to turn 25 and we're beginning to see what kind of player he is. He likely will never be a great player in the mold DiMaggio, Mantle and Bernie Williams, but he is a very useful and important play in the way Scott Brosius was on the 1990s World Series champions.

When the Yankees acquired Brosius before the 1998 season, Joe Torre told to just play great defense and not worry about his offense. He had hit .203 with 11 homers the season before with the A's.

But Brosius turned out to be more than just a good glove. He wasn't a perennial All-Star, though his best seasons were All-Star caliber, but more importantly, he proved himself to be a terrific situational hitter, collecting big, clutch hits and even earning the 1998 World Series MVP Award.

Melky had a chance to be very much the same kind of player, and on a team that is loaded with talent and stars, that's is hugely important.

His homer Thursday showed that as the Yankees then took it to Smoltz.

After Jeter flew out, Damon singled to left and went to third on Mark Teixeira's double. Smoltz then walked Alex Rodriguez intentionally before being replaced by former Yankee Billy Traber.

Traber got Hideki Matsui to ground into an RBI ground out to make it 6-3 before Posada launched a three-run bomb to center, making up for that baserunning gaffe and giving he Yanks a 9-3 lead.

The offense though didn't rest. Matsui had a two-run double in the fifth, Jeter an RBI single in the sixth and Teixeira a homer leading off the seventh.

Those runs were huge because after escaping the fifth having allowed an RBI single to Mike Lowell, Joba was done. That meant Joe Girardi needed to mix and match out of the bullpen. He got two-thirds of an inning from David Robertson, and inning for Phil Coke, 1-1/3 innings from Mark Melancon and a mop-up inning from Anthony Claggett.

So while Girardi did have to use four relievers, he did not touch Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes or Alfredo Aceves, which means if A.J. Burnett can match Josh Beckett pitch for pitch and get through seven innings, the Yankees will be in good shape tonight.

Cash Makes A Move
Brian Cashman made a waiver-wire move, acquiring Chad Gaudin from the Padres for a player to be named or cash. Gaudin was 4-10 with a 5.13 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 20 games, 19 starts, with San Diego. He's hard thrower who has struck out 105 in 105-1/3 innings and can be used as a starter or in relief. But this is not the kind of pitcher Cashman needed to get. He was 4-10 with a 5.13 ERA pitching in the National League ... and in a pitcher's park (Petco) to boot! He has AL experience, but I'm not confident he'll be effective for the Yankees or in Yankee Stadium.

Runners In Scoring Position
Thursday
6-for-13 (.462)
Season
269-for-1,014 (.265)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
53-for-195 (.272)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
204-for-742 (.275)
Vs. Red Sox
17-for-95 (.179)

Up Next
Friday vs. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., YES, NESN
Beckett (13-4, 3.27) vs. Burnett (10-5, 3.89)

Part of the Burnett's attraction for the Yankees when they signed him in the offseason was his 5-0 career record vs. the Sox. He's face Boston twice this year, both times going against Beckett, and he hasn't pitched well, the Yankees losing both games. But since that second game in early June, Burnett has been the Yankees' best pitcher. Just like Andy Pettitte outdueled Roy Halladay on Tuesday, Beckett needs to come out tonight and outduel Beckett, who is 2-0 with a 5.82 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this year. It's not an easy task, but the Yankees need him to do it to prove they can stand toe-to-toe with Boston.

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