If asked at the beginning of the season whether the Yankees would need an upgrade in center field, many fans would have said yes.
But as the trading deadline passes Friday, center field was hardly a cause for concern and Sunday Melky Cabrera reminded us why.
Melky joined Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Bobby Mercer in Yankees lore by hitting for the cycle and leading the Yankees to an 8-5 victory over the White Sox in Chicago to snap a three-game skid and keep the Yankees in first in the AL East by a half-game over the Red Sox.
Melky became the first Yankee to hit for the cycle since Tony Fernandez in 1995 and joined DiMaggio ('48), Mantle ('57) and Murcer ('72) as Yankee center fielders to accomplish the feat.
Melky and Brett Gardner have given the Yankees such solid play in center this season that the thought of acquiring a more established center fielder wasn't even on Brian Cashman's radar at the trading deadline. All Melky's done a season after the Yankees had to demote him to Triple A is hit .292 with a career-high 10 homers, 40 RBI and 44 runs. Gardner is hitting .275 with three homers, 36 runs, 20 RBI and 20 steals.
In fact, the Yankees' biggest outfield concern has been the defensive play of their corner outfielders. Some that should be helped by Friday's trade for Jerry Hairston Jr.
But when Gardner was injured a little more than a week ago, there was concern about whether Melky would be exposed by having to play every day. All he's done in the eight games since Gardner was placed on the DL is go 10-for-28 with six extra-base hits.
Sunday Melky went 4-for-5 with four RBI, but before he could spark the offense with his stick, he had to get the team going with his leather. He made a terrific diving catch on a sinking line drive hit by Jermaine Dye for the second out of the first.
Melky then came up with the big blow to get the Yankees off to a fast start against Mr. Perfect, Mark Buehrle, who threw a perfect game against the Rays two starts ago.
After Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano singled with one out, Cabrera got his day off to a great start by crushing an 80 mph, first-pitch changeup into the stands in right for a 3-0 lead.
Buehrle (11-5, 3.79 ERA) was far from perfect on this day, lasting just 4-1/3 innings and allowing seven runs on 12 hits and one walk.
CC Sabathia was improved over his previous start, a loss to the Rays Tuesday in which he failed to go six innings, but he still had some trouble with his command and surrendered the lead in the third.
With one out, Scott Podsednik doubled and scored on Gordon Beckham's double. Dye then hammered and 86 mph, 2-and-1 changeup into the stands in right to tied it at 3. Jim Thome followed by crushing a 96 mph fastball into the stands in left.
Sabathia, though settled down after that, escaping a jam in the seventh before leaving after allowing Beckham to double leading off the eighth.
Sabathia (11-7, 3.95) ended up allowing five runs on 10 hits in 7+ innings. He struck out five and threw 71 of 100 pitches for strikes.
But with Melky leading the way, that deficit didn't last long. Melky led off the fourth with a double to right and went to third on Hairston's sacrifice bunt. Jose Molina brought in Cabrera to tie it a 4, went to second on Derek Jeter's single and came around to score on a single by Johnny Damon.
The Yankees wouldn't trail again as Melky and Hairston each singled in a run in the fifth to make it 7-4.
The White Sox pushed across their final run on the eighth when Carlos Quentin singled in Beckam against Mariano Rivera, but Melky got the run right back, hitting a triple with one-out in the ninth for the 15th cycle in Yankees history. He scored on Jeter's single to left.
After that Rivera took care of business, recording his 30th save of the season and 26th straight. He's pitches 18 consecutive scoreless innings.
But this day belonged to Melky.
Runners In Scoring Position
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
Vs. Red Sox
Tuesday at Jays, 7:07 p.m., YES
Andy Pettitte (8-6, 4.51) vs. Roy Halladay (11-4, 2.68)
Pettitte has not won since July 1 but has pitched well since coming out of the All-Star break. He has a tough task going against Halladay, who is 16-5 in his career against the Yankees. It will be interesting to see whether not being traded at the non-waiver deadline has any affect on Halladay.