For the second time in nine days, Brett Gardner’s speed allowed the Yankees to pull out a victory over the Angels, and it’s quickly becoming clear that whenever the Bombers play those pesky Halos, Gardner has to be in the starting lineup.
Gardner scored the go-ahead run in the ninth on a sacrifice fly from Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, Calif., USA, Western Hemisphere, Plant Earth, Milky Way Galaxy 6-5 Tuesday for the first time in Anaheim this season to become the first team in the majors to clinch a spot in the majors.
No need to go overboard about clinching the playoff spot -- we knew that was going to happen after the Yanks (96-56) took two of three at Fenway in August.
The goal right now is the division, and thanks to Zack Greinke (yes, at 15 wins, I’m ready to give him the Cy Young), the Royals shut down the Red Sox to give the Yankees a six-game lead in the AL East. With 10 games left to play, the Yankees’ magic number to clinch the division is six, meaning if the Yankees should sweep the Sox this weekend, they’ll wrap up the division crown.
Before I go any further, my desire to have Gardner start against the Angels is not about Melky Cabrera. Melky has been brilliant this season and incredibly clutch. Against any other team, I have absolutely no problems when he starts, and I have no problem if he were start in either corner position against the Halos.
But the Angels are not any other team. They are a pain in the Yankees’ butts, especially in Anaheim, where the Bombers' troubles are beyond nauseating. They are 6-18 in Anaheim the last five years and this year, they are 1-4 and have been outscored, 39-26.
Against the Angels, the Yankees have to play a different brand of ball. They need to be able to manufacture runs and use speed to apply pressure on the Angels' defense -- just like the Angels do to their opponents. And Gardner is the Yankees’ best player for doing that.
Yes, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, A-Rod and Cabrera all can steal bases and have speed, but none are the threat on the bases that Gardner is.
Gardner’s speed is blinding and whenever he gets on first, he wreaks havoc on the defense and pitcher. He gives the lineup an extra dimension and that simply allows the Yankees to matchup a little better against the Angels and gives them a better chance to win.
Last Monday in the makeup game at Yankee Stadium, Gardner, who has stolen 23 bases in 28 attempts, led the front end of a double steal that forced Angels catcher Mike Napoli to deliver a bad throw to third that skipped into the outfield and allowed Gardner to score what proved to be the winning run in the eighth.
Tuesday his speed allowed the Yankees to pull out a game in which they blew a five-run lead.
Gardner, who is hitting .280 with a .356 on-base percentage, led off the ninth with a solid single to center and then stole second before Jeter walked. Damon then sacrificed the runners up before the Angels intentionally walked Mark Teixeira ahead of A-Rod.
Can you imagine that? Walking Teixeira to get to A-Rod, who had hit a monster two-run homer earlier in the game? Remember when the Yankees faced that dilemma against David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and the Red Sox? It's a no-win situation and this time, it's the Angels who lost because A-Rod hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring in Gardner to make it 6-5.
Of course, another key to beating the Angels is being able to slow down their running game, and in the ninth Jorge Posada stopped the Angels' attack cold.
Now, there was no doubt that after blowing the save his last time out against he Mariners Friday that Mariano Rivera was going to shut the door on the Angels. A second straight blown save wasn't going to happen. But it's always nice to get a little help.
Kendry Morales led off with a walk and speedy Reggie Willits came on to pinch run. But before you knew it, the Yankees had two outs on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play as Rivera whiffed Juan Rivera and Posada, who committed a throwing error on a steal in the eighth, nailed Willits at second.
Rivera then got Erick Aybar to ground to second to secure the victory and his 41st save of the season. There would be no Rally Monkey on this night.
But against any other team, this game wouldn't have been this close. It would have been an easy win.
The Angels, though, aren't like any other team and Anaheim is the place of the Yankees' worst nightmares.
The Yankees grabbed a 4-0 lead in the third. After Teixeira hit a one-out single, A-Rod demolished a 3-and-0, 93 mph fastball from Ervin Santana and put it into the rock pile well past the center field fence.
After Hideki Matsui reached on catcher's interference, Jorge Posada lofted a high fly ball that settled into the first row of the right field seats, for a two-run homer.
Matsui then led off the fifth with a monster homer to make it 5-0 and the Yankees seemed to be on their way.
Starter Gaudin had cruised through the first four innings, making a strong argument to be the Yankees' fourth starter in the playoffs over Joba Chamberlain. But he came undone with two outs in the fifth, as the Yankees continue to show problems escaping innings. Three of the Angels' five runs scored with two outs.
Chone Figgins wrapped a fly around the foul pole in right to make it 5-1 and Macier Izturis followed with a double. After Bobby Abreu walked, Vladimir Guerrero singled in Izuturis to make it 5-2 and Gaudin's night was done. Alfredo Aceves struck out Torii Hunter to snuff the threat.
Gaudin allowed two runs on six hits in 4-2/3 innings. He struck out three and threw 58 of 96 pitches for strikes.
And if I had to choose today, I would go with Gaudin as the fourth starter the playoffs with Joba in the bullpen as a long reliever. Even though Gaudin didn't get through the fifth Tuesday, he gave the Yankees a chance to win and that's something he's done in four of his five starts with the Yankees.
Thanks in large part to the Yankees well-intentioned, but poorly thought out and executed plan, Joba can't say the same thing. He's been terrible since mid-August and unless he miraculously turns it around in his final two starts of the regular season, how can the Yankees even think of putting him on the mound in Game 4 of the ALCS?
Unfortunately, Aceves didn't have his best stuff Tuesday, running into trouble in the sixth. Morales and Juan Rivera started the inning with singles before Aybar flew out to right, sending Morales to third. Pinch hitter Gary Matthews Jr. singled in Morales to make it 5-3 and Figgins singled to load the bases.
Aceves then got Izturis to foul out to third and seemed to be on the verge of escaping the inning without any further damage, but he walked Abreu to force in another run. Aceves got out of the inning thanks to a brilliant play by A-Rod at third.
A-Rod, in case you can't tell, had a brilliant game homering, driving in three and make that big defensively play.
Unfortunate, the defense betrayed Phil Hughes in the eighth. Howie Kendrick reached on an error by Robinson Cano to lead off, stole second and moved to third on Posada's throwing error on the attempt. After Figgins popped to second for the first out, Kendrick scored on Izturis' single to tie it a 5. Hughes (8-3, 3.04 ERA) got out of the inning by striking out Guerrero and Hunter, but still was tagged with his third blown save.
But the Yankees had the right guy leading off the ninth and Gardner's legs helped the Yankees get a crucial win in Anaheim.
Jeter's single in the third was his 200th of the season, giving the Captain seven 200-hit seasons in his career. Only Lou Gehrig has more in team history with eight. Jeter's career high for hits in a season is 219 in 1999.
Runners In Scoring Position
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
Vs. Red Sox
Wednesday at Angels, 3:35 p.m., YES
A.J. Burnett (11-9, 4.22) vs. Scott Kazmir (9-8, 5.08)
Make no mistake about it. This is a huge game for the Yankees. A win would give them a .500 (3-3) West Coast trip, would allowed them to win a series in Anaheim for the first time in ages and would give them a season split of the 10-games against the Angels.
Burnett looked much better his last time out Friday against the Mariners, allowing one run in seven inning and a game that turned into a 3-2 loss when Mariano allowed a walkoff two-run homer to Ichiro Suzuki. Burnett needs to replicate that outing and maintain that type of pitching through the playoffs.
The Angels got Kazmir near the Aug. 31 trading deadline in large part because the lefty is tough on both the Yankees and Red Sox. Kazmir is 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA this year and is 6-4 with a 2.53 ERA against the Bombers in his career.