Thursday, September 10, 2009

Coming Through For The Captain

For a while, it looked as if Derek Jeter would tie Lou Gehrig for first on the franchise career hits list, but the Yankees would lose the game.

Talk about blasphemy! Jeter -- the quintessential team player -- couldn't actually reach a milestone in a loss, could he?

Jorge Posada, however, made sure that wouldn't be the case.

Jeter went 3-for-4 with a walk to tie Gehrig at 2,721 hits and Posada launched a three-run, pinch homer in the eighth inning to rally the Yankees to a 4-2 victory over the Rays at Yankee Stadium Wednesday. The Yankees (91-50) remained nine games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East, their magic number reduced to 14.

Posada's heroics aside, the night belonged to the Captain.

It's as if Jeter is the rightful heir to this record. Alex Rodriguez can post power numbers that rival Gehrig, but only Jeter can match the Iron Horse's class and will to win.

Yet I find it ironic that in Jeter's pursuit of this record, so much attention was being heaped on the individual accomplishment of a player who is so lauded for his desire to put his team first and sacrifice individual glory in order to win.

That's not to say the attention has not been warranted. Even Dave, who despises Jeter with a passion, respects the player and will acknowledge the significance of this accomplishment ... while pointing out that Carl Yastrzemksi is Boston's leader at 3,419.

But it was interesting watching fans cheer and focus on Jeter even as the Yankees trailed 2-0 into the eighth. In fairness, though, what else were the fans supposed to do? It's not everyday a record like this is set to fall and it's not everyday fans can show a player that kind of love and appreciation.

The game started ominously as Joba Chamberlain got off to an awful start, allowing a leadoff homer to Jason Bartlett. Carl Crawford followed with single and advanced to second on a wild pitch as Evan Longoria struck.

Crawford then stole third before Ben Zobrist walked. Pat Burrell then gave the Rays a 2-0 lead with a single and Joba appeared to be on the ropes. But after a visit from pitching coach Dave Eiland, something seemed to click in with Joba, who then struck out Chris Richard and Gabe Gross before retiring the side in order in the next two innings.

The line is bad: two runs on three hits and one walk in three innings. But I think in this case you also have to look beyond the numbers and take a loot at how Joba finished this abbreviated start -- with eight straight outs.

The hope is that Joba rediscovered something that he can carry into his next start, but we'll see. Right now there just is no reason to trust the kid -- and he is still a kid.

Jeter, meanwhile, jump-started his march to the record right off the bat, bunting for a base hit in the first to snap and 0-for-12 skid. He then proceeded to swipe second for his 300th career steal.

Jeter got hit No. 2,720 with a one-out, ground-rule double to center in the fifth and delivered the tying hit with a Jeterian single to right in the seventh, after which the crowd saluted the Captain with a well-deserved, five-minute ovation.

But to that point, the Yankees hadn't plated a run as rookie Jeff Niemann kept them off balance.

Neimann ended up allowing one run on eight hits and one walk in 7+ innings. He struck out eight, threw 68 of 110 pitches for strikes and made big pitches throughout to keep the Yankees off the board. The Yankees went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Neimann.

But the Yankees weren't going to be denied. We have seen this team rally time after time and with their Captain having reach a significant milestone, they weren't about to let him remember the moment with a loss.

A-Rod led off against Neimann with a single to center and went to third on Hideki Matsui's single off reliever Lance Cormier. Nick Swisher then followed with a grounder to first that Richard threw into left while attempt to force pinch runner Jerry Hairston Jr., allowing A-Rod to score the Yankees' first run and keep runners on the corner.

Robinson Cano then struck out against lefty Brian Shouse before Joe Girardi sent up Posada to pinch hit.

Rays manager Joe Maddon then did something strange -- he brought in right-handed reliever Grant Balfour, allowing Posada to hit left-handed and take advantage of the short porch.

It was big mistake by Maddon because Posada turned on a full-count, 94 mph fastball and deposited it into the stands to give the Yankees the 4-2 lead.

And when Brian Bruney and Phil Coke combined to finish off the ninth, the Yankees had ensured Jeter had a perfect, record-tying night.

Runners In Scoring Position
Wednesday
1-for-12 (.083)
Season
363-for-1,333 (.272)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
146-for-514 (.284)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
298-for-1,060 (.281)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Friday vs. Orioles, 7:05 p.m., YES
Chris Tillman (1-3, 4.66 ERA) vs. Andy Pettitte (13-6, 4.10)

The Yankees have Pettitte, A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia lined up in this series against the last-place team in the division. This should be an easy sweep.

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