Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grand Theft

So, so many times, we've seen the Angels burn the Yankees with their speed and aggressive play.

It sure was sweet give them a taste of their own medicine Monday.

With pinch runner Brett Gardner on second and Alex Rodriguez on first with one out and the score tied in the eighth, the Yankees pulled off a double steal and when the throw to third from catcher Mike Napoli skipped into left field, Gardner came around to score to propel the Yankees to a 5-3 victory in a makeup game against the Angels at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees (93-52) have a 7 1/2-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, their magic number cut to 12. The Bombers also hold a six-game over the Angels (86-57) for home-field advantage and have won three of the four games played a Yankee Stadium against the Angels this season.

When the Angels swept the Yankees in Anaheim before the All-Star break, they made all the plays, came up with all the big pitches, got all the big hits and made things happen on the bases.

And we were left to lament the Yankees' chronic inability to beat the Halos.

For at least one night Monday, the roles were reversed.

The Angels rallied to tie the score at 3 against Phil Hughes in the eighth, but had an opportunity to score much more.

Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero singled before a walk to Torii Hunter loaded the bases with no outs. Hughes, however, got Kendry Morales to ground into a double play, which allowed the tying run to score, and then got Howie Kendrick to line out to first to escape without further damage.

But the Yankees had an answer in the bottom half.

With one out, Mark Teixeira hit a ground-rule double to right and A-Rod walked. Darren Oliver then replaced starter Jered Weaver (15-6, 3.85) and Joe Girardi sent Gardner to run for Teixeira.

With Hideki Matsui batting, the runners broke and Napoli's throw appeared to just beat Gardner to third, but it was low and wide and skipped past Chone Figgins, allowing Gardner to score and A-Rod to move to third.

It was brilliant and well-time play, and I was thrilled to see the Yankees play that brand of ball at that crucial moment. I hope it's a sign of things to come in the playoffs.

But the Yankees didn't stop there.

After Matsui struck out, Oliver intentionally walked Jorge Posada to face Robinson Cano, who singled to make it 5-3 and give a well-rested Mariano Rivera more than enough cushion to pick up his 40th save, and 36th straight. Rivera has now saved at least 40 games in a season seven times and for the first time since 2005.

Perhaps just as important as the victory over a nemesis that has plagued the Yankees since what seems like the dawn of time was the performance of Joba Chamberlain.

Joba just might have figured things out in his last start, when he retired the last straight batters he faced. He carried that momentum in to Monday's start -- and just in time, too, as the Yankees began the process of rebuilding his armstrength.

Joba allowed one run on four hits and no walks in four innings after going three innings in each of his previous three starts. He struck out two, topped out at 95 mph with a fastball that he used aggressively and threw 41 of 67 pitches for strikes.

He was in command all night, making just one mistake when he hung a 2-and-2 curveball that Guerrero crushed to left leading off the second to give the Angels a 1-0 lead.

For Joba, the outing was finally visible progress and tangible evidence that the Yankees just might be able to get him righted in time to be an effective starting in the playoffs.

And hopefully that will allow the bullpen to get some rest. Monday it allowed two runs on four hits in five innings with Hughes (7-3, 3.18) being credited with the victory. It would have been worse if not for Derek Jeter's brilliant play to escape a jam in the seventh.

Nick Swisher got the Yankees back even in the third with a leadoff homer to right, his 27th. And to think, Brian Cashman got this guy to Wilson Betimit. What a steal!

The Angels then played a little bit of small ball to get the lead back, manufacturing a run against Alfredo Aceves in the fifth when Erick Aybar led off with a double, was sacrificed to third and scored on Figgins' ground out.

Teixeira, though, wasn't going to let the Yankees falter in this game. Swisher led off the bottom half with a double and Melky Cabrera walked before Jeter, the franchise's all-time hits leader, decided to sacrifice the runners over.

Jeter needs to swing the bat. He's one of the game's best hitters and he does come up with a lot of big hits. His decision to bunt nearly backfired as Cabrera was called out for obstruction on a grounder by Johnny Damon.

But Teixiera got a hold of Weaver fastball and smoked it to center and over the head of Hunter, who tried to make a play at the wall but ended up losing a cleat. The ball bounced back toward the infield, allowing Teixeira to race to third with a two-run triple to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

It was the big hit the Yankees just couldn't buy in Anaheim and hopefully a sign that these Bombers are finally ready to throw the Rally Monkey off their backs.

We'll find out for sure when the Yankees take on the Angels in Anaheim in a three-game series starting next Monday.

Runners In Scoring Position
Monday
2-for-8 (.250)
Season
377-for-1,377 (.274)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
160-for-558 (.287)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
312-for-1,104 (.283)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Tuesday vs. Jays, 7:05 p.m., Local TV (check your listings)
Roy Halladay (14-9, 3.03) vs. Sergio Mitre (3-2, 7.02)

Mitre. Ugh. Shoot me now! Why, oh why, must the Yankees torture us with this drek? Would it be too much to ask to give up Chad Gaudin instead? He's at least serviceable. Mitre's just a waste. He's going up against Halladay and there isn't even a good college football game to watch instead of this embarrassment.

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