Saturday, May 23, 2009

Another Cream Pie For Melky

It's getting to the point where there is no one the Yankees would rather have at the plate with a chance to win the game than Melky Cabrera.

Alex Rodriguez hit a two-homer and Cabrera singled in Robinson Cano with the winner in the ninth off Brad Lidge to rally the Yankees to a 5-4 victory Saturday over the Phillies at Yankee Stadium. It was the Yankees' major-league leading 17th come-from-behind victory and ninth win in their last at-bat.

They have four walk-off wins in the last nine games and six on the season. Cabrera has the winning hit in three of those games, the most walk-offs by a Yankee since Claudell Washington had four in 1988 ... and it's not even Memorial Day.

It's been quite a season so far for Cabrera, who began the year as the fifth outfielder behind Nick Swisher. All Cabrera has done is seize the center field job back from Brett Gardner and hit .317 with five homers, 20 runs, 19 RBI and a .853 OPS.

He's also developed a knack for coming through in the clutch.

His two-run homer of Dan Giese in the 14th gave the Yankees a 9-7 victory over the A's on April 14. Melky then lifted the Yankees to a 5-4 win over the Twins on May 15 with a two-run single off closer Joe Nathan.

His winner Saturday was just as sweet.

The Yankees' offense had been quiet all game, scratching out one run in the second and scoring another on Derek Jeter's homer in the sixth. And with Lidge coming on to protect a 4-2 lead, the outlook wasn't good.

Lidge was coming off a season in which he was perfect in this 41 save opportunities, 48 including the postseason. Even though he had already blown two chances this season, he's still tough.

Johnny Damon led off with a walk and stole second. After Mark Teixeira struck out, Rodriguez stepped to the plate for the biggest at-bat of the game.

He battled Lidge in a brilliant at-bat, falling behind 0-and-2 before working the count to 3-and-2. He then cut down on his swing and went the other way with a 94 mph fastball, shooting it over the wall in right to tie the score at 4.

We've seen A-Rod too often try to pull a pitch in big spots. It was great to see him take advantage of the short porch. And while he is still searching for his hitting groove, his average up to .204 since returning to the lineup May 8, his power stroke has been just fine with seven of his 10 hits going for homers. He's also come up with several big, late homers, including a walk-off against the Twins a week ago.

But with Alfredo Aceves, Chien-Ming Wang and Brian Bruney unavailable in the bullpen, the Yankees could not afford to let this game go deep into extra innings. The quicker they could end it, the better.

Cano followed with a single and stole second, setting up Cabrera, who laced a liner to right-center.

What's been particularly impressive with Cabrera in these situations has been his approach. He hasn't tried to do too much, simply looking for a pitch he could handle and drive. His winners against the Twins and and Phillies were both hit to the opposite field.

It was quite a turnaround for the offense, which did little against J.A. Happ, who was making his first start of the season.

They Yankees manufactured a run in the second when Cano doubled, went to third on a sacrifice by Cabrera and scored on a ground out by Nick Swisher to tie the score at 1.

Swisher has struggled mightily at Yankee Stadium, but give him a lot of credit for recognizing this, simply executing the fundamentals in this spot and finding a way to help the team win. Runner on third, less than two outs, just make sure to get the run home, especially when it's that early in the game.

Happ ended up pitching six innings, allowing two runs on four hits with four strikeouts. He threw 50 of 75 pitches for strikes and was on his way to a win over Andy Pettitte.

Pettitte wasn't great, but not terrible either. He made two mistakes that were turned into homers, one by Raul Ibanez in the second and a three-run blast by John Mayberry Jr., who made his major league debut.

Still Pettitte kept the Yankees in the game and gave them length, which they desperately needed. He allowed four runs on five hits and two walks in seven innings. The short bullpen meant only Brett Tomko, Mariano Rivera, Phil Coke and Jose Veras were available for the rest of the game.

Coke allowed one hit over 1-2/3 innings, throwing only 9 of 21 pitches for strikes. Veras got the last out of the ninth and was credited with the win.

It was a sweet way to win, especially after the Yankees' nine-game winning streak was snapped Friday. But the day only got better.

Omir Santos hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon and the Mets beat the Red Sox, 3-2. It was glorious and I'm looking forward to Dave's and Ian's posts on this one.

The Yankees are now tied with the Sox for second in the AL East, a half-game behind the Blue Jays.

Dave, buckle up, bro, it's going to be a wild summer.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-6 (.333)
101-for-372 (.272)

Up Next
Sunday vs. Phillies, 1:05 p.m., YES
Cole Hammels (2-2, 4.95 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.43)

Sabathia is coming off three straight excellent starts and the Yankees need him to continue that roll.

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