Champions on Display MLB

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finally, A Spark

The Yankees didn't burn their bats, but Joe Girardi found a way to light a fire under his team.

Girardi was ejected in the sixth inning Wednesday and the offense responded by pounding out eight runs on 10 hits over the final four innings to beat the Braves 8-4 in Atlanta, snapping a three-game losing streak.

It was the Yankees' biggest offensive outburst since beating the Mets 15-0 on June 14.

Before the game, Girardi, hitting coach Kevin long and GM Brian Cashman held a 20-minute meeting with the hitters, trying to spark a lineup that had hit .219 over the previous seven games.

That came on the heels of a players' only meeting after Tuesday's game.

Those meeting worked so well that the Yankees failed to get a baserunner against Kenshin Kawakami through the first five innings, extending the Yankees' scoreless streak to 14 innings.

So much for words.

But in the sixth, Brett Gardner broke up the perfect game, leading off with a walk. Kawakami and the Braves paid close attention to Gardner, throwing to first three times, and on the third pickoff attempt, umpire Bill Welke called Gardner out.

It was a close play, but replays showed Welke owes the Yankees an apology. Gardner beat the tag and was safe.

But Girardi didn't need a replay to tell Gardner was safe and made sure to let Welke know it, eventually saying the magic words to get tossed.

Here's the thing about arguing with umpires: if a manager doesn't want to get tossed, most of the time he won't. Umpires usually will let a manager have his say and then go back to the dugout.

In the eighth, Robinson Cano was hit in the back with a throw from catcher Brian McCann, who was attempting to complete a double play, resulting in an error and allowing a run to score. Braves manager Bobby Cox, the all-time leader in ejections, came out to argue that Cano should have been out for running out of the baseline.

The umps didn't agree and Cox returned to the dugout.

Girardi denies it, but I believe he wanted to get ejected in the sixth. His team needed a spark and he was hoping this would do the trick. It did.

"It could have been the sparkplug," Mark Teixeira said. "I love seeing a manager stick up for his team. It was a bad call, and Joe stood up for us. He knows we're battling out there, so he's going to go battle for us."

Rookie Francisco Cervelli followed the argument by hitting his first homer, a shot that cleared the wall in left-center to tie the score at 1.

But that was just the beginning. After Joba Chamberlain lined out to second, Derek Jeter followed with singles and Teixeira walked to load the bases.

Jeff Bennett came on to face Alex Rodriguez and went after the slumping slugger, pumping fastball after fastball down the heart of the plate to get ahead 0-and-2.

That's really all you need know about how badly A-Rod's been. Teams aren't even the slightest bit afraid to challenge him with a fastball.

But this time, A-Rod made the Braves pay, lacing a two-run single up the middle for a 3-1 lead.

The most encouraging sign was that A-Rod cut down his swing, looking to do something positive. During his MVP season in 2007, whenever A-Rod went into a slump, he always seemed to get out of it by simplifying his swing and his approach.

Invariably what would happen is A-Rod would get a couple of hard-hit singles or doubles to center or right and before we knew it, he'd be locked in again.

I hope this single is the start of a similar turnaround.

After taking the lead in the seventh, the Yankees didn't let up, tacking on important runs in each of the next three innings, highlighted by a Nick Swisher leadoff homer in the seventh, a Swisher RBI groundout int he eighth, and an RBI single by Damon in the ninth followed by a run-scoring double by Teixeira.

It was more than enough for Joba, who bounced back from two sub-par outings to earn the win, going 6-1/3 innings and allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits.

His control was sharp. He struck out five, walked none (a major turnaround from he previous two outings) and threw 68 of 99 pitches for strikes, his fastball hitting 94 mph consistently.

Joba battled the Braves, allowing Jeff Francoeur's leadoff homer in the fifth to keep the Yankees in the game until Girardi figured out how to get the bats going.

The Yankees had the opportunity to pinch hit for him in the seventh, but with a 4-1 lead and Joba at 86 pitches, they left him in.

It was the right decision. If the Yankees believe Joba can be a top-flight starter, there is no way he should ever come out there with a three-run lead. And the big reason he didn't finish the seventh was his throwing error on a sacrifice by Kelly Johnson.

The only down note was Brian Bruney's control problems in the eighth. He walked two and allowed a run on Francoeur's two-out single. Mariano Rivera came on to strike out Johnson before striking out the side in the ninth for his 16th save -- getting an at-bat and flying out to center in the ninth in the process.

It was a great win for the Yankees, but it will mean nothing of they don't back it up with another win today.

Maybe Girardi should get ejected before the game even begins just to be safe.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-9 (.222)
169-for-646 (.262)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
103-for-378 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Thursday at Atlanta, 7 p.m., YES
Andy Pettitte (7-3, 4.26 ERA) vs. Derek Lowe (7-5, 4.09)

Consistency is the watchword for Yankees pitchers. Pettitte had a brilliant outing Friday in a win over the Marlins and he needs to back that up with another strong outing. Meanwhile, Yankees starters have pitched pretty well despite the lack of offensive support. That needs to continue.

The good news for the offense is it will be facing a pitcher it is very familiar with. Lowe is a former Red Sox who has faced the Yankees plenty of times in his career.

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