Monday, August 24, 2009

The Empire Rises Again

The chase for the AL East division title is all but over.

It's just a matter of time, but the Yankees will rule the division for the first time since 2006 after smashing five homers off Red Sox ace Josh Beckett in an 8-4 victory Sunday at Fenway to take the rubber game in the series and secure a 7-1/2 game lead with 38 to play, 39 for the Sox.

As I said before, it is not impossible for the Red Sox to come back, but the odds are growing increasingly long. It would a massive slump by the Yankees coinciding with an incredible surge by the Sox ... and I just don't see either happening -- the Yankees, unlike the Mets, are not known for choking down the stretch.

My advice to Red Sox Nation: forget about the division and worry about the wild card, where you have a one game lead over the Rangers, three over the Rays.

The Empire is back, ready to rule the division yet again ... thanks to the thunder in the Yankees' bats and a strong outing from CC Sabathia.

The Yankees were looking to Sabathia to deliver a big performance, and while it was a battle, the big lefty delivered, becoming the first pitcher in the majors to win 15 games this season and inserting himself into contention for his second AL Cy Young Award.

Sabathia (15-7, 3.59 ERA) allowed four runs -- three earned -- on eight hits in 6-2/3 tough innings. He struck out eight and threw 80 of 118 pitches for strikes, but had to battle his way through the start as the Red Sox put together tough at-bat after tough at-bat, fouling off pitch after pitch in making CC work to put away hitters.

He allowed two runs in the second on an RBI single by Rocco Baldelli and an RBI double by Jason Varitek to tie it a 2. Baldelli also had a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

The only other run Sabathia allowed was the result of a dropped popup by Robinson Cano in the fourth, one of two errors by the second baseman on a day the defense didn't help its starter, failing to make several plays. But aces don't make excuses. They pick up their defense and find a way to hold down the opponent.

That's exactly was CC did as the offense pounded Beckett.

The Yankees batters took a radically different approach to facing Beckett than we normally see: they were aggressive.

And you need look no further than Derek Jeter for evidence. Leading off the game, he jumped on a first-pitch, 96 mph fastball and put it over the wall in right for a 1-0 that erased an momentum the Sox might have had coming off Saturday's 14-1 victory. It was Jeter's 2,700 career hit and in his first three at-bats Sunday, Jeter swung at the first pitch each time.

That's not the normal Yankee approach. The Bombers are second in the AL in walks, first in pitches seen and third in pitches per plate appearance. In this game, 16 of 33 at-bats were over in three pitches or less.

But you can't argue with the results as the Yankees were able to do damage early in the count and prevent Beckett from jumping ahead and took away his options for putting batters away.

Hideki Matsui hit two more homers Sunday, a blast to right-center in the second that made it 2-0 and a poke down the right-field line in the eighth that made it 8-4 and just about sealed the victory.

In the three games, Godzilla unleashed some fierce power, hitting four homers -- giving him 23 on the season -- and driving in nine. It's a shame what knee injuries have done to this guy because when healthy he can still play.

The problem is that his knees are so beat up, it is so difficult to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis. Matsui's still productive, but he's in the final year of his contract, so don't expect him to return next year. I just hope he chooses to retire so the Yankees can give him a proper sendoff.

The Yankees pushed across two more in the third on a Mark Teixeira single and an Alex Rodriguez groundout to retake the lead at 4-2 before lineup flexed a little more muscle.

Cano smoked a homer -- his career-high tying 19th -- to right-center in the third to make it 5-2 before A-Rod made things comfortable with a line-drive, two-run homer in the fifth that snuck over the Monster to make it 7-3.

The result was an ugly, ugly line for Beckett (14-5, 3.65), who allowed at least one run in each of the first five innings and a career-high five homers. His line: eight runs on nine hits in eight innings. He struck out five and threw 87 of 120 pitches for strikes.

And in case Sox fans need a reminder how different the Yankees are now than they were in April, May and June when they lost the first eight games to Boston, consider this: On June 8, the Yankees held a 3-1 lead entering the bottom of the eighth at Fenway with Sabathia on the mound, already having thrown about 110 pitches. But at that time, Joe Girardi had no faith in his bullpen and tried to squeeze two more outs out of his starter, resulting in a 4-3 loss.

Sunday Girardi went to his bullpen with two outs in the seventh, with Phil Hughes allowing just one hit in 1-1/3 innings before the Sox proved how much they own Mariano Rivera by getting a leadoff walk in the ninth and failing to score.

The Empire is back and will have a division title in short order to prove it.

Runners In Scoring Position
1-for-3 (.333)
304-for-1,151 (.264)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
87-for-332 (.262)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
239-for-879 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Tuesday vs. Rangers, 7:05 p.m., Local TV (Check your listings)
Kevin Millwood (9-8, 3.48) vs. Joba Chamberlain (8-3, 3.98)

Sox fans should actually be rooting for the Yankees for three day as the Bombers face a wild card contender.


Unknown said...

Great site, well you know this goes back and forth every year and thats the fun.

The Yankees finally signed the right free agents CC and not Carl Pavano.


Unknown said...

Thanks Bill. Dave and I are having a lot of fun with this, and you are right about the Yankees finally making the right decisions on free agents this past offseason. CC, AJ and Teixeira have all made big contributions to this point.

Dave said...

I was having more fun in May. :)

Unknown said...

Dave, speaking from my experience in May, embrace the agony. Let it be your muse ... and laugh to keep from crying. ;)