Thursday, September 24, 2009

Girardi Gambles On Kennedy ... And Wins

Joe Girardi, that was a gutsy decision.

With Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves unavailable, Girardi needed to find a way to get through the eighth and hand the lead to Mariano Rivera.

He gambled and put a pitcher coming back from an aneurysm in his shoulder on the mound.

The gamble paid off and the Yankees got one of the more significant wins of the season Wednesday.

Ian Kennedy, making his first appearance in the majors since last season, pitched a shaky but scoreless and eighth and Rivera shut down the Rally Monkey in the ninth for his 42nd save of the season as the Yankees beat the Angels 3-2 for their first series win in Anaheim since May 2004.

The Yankees finished the season series against the Angels at 5-5, which is quite significant given how much the Bombers have struggled against the Halos over the past 15 years.

In addition, the Yankees ended up gong 3-3 on the West Coast trip, which has to be a bitter disappointment to Red Sox fans, who were hoping their team would be able to make up some ground in the standings.

Instead, the Yankees remain six game ahead in the AL East with a magic number of five to clinch. A sweep this weekend would give the Yankees the division crown and should the Sox lose to the Royals tonight, the Yanks would need to take just two of three to wrap things up.

But Girardi was in a tough spot as the Yankees headed to the bottom of the eighth with a 3-2 lead Wednesday.

Hughes pitched 1-2/3 innings and threw 37 pitches and Aceves 1-2/3 innings and 34 pitches Tuesday. Damaso Marte had already thrown a scoreless inning in Wednesday's game, while Jonathan Albaladejo showed why his is not a major leaguer by failing to get out the only guy he faced. Phil Coke, coming back from some gastrointestinal problems, struck out his only batter but likely didn't have the strength to go much further.

That left Girardi with no solid choices for the eighth. Brian Bruney has been terrible of late, David Robertson is still not back from his minor elbow soreness, and Mark Melancon, Michael Dunn, Edwar Ramirez and Josh Towers have not shown anything to make anyone believe they can get big outs.

So Girardi turned to Kennedy.

Kennedy started the season well at Triple A but developed an aneurysm, similar to what David Cone faced in 1996. He ended up missing four months, only getting back on the mound earlier this month. He made several appearances during the minor league playoffs, but once all the Yankees affiliates had their seasons ended this week, Kennedy was called up to the majors with the hope that he'd get into a few low pressure situations or meaningless games.

Instead, he was thrown into the eighth inning of a significant game against the Angels.

Talk about pressure. Remember, not even Joba Chamberlain or Hughes were thrown right into the eighth when they were put into the bullpen. They had to proven themselves and earn that role.

Yet, here was Kennedy, pitching the eighth.

He got Juan Rivera to line out before hitting Howie Kendrick and walking Gary Matthews Jr. Macier Izturis then struck out, but Chone Figgins walked. Kennedy, though stayed composed and got Erick Aybar to fly out to left to escape the jam with that 3-2 lead in tact.

That was a gutty outing from Kennedy, who can't be near full strength yet. Who knows? Maybe he'll be the eighth inning guy next season when Hughes moves to the rotation.

But Wednesday, Kennedy's three outs allowed the Yankees to deliver a win to A.J Burnett, who had electric stuff.

Burnett's fastball was popping, hitting 97 mph. He struck out 11, but that also forced him to throw a lot of pitches. He ended up allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks in 5-2/3 innings He threw 65 of 101 pitches for strikes before Girardi lifted him in the sixth with a run in on Matthew's double and runners on first and second.

Still it was a second consecutive solid outing for Burnett (12-9, 4.19 ERA) and third in four outings. It's looking as if Burnett has moved past his August troubles and is ready for a big playoff run.

But the Yankees needed Burnett to pitch well because they were going up against Scott Kazmir, who entered the game with a 2.53 lifetime ERA against the Bombers. In addition, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher were out of the lineup after fouling pitches off their feet Tuesday and Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon were held out because of their struggles against Kazmir.

That meant the lineup had Shelley Duncan, Jose Molina and Jerry Hairston Jr. Not exactly the Yanks' best lineup.

And Kazmir was sharp from the start, allowing just a walk to Hairston and an infield single to Brett Gardner over the first three innings.

But the Yankees broke through in the fourth. Mark Teixeira doubled with one out before Hideki Matsui walked to start the threat. Duncan then singled to left and Robby Thompson properly tried to score Teixeira. It took a perfect throw, but Juan Rivera made it and got Teixeira at the plate.

Against the Angels, the Yankees have to be aggressive on the bases and with Robinson Cano and his .211 batting average with runners in scoring position due up next, the Yankees couldn't afford to be conservative.

Cano, however, wasn't going to fail this time, lining a two-run single to right and moving to second on a poor throw home to give the Yankees the lead.

Melky Cabrera then followed with a double and the Yankees had a 3-0 lead to protect.

Kazmir (9-9, 5.06) ended up allowing the three runs on six hits and three walks in six innings, but the Angels' offense just couldn't come back against the Yanks, scratching across a run in the fifth on Bobby Abreu's groundout and another in the six, but getting no more.

The Yankees bullpen did the job with Kennedy delivering three huge outs.

Runners In Scoring Position
3-for-8 (.375)
393-for-1,453 (.270)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
176-for-634 (.278)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
328-for-1,180 (.278)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Friday vs. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., NESN, TBS, Local TV (Check your listings)
Jon Lester (14-7, 3.33) vs. Joba Chamberlain (8-6, 4.72)

As the final regular season installment of THE rivalry begins, Chamberlain faces a huge start. Joba needs a strong outing or he may lose his spot in the postseason rotation. Lester is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA against the Yankees this season.

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