YANKEES 7, ATHLETICS 5
Second chances don’t come often in baseball but when they do having to come through with a something big adds even more pressure.
Derek Jeter was up the task the second time around as he laced a two-run single in the sixth inning to hand the New York Yankees a lead they had just squandered in the top of the inning as the boys from the Bronx beat the Oakland Athletics 7-5 on Sunday.
The victory gave the Yankees a 9-1 record at the end of their homestand and it put the Yankees back at a season-high 22 games over .500. Coupled with the Baltimore Orioles’ 6-2 defeat of the Boston Red Sox, it restored the Bronx Bombers’ 2 1/2 game lead in the American League East standings they had lost the day before.
Jeter was happy that he was able to come through the second time around. In the fourth inning, Melky Cabrera delivered a one-out single off Oakland lefty Dallas Braden (7-9). Cody Ransom, filling in at third base for a resting Alex Rodriguez, followed with a double down the leftfield line to give Jeter a perfect chance to to add to the Yankees 4-3 lead.
Jeter failed, flying out instead to shallow rightfield. Third-base coach Rob Thompson wisely held up Cabrera when Ryan Sweeney made a strong throw to home plate. Johnny Damon ended the rally with a weak popup to second baseman Mark Ellis.
In the meantime, the Yankees’ new No. 5 starter Sergio Mitre was having a hard time keeping Oakland hitters off base. Mitre gave up two runs in the first inning when four of the first five Oakland hitters got base hits. The big blows were an RBI double off the bat of Scott Hairston and an RBI single from Kurt Suzuki.
But the Yankees offense rescued Mitre in the bottom of the inning with four runs of their own off a struggling Braden. With two outs, Hideki Matsui muscled a inside fastball into leftfield to score Jeter, who had led off the game with a single.
After a walk to Nick Swisher that loaded the bases, Robinson Cano — who entered the game with a .203 average with runners in scoring position — blasted a sinking line drive to center that bounded past the dive of centerfielder Eric Patterson and scored all three runners. Cano actually made it to third on the throw home but he overran the base and was tagged out to end the inning.
But Mitre was unable to keep Oakland from threatening. He needed double plays in the third, fourth and fifth innings to escape further trouble. In fact, the double play in the fourth actually bailed out Mitre from an embarrassing misplay after he already given up one run.
Sweeney started the inning with a solid single to left. Daric Barton, who entered the game hitting .100, followed with a single to right-center that moved Sweeney to third. Ellis scored him with a sacrifice fly to right.
Then Patterson hit an easy comeback dribbler to Mitre. Mitre whirled to throw to second to start the double play but threw the ball to the right and low in front of Jeter and the ball rolled away allowing Barton to reach third.
Mitre was rescued by on a grounder off the bat of Adam Kennedy that Jeter went far to his left to grab. He tossed the ball to Cano and Cano got off a nifty relay to Mark Teixeira at first to keep the tying run from scoring and ending the frame.
In the sixth inning, Suzuki dropped a single into center to lead off the inning and manager Joe Girardi elected to go to the bullpen to replace Mitre with lefthander Phil Coke.
Coke promptly retired Sweeney on a flyout and Barton on a force play. Then Coke suffered an unusual meltdown. Ellis tagged him for a two-run home run and the Athletics took a 5-4 lead heading into the sixth.
Mitre ended up giving up nine hits and four runs in five innings. He did walk a batter and struck out one.
“They bailed me out,” Mitre told MLB.com. “It was great to come back and get that four-spot in the first inning. The bullpen did a great job, but I need to go a little bit deeper into games.”
But Cabrera and Ransom again started a rally with one out in the sixth. Cabrera worked a walk off a 3-2 count and Ransom blasted another double to left off Braden. Jeter then squeaked the first Braden offering up the middle for a single to score both runners.
“I was just fortunate to hit it up the middle,” Jeter told MLB.com. “I didn’t really hit it that great.”
After Johnny Damon doubled to right, Teixeira singled to center to score Jeter for a 7-5 Yankees lead.
The Yankees touched Braden for seven runs on 10 hits and six walks in 5 2/3 innings.
The bullpen shut the A’s down the rest of the way. Phil Hughes pitched a perfect seventh inning with two strikeouts. He began the eighth with another strikeout but faltered a bit when he walked Sweeney and gave up a double to Barton.
Girardi summoned struggling reliever Brian Bruney and Bruney was able to strike out Ellis, keeping runners at second and third with two outs.
“I think it’s a big stepping-stone for him,” Girardi said to MLB.com. “I thought his stuff is getting closer and closer, and we weren’t going to ask Mo to give us five outs today. We have to be really smart. For [Bruney] to come and strike out Ellis, that’s a huge out — maybe the biggest out of the game.”
“Anytime you don’t succeed at the job you’re handed, it’s discouraging and frustrating,” Bruney said. “There’s a lot of angst. It’s a long, long season. I know I haven’t pitched great, but I know what I’m capable of. Really, I just felt like I needed to get healthy and the rest would take care of itself.”
Closer Mariano Rivera was then called in to get the final out of the inning, which he did by getting pinch-hitter Nomar Garciaparra to bounce back to Rivera for the third out.
Rivera then pitched perfect ninth with two strikeouts to close out the Athletics and pick up his 29th save in 30 chances. Coke (2-3), despite giving up Ellis’ two-run home run, was credited with the win.
The victory was the Yankees 31st come-from-behind victory of the season, which leads the major leagues.
“We’ve been doing it all year,” Jeter said. “It’s not always a good thing; you don’t want to fall behind. But we’ve been pretty good at playing nine innings. You’d like to not have to do it, but it’s always good that when you’ve done something, you have the confidence to do it again.”