YANKEES 8, RAYS 6
Brian Cashman made a trade at the 2009 Winter Meetings of which late owner George M. Steinbrenner would have been extremely proud.
He acquired from the Detroit Tigers a center-fielder with speed and power in Curtis Granderson.
On a Monday night when the Yankees chose to honor their late owner with a posthumous plaque in legendary Monument Park in center-field at Yankee Stadium, Granderson slammed two home runs and drove in five runs to lead the New York Yankees to a crucial pennant-drive victory over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays.
Somewhere “The Boss” is drawing on his trademark cigar and smiling down at his beloved Yankees.
Granderson’s magical evening began with two outs and Francisco Cervelli on first on a single. Rays starter Matt Garza (14-9) fell behind Granderson 2-0 and was forced to throw a fastball. Granderson waited for it and jumped all over it, depositing the ball against the back wall of the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center to put the Yankees up 2-0.
The Yankees built the lead to 4-0 in the fifth inning against Garza by sending eight men to the plate. Granderson drew a walk on four straight pitches to load the bases with nobody out. After Mark Teixeira struck out, Alex Rodriguez lifted a sacrifice fly to center to score a run. After an intentional walk to Robinson Cano to re-load the bases, Nick Swisher drew a walk to drive in another run.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, for the second week in a row starter Ivan Nova could not hold onto a lead against the Rays. Last week, Nova — with the help of Boone Logan — blew a 6-0 lead in the fifth inning at Tropicana Field. On this night, Nova — with a lot of help from an ineffective Logan and Chad Gaudin — coughed up four runs as 10 Rays came to the plate in the sixth inning.
Gaudin surrendered the lead by walking B.J. Upton on a 3-1 pitch with the bases loaded.
The Yankees then went back to work on Garza in the sixth inning when Brett Gardner reached first on an infield single and Cervelli got him to third by executing a perfect hit-and-run play. As Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett hustled to second base to take a potential throw to nab Gardner stealing second, Cervelli laced a 2-1 fastball from Garza through the vacated hole at short and into left-field, allowing Gardner to reach third.
Derek Jeter followed with a tie-breaking single to center to score Gardner as Cervelli hustled into third.
Granderson came to the plate but Rays manager Joe Maddon decided he would not face Garza again. Curiously, right-hander Grant Balfour was brought in to face the left-handed-hitting Granderson. Apparently Maddon did not realize that left-hander Randy Choate had not been warming up when he made the pitching change.
Granderson made Maddon and Balfour pay for the mistake when he launched a high 2-1 fastball down the right-field line and the ball hooked right into the right-field foul pole.
The 4-0 Yankee lead that quickly became a 4-4 tie was now back to 8-4 Yankee lead, thanks to Granderson and his career-high five RBIs.
Though the Yankees bullpen struggled a bit in the seventh and ninth innings, with the Rays scoring runs single runs off David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees were able to hang on and win the game with the potential Rays’ lead run at the plate.
Rivera, who had given up an RBI single to Evan Longoria in the ninth and hit Dan Johnson on a 3-2 pitch with two outs, managed to retire Matt Joyce on a routine grounder to Teixeira to pick up his 32nd save of the season and the 558th of his career.
Granderson’s two home runs now give him 21 on the season and 11 of them have come in the 37 games following the retooling of his swing by Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.
Though he did not deserve it, Chad Gaudin (1-4) was credited with the victory. The star of the bullpen on Monday night was actually another Cashman acquisition: Kerry Wood.
Wood, who has a 0.39 ERA in his 21 appearances for New York since being acquired from the Indians at the trade deadline, came on to pitch out of a jam with a run in and Carl Crawford at second with two out in the seventh.
Wood walked Dan Johnson on a 3-2 pitch but retired Joyce on a high fly to right that drove Swisher to the base of the warning track. Yankee fans among the 47,737 in attendance who were holding their breath gladly exhaled as the ball nestled in Swisher’s glove.
Wood pitched an easy 10-pitch and perfect eighth inning to hand an 8-5 lead to Rivera.
With the victory the Yankees improved their major-league best record to 91-59 and they increased their lead on the Rays to 1 1/2 games.
The series now has three games left between the titans of the East and somewhere “The Boss” is watching every pitch.
- Granderson’s 2-for-3 night also included two walks and a stolen base. In September, Granderson is batting .290 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. Thought to be pretty much of a bust when he was hitting .225 on July 7, Granderson is showing Yankee fans why he hit 30 home runs for the Tigers last season.
- Swisher returned to right-field for the first time since re-injuring his left knee and came through with a perfect night on the plate. He was 2-for-2 with an RBI on one of his two walks of the night.
- Jeter drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth and he added a ground-rule double and scored in the fifth. He was 2-for-5 and extended his hitting streak to nine games. In those nine games, Jeter is 12-for-40 (.300) and has scored eight runs.
- Cervelli was the unsung hero of the night.
He was 3-for-4 with three runs scored in the No. 9 spot and he reached base every trip the plate. His hit-and-run single also spelled the downfall of Garza and the Rays.
- Teixeira was 0-for-5, including a strikeout with the bases loaded. Since getting hit on the right toe on a pitch by Oakland’s Vin Mazzaro on Aug. 31, Teixeira is hitting .194 with no home runs and six RBIs.
- The bullpen has been a strength for the Yankees since the All-Star break but Logan, Gaudin, Robertson and Rivera combined to give up three runs on six hits and a pair of inexcusable walks by Logan and Gaudin over two innings.
- In his last five outings, Rivera has given up four runs on seven hits and two walks and he has hit two batters over 4 1/3 innings. He also has blown two saves in September for the first time in his career.
- Logan’s and Gaudin’s poor work also may mean that Rivera might not be able to pitch in Tuesday’s game. Wood has also pitched on two consecutive days and he has not appeared in three straight games since coming to the Yankees.
The ceremony for Steinbrenner brought back former Yankees manager Joe Torre and former hitting coach and All-Star first baseman Don Mattingly. Commissioner Bud Selig also was on hand as the team and the Steinbrenner family unveiled a massive seven-foot wide, five-foot high plaque on the center back wall of Monument Park. Jeter said of the plaque, “It is big. Probably the way ‘The Boss’ would have wanted it. It is the biggest one out there.” . . . Torre, who is stepping down as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and turning the reins over to Mattingly next season, also was able to meet with Cashman. Torre’s book “The Yankee Years” written with Tom Verducci offended Cashman and the two men have not seen each other since Torre turned down an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Yankees after the 2007 season. Both men said the chance to talk was good. . . . Commissioner Selig said that he thinks Steinbrenner belongs in the Hall of Fame based on his contributions to the Yankees and the game of baseball.
Because of baseball’s blackout of local teams on the road, Central Florida Yankee fans are forced to watch Fox Sports broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy, who cover the Rays. Make that shill, cheerlead and umpire for the Rays. Kennedy showed his true colors in the bottom of the sixth inning when Cervelli decided to try to take third on the RBI single by Jeter. It was a close play with Longoria tagging Cervelli just after Cervelli’s left hand hit the bag.
Kennedy saw an initial replay and claimed Longoria had tagged Cervelli on the elbow before Cervelli’s hand hit the bag. He repeated it over and over again as other replays were shown. Well, during the pitching change that brought in Balfour, viewers were shown a more definitive replay that clearly showed Cervelli’s hand touching the base before the tag was made. Kennedy then covers up his incompetent bias by saying it was a “bang-bang play.”
Kennedy is a buffoon and always will be, but his failure to give third-base umpire Andy Fletcher credit for making the right call after all that ranting is beyond me.
It also struck me as funny when Kennedy decided to give Balfour a little pitching advice on what to give Granderson. “Balfour needs to stay up on Granderson. Granderson can handle the low fastball like he did with Garza. Balfour has to pitch him up to pop him up.” One pitch later, Granderson hit a high fastball to right for his second home run.
Kennedy, upon seeing the replay showing the ball was indeed up as he suggested, said, “That was in the middle of the plate. If that pitch were in it would have jammed him.”
Nice try at the CYA, Kevin, but you still are a buffoon. We now know why FOX Sports fired you from your national gig. You are better off trying to fool the rubes in St. Petersburg that you really know what you are talking about.
He also said the Yankees were better off with Swisher batting second and Granderson batting lower in the order. Granderson drove in five runs in the second spot and Swisher was 2-for-2 in the No. 6 spot. Kennedy, your lack of baseball acumen is the main reason you are no longer managing in the bigs. I have no clue why you are still employed as an “analyst.”
The Yankees go into the second game of the four-game series with the Rays knowing they will remain in first place whether they win or lose.
The Yankees will start right-hander Phil Hughes (16-8, 4.31 ERA). Hughes is coming off a tough loss to the Rays. Despite pitching a solid 6 2/3 innings, Hughes was victimized by a pair of two-run home runs to journeyman DH Dan Johnson. He is 2-3 with 4.55 ERA in his career against the Rays.
The Rays will counter with right-hander James Shields (13-12, 4.86 ERA). Shields allowed one run on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings last Wednesday against the Yankees. But he was credited with a no-decision. He is 3-7 with a 4.69 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on MY9.