YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 1
At last, my love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song
— Etta James
As Alex Rodriguez’s throw hit Mark Teixeira’s glove to retire Toronto’s Lyle Overbay with the 27th out on Tuesday night, you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief coming from the Yankee coaching staff as they hugged in the Rogers Centre visitors’ dugout.
“Whew!” pretty much sums up what the Yankees had to go through to clinch a playoff spot. Now that the team had it, there was no wild celebrations (unlike the screaming banshees of the Tampa Bay Rays did in St. Petersburg, FL, earlier in the evening). It was a very subdued celebration.
The reason is that bigger prizes are still left undecided: the American League East title, the best record in the American League and home-field advantage in the playoffs are still within reach. The Yankees will celebrate then.
But CC Sabathia pitched masterfully into the ninth inning, Mariano Rivera recorded the final two outs and the Yankees played “playoff-style little ball” all evening to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays and eliminate the Boston Red Sox from any chance to make the playoffs.
With all that accomplished, the Yankees could shake off the fact they had lost 14 of their last 21 games coming into the game and focus on the goal of the 28th world championship.
Sabathia (21-7) pitched much like he did last season when he led the Yankees to their first championship in nine years. He also pitched much like he has done this season in leading the Yankees to their 15th playoff berth in the last 16 seasons.
Sabathia gave up a solo two-out home run to Travis Snider in the third inning, which halved the Yankees’ lead to 2-1 at the time. He also gave up a one-out, opposite field single to Vernon Wells in the seventh inning. And that was pretty much all of the Blue Jays’ offense through eight innings.
Sabathia also walked Jose Bautista with two outs in the first inning.
But he struck eight and only allowed six balls to reach the outfield through the first eight innings.
He started the ninth, but Snider touched him for lined single to right and Yunel Escobar coaxed Sabathia’s second walk. After Sabathia retired Bautista on a deep fly to center-field, manager Joe Girardi, playing it safe, replaced the tiring left-hander with Rivera.
Rivera retired Vernon Wells on a sharp liner to left and Overbay’s grounder to A-Rod closed it out for the Bronx “Little Ballers,” such was they way they played on this night.
The Yankees scored their six runs without the benefit of a hit. They used three sacrifice flies, scored a pair of runs on infield grounders and one scored on a bases-loaded walk.
Derek Jeter led the “assault,” if you can call it that, with two hits, a walk, three runs scored and an RBI on a fielder’s choice.
Jeter scored in the first on an Alex Rodriguez sacrifice fly off rookie Jays starter Kyle Drabek (0-3), the son of former Yankee pitcher Doug Drabek who was making only his third major-league start.
Jeter scored another run in the third inning without the benefit of a hit. He walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and Nick Swisher bunted him over to third. Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly to score Jeter.
The Yankees scored another in the fifth when Brett Gardner stroked a one-out triple and he slid home on Jeter’s grounder to Edwin Encarnacion at third. Encarnacion’s throw to the plate and the tag by catcher John Buck was just late and Gardner was ruled safe by home-plate umpire Mark Carlson.
The Yankees added two runs in the eighth inning and a single run in the ninth inning as they loaded the bases and threatened to blow the game wide open in both frames.
Instead, they settled for a bases-loaded walk to Alex Rodriguez in the eighth that scored Jeter again. Robinson Cano followed a sacrifice fly to score pinch-runner Greg Golson.
In the ninth, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs on a pinch-hit single by Marcus Thames, a walk to Curtis Granderson and a sac bunt attempt by Gardner that Encarnacion allowed to roll down the line and hit the third base bag for a single.
After Jeter was fanned by reliever Casey Janssen, Golson scored pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez with a groundout to Encarnacion at third. It was Golson’s first major-league RBI and it closed out the scoring for the night.
Now most the pressure is off. The Yankees have achieved their first goal. They have a few very important goals left in the four games that remain: Win their 14th divisional crown in the past 15 seasons and clinch the best record in baseball.
With the Rays’ victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday, the Yankees trail the Rays by a slim half-game in the American League East. They also trail the Rays by a half-game for the best record. The Central Division Minnesota Twins, who lost to Kansas City on Tuesday, trail the Yankees by 1 1/2 games.
If the Yankees overtake the Rays and clinch home-field for the AL playoffs they will celebrate. But not until then.