Yankees 4, Rays 3
What a difference a day makes.
After a day when the New York Yankees bullpen did not just break down but collapsed, they got some redemption Sunday afternoon in the Bronx.
Alfredo Aceves pitched two innings of near flawless relief and Mariano Rivera sprung up off the mat to hurl a perfect ninth inning as the Yankees frustrated the Rays and won 4-3.
The Rays, behind the pitching of Matt Garza and Joe Nelson, held the Yankees to one run in seven innings — a solo home run from Nick Swisher to lead off the third inning. A 3-1 lead held up until Rays Manager Joe Maddon summoned righthander Grant Balfour to pitch the eighth inning.
The Yankee offense was not blistering hot but they bled the Rays to death with patience and some well placed infield grounders. It all started after Derek Jeter flied out to right to open the frame.
Johnny Damon fought off some tough Balfour pitches to single to the opposite field in left. Mark Teixeira followed with a 3-1 blast off the rightfield wall that ended up being a single it was hit so hard. Damon stopped at third. Balfour then timidly pitched to Alex Rodriquez and walked him to load the bases. Maddon had seen enough of Balfour and brought out the hook.
In the two games against the Yankees, Balfour has pitched to nine batters in 1 1/3 innings of work. In that span he has given up three hits and two walks and surrendered four earned runs for an ERA of 21.60. Of course, J.P. Howell, who came into the game after Balfour, was not much better.
Howell pitched so carefully to Robinson Cano that he walked in Damon. Jorge Posada followed with a grounder just to the left of the third base bag. Rays third baseman Willie Aybar played soccer with it and Teixeira scored to tie the game at 3.
Hideki Matsui then followed with another grounder. This one went to second baseman Ben Zobrist, who tossed too high to shortstop Reid Brignac on the force play and took away any chance of completing a double play. A-Rod scored and the Yankees had the lead for the first time in the game.
The Yankees then turned the ninth over to Rivera and he retired Matt Joyce, Gabe Gross and pinch-hitter Evan Longoria in order for his 13th save. Redemption comes to the closer a day later.
Rivera’s effort followed on the heels of more sensational relief work from 26-year-old right-hander Alfredo Aceves, who lowered his season ERA to 2.70. Aceves gave up one hit in the seventh but it was later erased when Jorge Posada gunned down Brignac trying to steal second. Aceves struck out the Rays big guns Willie Aybar, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist in the eighth to finish with 4 K’s overall.
Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees starter, pitched five good innings and one bad one: the sixth inning. After two outs and two singles by Aybar and Pena, Chamberlain walked Joyce, who entered the game batting .231 as a platoon outfielder.
Veteran DH Gabe Gross made him pay for it by rolling a tricking single just to the right of the second base bag and into centerfield to plate two runs and give the Rays a 3-1 lead. Chamberlain actually pitched well up to that point. Overall he gave up five hits, one unfortunate walk and struck out four.
The victory, coupled with the Boston Red Sox’ 6-3 drubbing administered by the Texas Rangers, puts the Yankees back in first place in the AL East by a half game. The Yankees will play the rubber game of the three-game set with the Rays tomorrow night at the stadium.
It will be the battle of the Andys as Andy Pettitte (5-2) will oppose Andy Sonnanstine (7.71 ERA).