May 2010

White-capped Andy catches Whitey

Andy Pettitte did something Monday at Yankee Stadium that he had not done since his breakout season of 1996 – win a game at home against the Indians. It was one of the oddities in what has become a remarkable career that this one club would give the lefthander so much trouble at the Stadium over the years.

Not that it was all that lengthy a losing streak. The period covers only six starts, including one in post-season play (Game 2 of the American League Division Series in 1997), and Andy was 0-4 with a 6.50 ERA. There was a time not that long ago, of course, when Cleveland had a much more potent offensive attack than the 2010 edition.

With the final score 11-2 Yankees, it can be easy to forget that Monday’s game was a one-run affair through six innings. Pettitte’s only blemish was Jhonny Peralta’s leadoff home run in the second inning, an opposite-field shot that was the Tribe third baseman’s 100th career homer. It tied the score, but the Yankees regained the lead in the fourth, and Pettitte just kept getting stronger. He retired the last 14 batters he faced with only two balls leaving the infield.

Not surprisingly in the four-game series, the game was reshaped in the seventh inning when the Yankees struck for six runs, four on Alex Rodriguez’s 20th career grand slam, and one on Robinson Cano’s team-best 11th home run. Of the 57 runs scored in the series, 25 (44 percent) came in the seventh inning.

Pettitte did not walk a batter for the second consecutive start in improving his record to 7-1, the best record he has produced through the first 10 starts of a season in his career. Yankees manager Joe Girardi wisely used the six-run seventh as an opportunity to get Pettitte out of the game early after throwing only 90 pitches.

This will help a pitcher who turns 38 in two weeks down the road. The same treatment came to Pettitte’s aid last year when he was 6-3 with a 3.31 ERA in the second half and 4-0 with a 3.52 ERA in the post-season.

It was a memorable game on Memorial Day for Pettitte because it was his 236th career victory, which tied him with one of his mentors, Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, for 60th place on the all-time list. Whitey is still way ahead of Andy on the Yankees’ career list because 37 of Pettitte’s victories came during his three seasons with the Houston Astros.

“Whitey has been a very important person in my career,” Pettitte said. “It’s an honor for me to be in his company.”

As part of the Memorial Day celebrations, players wore white caps with re-white-and-blue sewn within team logos, so everyone was a “whitey” Monday. White caps are all but gone from baseball except for these occasions. There was a time when many more teams wore white caps regularly. The Oakland Athletics are the only team that wears white caps on occasion. They also wear green and gold caps. Their predecessors, the Philadelphia Athletics, wore white caps, as did for a brief period in the early 1960s the Kansas City A’s.

In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds wore white, pin-striped caps through the 1960s. Other clubs who wore white caps over the years included the New York Giants, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns.

A-Rod memorable

On a Memorial Day dedicated to veterans, the Yankees honored nine wounded veterans from the Wounded Warriors project as part of Major League Baseball’s Welcome Back Veterans initiative. Even before that, the veterans got to chat with some of the Yankees during batting practice. The Star Spangled Banner was performed by Artist4Troops, a quartet of veterans (three males, one female) of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that also sang “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch featuring a moment of silence to fallen veterans.  

On a far lesser scale, the Yankees had some wounded veterans of their own. Reliever David Robertson, still feeling some irritation in his back from being hit by a Joe Mauer liner last week, was not available. Catcher Chad Moeller had a bruised right hand that was stepped on Sunday by the Indians’ Luis Valbuena. Despite a sore shoulder from banging against the outfield wall the day before, Nick Swisher started in right field and doubled twice. In addition, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were hit by pitches from Mitch Talbot.

Disabled catcher Jorge Posada ran the bases during BP and did not limp. He continues to push for the Yankees to remove him from the DL for the three-game series at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles, which starts Tuesday night.

Jeter came out of the game in the seventh inning after displaying a slow gait running out a single due to tightness in his left hamstring where he was hit in the second. The single was Jeter’s second of the game, giving him five straight multi-hit games over which he has 11 hits in 21 at-bats (.524). Jeter is 17-for-35 (.486) during an eight-game hitting streak that has raised his season average from .267 to .302.

Jeter didn’t get to touch the plate on A-Rod’s 20th career grand slam, a bomb into the net above Monument Park that broke the game open. This is out of the “when will they ever learn?” department. After a wild pitch by Rafael Perez put runners on second and third with one out, Mark Teixeira was walked intentionally. It marked the seventh time over the past two seasons that Teixeira was purposely passed with Rodriguez batting behind him. In those seven plate appearances, A-Rod had a walk, a sacrifice fly, two singles, three home runs and 18 RBI.

Rodriguez’s grand slam total is third highest in history, only one behind runner-up Manny Ramirez, now with the Dodgers. The all-time leader with 23 is Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig.

Mariano does the two-step

With Johnny Damon no longer around here, there are fewer incidents of bats shattering. At fault for the most part are maple bats that do have the same durability as ash but are popular with players who seem to generate greater bat speed with them. It is an issue in baseball, but one that probably won’t come to a head until somebody gets seriously hurt.

It nearly happened Sunday to a player who is one of the game’s treasures. Mariano Rivera is not only an exceptional relief pitcher but also an outstanding athlete. His dexterity allowed him to avoid being hit by the barrel half of a split bat to grab the ball hit by Luis Valbuena and throw to first base for the final out of the Yankees’ 7-3 victory over the Indians.

“You don’t want to talk about that, do you,” Mo said to me after the game. “I’ve had bats come at me before. Let’s talk about A.J. He was the story of the game.”

Typical Mo. He averted catastrophe and preferred to comment on the terrific work by A.J. Burnett, who allowed only one earned run in eight innings to spare a tanked bullpen and help the Yankees turn the page after an ugly loss the day before.

“A.J. pitched great, didn’t he?” Rivera said. “He was tremendous. He was the reason we won.”

Yet as good as Burnett was, the Yankees still faced a 3-0 deficit with two out in the bottom of the seventh. A key steal of second base by Brett Gardner gave Derek Jeter the chance to tie Don Mattingly for ninth place on the Yankees’ career RBI list with 1,099 after his two-run single. After Curtis Granderson doubled, Mark Teixeira came up with a milestone hit as well, his 250th career home run, a majestic, three-run blast into the left field bleachers.

The Yankees added two runs in the eighth, so Rivera’s appearance in the ninth was not a save situation. He struck out the first two batters before he had to dance out of danger for the last out.

“It was very close,” Rivera said of the bat. “I just had to make sure I caught the ball and not the bat.”

“Nothing Mo does surprises me,” Burnett said. “He’s an amazing athlete.”

Even Yankees fans must have a measure of sympathy for Indians pitcher Justin Masterson, who failed to register a winning decision for his 17th consecutive start. Masterson, who came to Cleveland from Boston in the 2009 trade that sent catcher Victor Martinez to the Red Sox, has not won since Aug. 20 last year. The righthander is 0-5 this season and 1-12 since joining the Indians. Sunday’s loss went to lefthander Tony Sipp, who gave up the bomb to Teixeira.

“That’s hard to believe,” Jeter said of Masterson. “It’s not like he’s an easy guy to face. His ball is all over the place, and he doesn’t throw anything straight.”

Jorge Posada is anxious to get back into action, but the Yankees’ traditionally conservative approach to treatment of injuries may slow him down. Posada, disabled since May 16 because of a fractured right foot, took batting practice Sunday and declared himself close. The Yankees aren’t so sure. Manager Joe Girardi said he wanted to see how his catcher runs the bases before coming up with a timetable.

Jorgie is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday when the Orioles come to Yankee Stadium for a three-game series. It is doubtful the Yankees will activate him that soon. The Yankees’ following series is in Toronto, which has an artificial surface, not the best conditions for someone recovering from a foot injury.

A-Rod makes milder contact with pitcher

Alex Rodriguez finally got to talk to David Huff Saturday night and was relieved to learn that the Indians pitcher he had struck in the head with a searing line drive Saturday was out of the hospital and feeling better. A-Rod was visibly upset by the incident and kneeled on one knee near the mound as trainers attended the fallen lefthander. Rodriguez left the clubhouse immediately after the game and planned to visit Huff at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center before learning that he had already been released and was back at the Stadium.
 
A-Rod reached Huff by cell phone while the pitcher was on the Indians’ team bus going back to their Manhattan hotel. Rodriguez recalled the time Bobby Abreu hit the Twins’ Nick Blackburn with a liner two years ago but knew this was worse because Huff was motionless for several minutes.

“Definitely, it was a heart-stopper,” A-Rod said. “David lay there for it seemed like 30 minutes, although it was probably three or four minutes. The one thing that I was most concerned with was if his family was in the stands. Sure enough, his whole family was here.

“In front of 55,000 people, only one person knows how hard you hit it. A lot of times you hit it back up the box, you hit it off the end or you get jammed, but I hit that ball really flush. It sounded like it hit a brick wall. He actually kidded with me that he was going to come find me during batting practice and ask me if that was my best shot, if that’s all I got. My answer would have been, ‘Yeah. That’s all I got.’ “

Amazingly, Huff might even make his next scheduled start Thursday at Detroit, although that has yet to be determined.

 

No other word for it: Bad

There was no sugarcoating from the manager on this one, none of that “we battled” baloney that often comes from skipper’s mouths after lengthy, high-scoring games.

“A bad loss,” Joe Girardi said of the Yankees’ 13-11 defeat Saturday played at the snail-like pace of 4 hours, 22 minutes.

Part of the excruciating length was due to the time it took for Indians starting pitcher David Huff, who was scalded in the head by an Alex Rodriguez scorcher of a line drive, to be removed from the field in the third inning. The rest of it was due to woefully ineffective relief pitching on the part of both teams.

The game took so long that Huff was released from Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and back at the Stadium before it ended. Rodriguez left for the hospital after the game to visit Huff only to find out he wasn’t there anymore.

This was one of those two games in one deals. The Yankees had a 2-0 lead as Huff was being carted off the field and padded it liberally to turn the game into what appeared a laugher. Girardi wasn’t smiling afterward, however.

“We didn’t get it done when we were up 10-5 in the sixth with two out,” he said. “We had the game where we wanted it. You’ve got to believe when you’re got that kind of lead into the seventh, you have a good chance of winning.”

Think again. CC Sabathia, who is winless in his past five starts (0-2, 6.28 ERA) and has watched his ERA climb to 4.16, couldn’t get through the sixth without yielding a two-out run on one of three doubles by Indians catcher Lou Manson, a .200 hitter entering the game.

The Cleveland seventh was an absolute nightmare for the Yankees bullpen as four relievers combined to allow five hits, two walks, a hit batter and seven runs. David Robertson hitting Trevor Crowe to start the inning set the tone. Robertson, who was plugged in the back by a Joe Mauer liner three days ago, departed for Sergio Mitre, who walked Jhonny Peralta.

Damaso Marte retired lefty-hitting Russ Branyan for the second out, and Girardi figured the game was still in hand when he turned to Joba Chamberlain.

Figure again. The next five batters went single, walk, double, double, single. Suddenly, the Yankees were looking at the wrong side of a 12-10 score. The bridge to Mariano Rivera had collapsed. Chamberlain’s record is 1-3. His ERA is 5.82. None of that is good.

The Yankees wasted a 13-hit attack that included three hits apiece by Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano. Jeter’s third hit was his 449th career double, tying Bernie Williams for second place on the Yankees’ career list behind only Lou Gehrig (534).

Little did anyone realize that a pitcher frightfully knocked out of the game would be witness to a comeback that was good for the Indians and bad for the Yankees.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
 

Eerie moment of silence

A seriously injured player lying on the ground for an inordinate amount of time is a scene that has been repeated in the long history of American League games between the Yankees and Indians, a figure that reached 1,911 Saturday.

The latest episode silenced a Yankee Stadium crowd of 46,599 as Cleveland pitcher David Huff, 25, a lefthander in his second major-league season making his first start of the year and ninth of his career, fell to the mound and lay there still after being struck below the left ear by a line drive off that bat of Alex Rodriguez in the third inning.

Teammates and coaches along with Tribe manager Manny Acta encircled the mound to see after the prone pitcher. Just behind the mound was Rodriguez kneeling on one knee, his head bowed. The eerie quiet as trainers from both teams attended to Huff was interrupted several times only by a hush sound from the crowd as they viewed replays of the incident from the multitude of screens around the Stadium.

The ball was hit so hard that Hall couldn’t get his glove up in time to soften the blow. He was hit flush in the head. The force was such that the ball ricocheted into right field for a double. Hall was removed from the field by a cart. As he was being placed on a stretcher, the crowd began to cheer, and he acknowledged their response by giving the thumb’s-up sign with his right fist. As the cart motored toward an opening in the fence in left center field where an ambulance awaited, Hall raised his left palm to the bleacher creatures giving him a standing ovation.

Word came later from Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center that a CT scan was negative, that Huff never lost consciousness or memory, indications that there was no brain damage. The preliminary diagnosis was much more positive than that of two other chapters in Yankees-Indians lore which are among the most infamous in baseball history.

Huff’s injury most closely resembled that of Herb Score, another young lefthander who on May 7, 1957, a month before his 24th birthday, was hit in the right eye with a line drive by Yankees shortstop Gil McDougald at the old Municipal Stadium. The blow broke several bones in Score’s face and put him out of action until late in the 1958 season. Score was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1955 and on his way to a terrific career, but he was not the same pitcher after that.

Score was 38-20 with a 2.63 ERA and led the AL in strikeouts twice before the accident and 17-26 with a 4.43 ERA afterwards. Score never blamed the accident but rather a torn tendon he suffered a year later. McDougald was never quite the same player after that, either. He retired after the 1960 World Series at the age of 31 rather than risk being taken in the ’61 expansion draft. Score enjoyed a second career as a broadcaster with the Indians for 34 seasons. He retired in 1998 and died 10 years later at the age of 75.

Perhaps baseball’s darkest moment occurred in a Yankees-Indians game Aug. 16, 1920 at the Polo Grounds when Tribe shortstop Ray Chapman was struck in the head by a submarine pitch from righthander Carl Mays. Chapman never regained consciousness and died the next day. In those days, pitchers routinely scuffed and applied dirt to balls which turned them brown. Chapman’s death resulted directly in a rule ordering umpires to remove balls that were discolored. The ruling came far too late for Chapman.

Happy anniversary, Cap

Saturday was an anniversary of sorts for Derek Jeter. The Yankees captain broke into the major leagues 15 years ago on a Memorial Day Monday at the old Seattle Kingdome. He did not come to stay. That would not happen until the following spring when he won the shortstop job outright and went on to a career in which he has more hits than any player at his position and anyone who ever wore a Yankees uniform.

“An incredible player, an incredible teammate, an incredible man,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You could see from the beginning that he was a player who would lead by example. It has been fun to watch, fun for me both as a teammate and a manager. He comes to the park every day prepared and ready to play, and he seems to have fun playing the game.”

Jeter almost didn’t get that cup of coffee that began May 29, 1995. It took two injuries for him to get recalled from Columbus, then the Yankees’ Triple A affiliate. An injury to shortstop Tony Fernandez forced the Yankees to use backup Kevin Elster, a good fielder but weak hitter. Then manager Buck Showalter was opposed to calling up Jeter and pushed to use Randy Velarde, who had played mostly third base and left field but had experience as a shortstop. Another injury to a middle infielder, second baseman Pat Kelly, forced Showalter’s hand. He had to go with Velarde at second base.

Gene Michael, then in his last year as Yankees general manager, decided to bring up Jeter and give him a taste of major-league life. In that first game, Jeter was hitless in five at-bats in an 8-7, 12-inning Mariners victory. He flied out to shallow right field in the third inning, grounded out to shortstop in the fifth, lined out to right in the sixth and grounded out to second base in the ninth.

Jeter had a chance to give the Yankees the lead in the top of the 11th. He came up with two out and a runner at third base. That runner was outfielder Gerald Williams, the player who befriended Jeter the most in his first tour with the Yankees. Jeter struck out against hard-throwing righthander Bobby Ayala. Rich Amaral won the game for Seattle in the 12th with a home run off Scott Bankhead.

The following night, Jeter got his first major-league hit, in his sixth at-bat. He was called out on strikes in the second inning. Next time up, in the fifth, Jeter singled on a ground ball between short and third. The pitcher was righthander Tim Belcher, who Jeter could see in the opposing dugout Saturday as the Indians’ pitching coach.

Jeter handled himself well enough during that two-week trial run that the Yankees released Elster, who was hitting .118. The kid from Kalamazoo batted .234 in 15 games before returning to Columbus when Fernandez came off the disabled list. The Yankees brought Jeter back as a September call-up, and he was part of the traveling party during the first American League Division Series, which brought him back to Seattle.

It has been proved in the years since that, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, Jeter “observed a lot by watching.”

Robbie cleans up

The Yankees had a bit of a makeshift lineup Friday night, with third baseman Alex Rodriguez and catcher Francisco Cervelli being rested. Robinson Cano made his debut as a cleanup hitter, and the reviews were excellent. His grand slam in the seventh inning broke the game open for the Yankees on the way to an 8-2 victory over the Indians.

“Are you sure?” Cano said to manager Joe Girardi when he eyed the lineup.

Who could blame Robbie? He had gone 96 at-bats without a home run since May 2. Some cleanup hitter. Cano ran his hitting streak to 11 games, during which he has batted .426 with six doubles, one home run and 11 RBI in 47at-bats.

“Robbie doesn’t think about where he hits in the lineup,” Girardi said.

For a while, it looked as if it could be a special game for Phil Hughes, who labored throughout his prior two starts. The righthander struck out the first five batters he faced and seemed overpowering. Hughes got back on track with seven strong innings (two runs, five hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) to improve to 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA.

Also overpowering for the Yankees was Nick Swisher, who crushed his ninth home run in the second inning. The ball struck the foul pole just below the third deck at Yankee Stadium.

Hughes didn’t get his sixth strikeout until the fourth inning, but it was timely. After Jhonny Peralta doubled home a run and sent Russ Branyan to third base, Hughes caught Luis Valbuena looking at a 3-2 changeup for the third out. Hughes utilized the changeup more, a response to having allowed 41 foul balls in his previous outing. There were 27 foul balls off Hughes Friday night.

Curtis Granderson returned to the lineup after coming off the disabled list and was back in center field as Brett Gardner moved to left. Granderson batted second, which he will likely do for a while against right-handed starting pitchers. The switch-hitting Swisher will probably be in the 2-hole batting right-handed against lefty starters as Girardi tries to find a working combination for a spot in the batting order that has been troublesome this season.

Granderson somewhat inadvertently fueled the seventh-inning uprising. He fouled off two bunt attempts trying to sacrifice Derek Jeter, who led off with an infield single, to second. Swinging away with the count 0-2, Granderson doubled to right-center. A walk to Mark Teixeira filled the bases for Cano, who hit the next pitch into the right field stands for his third career salami.

Girardi has resisted the temptation to monkey around with the middle of his lineup despite the sporadic slumping of Teixeira and Rodriguez. Batting Cano fifth was the manager’s daring move of the season, and it has paid off quite handsomely. Cano might make a classic 3-hole hitter some day. That day has yet to arrive, but Robbie sure looked good batting fourth.
                                                                                                            

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{pageThe Yankees had a bit of a makeshift lineup Friday night, with third baseman Alex Rodriguez and catcher Francisco Cervelli being rested. Robinson Cano made his debut as a cleanup hitter, and the reviews were excellent. His grand slam in the seventh inning broke the game open for the Yankees on the way to an 8-2 victory over the Indians.

“Are you sure?” Cano said to manager Joe Girardi when he eyed the lineup.

Who could blame Robbie? He had gone 96 at-bats without a home run since May 2. Some cleanup hitter. Cano ran his hitting streak to 11 games, during which he has batted .426 with six doubles, one home run and 11 RBI in 47at-bats.

“Robbie doesn’t think about where he hits in the lineup,” Girardi said.

For a while, it looked as if it could be a special game for Phil Hughes, who labored throughout his prior two starts. The righthander struck out the first five batters he faced and seemed overpowering. Hughes got back on track with seven strong innings (two runs, five hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) to improve to 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA.

Also overpowering for the Yankees was Nick Swisher, who crushed his ninth home run in the second inning. The ball struck the foul pole just below the third deck at Yankee Stadium.

Hughes didn’t get his sixth strikeout until the fourth inning, but it was timely. After Jhonny Peralta doubled home a run and sent Russ Branyan to third base, Hughes caught Luis Valbuena looking at a 3-2 changeup for the third out. Hughes utilized the changeup more, a response to having allowed 41 foul balls in his previous outing. There were 27 foul balls off Hughes Friday night.

Curtis Granderson returned to the lineup after coming off the disabled list and was back in center field as Brett Gardner moved to left. Granderson batted second, which he will likely do for a while against right-handed starting pitchers. The switch-hitting Swisher will probably be in the 2-hole batting right-handed against lefty starters as Girardi tries to find a working combination for a spot in the batting order that has been troublesome this season.

Granderson somewhat inadvertently fueled the seventh-inning uprising. He fouled off two bunt attempts trying to sacrifice Derek Jeter, who led off with an infield single, to second. Swinging away with the count 0-2, Granderson doubled to right-center. A walk to Mark Teixeira filled the bases for Cano, who hit the next pitch into the right field stands for his third career salami.

Girardi has resisted the temptation to monkey around with the middle of his lineup despite the sporadic slumping of Teixeira and Rodriguez. Batting Cano fifth was the manager’s daring move of the season, and it has paid off quite handsomely. Cano might make a classic 3-hole hitter some day. That day has yet to arrive, but Robbie sure looked good batting fourth.

The Yankees had a bit of a makeshift lineup Friday night, with third baseman Alex Rodriguez and catcher Francisco Cervelli being rested. Robinson Cano made his debut as a cleanup hitter, and the reviews were excellent. His grand slam in the seventh inning broke the game open for the Yankees on the way to an 8-2 victory over the Indians.

“Are you sure?” Cano said to manager Joe Girardi when he eyed the lineup.

Who could blame Robbie? He had gone 96 at-bats without a home run since May 2. Some cleanup hitter. Cano ran his hitting streak to 11 games, during which he has batted .426 with six doubles, one home run and 11 RBI in 47at-bats.

“Robbie doesn’t think about where he hits in the lineup,” Girardi said.

For a while, it looked as if it could be a special game for Phil Hughes, who labored throughout his prior two starts. The righthander struck out the first five batters he faced and seemed overpowering. Hughes got back on track with seven strong innings (two runs, five hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) to improve to 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA.

Also overpowering for the Yankees was Nick Swisher, who crushed his ninth home run in the second inning. The ball struck the foul pole just below the third deck at Yankee Stadium.

Hughes didn’t get his sixth strikeout until the fourth inning, but it was timely. After Jhonny Peralta doubled home a run and sent Russ Branyan to third base, Hughes caught Luis Valbuena looking at a 3-2 changeup for the third out. Hughes utilized the changeup more, a response to having allowed 41 foul balls in his previous outing. There were 27 foul balls off Hughes Friday night.

Curtis Granderson returned to the lineup after coming off the disabled list and was back in center field as Brett Gardner moved to left. Granderson batted second, which he will likely do for a while against right-handed starting pitchers. The switch-hitting Swisher will probably be in the 2-hole batting right-handed against lefty starters as Girardi tries to find a working combination for a spot in the batting order that has been troublesome this season.

Granderson somewhat inadvertently fueled the seventh-inning uprising. He fouled off two bunt attempts trying to sacrifice Derek Jeter, who led off with an infield single, to second. Swinging away with the count 0-2, Granderson doubled to right-center. A walk to Mark Teixeira filled the bases for Cano, who hit the next pitch into the right field stands for his third career salami.

Girardi has resisted the temptation to monkey around with the middle of his lineup despite the sporadic slumping of Teixeira and Rodriguez. Batting Cano fifth was the manager’s daring move of the season, and it has paid off quite handsomely. Cano might make a classic 3-hole hitter some day. That day has yet to arrive, but Robbie sure looked good batting fourth.

The Yankees had a bit of a makeshift lineup Friday night, with third baseman Alex Rodriguez and catcher Francisco Cervelli being rested. Robinson Cano made his debut as a cleanup hitter, and the reviews were excellent. His grand slam in the seventh inning broke the game open for the Yankees on the way to an 8-2 victory over the Indians.

“Are you sure?” Cano said to manager Joe Girardi when he eyed the lineup.

Who could blame Robbie? He had gone 96 at-bats without a home run since May 2. Some cleanup hitter. Cano ran his hitting streak to 11 games, during which he has batted .426 with six doubles, one home run and 11 RBI in 47at-bats.

“Robbie doesn’t think about where he hits in the lineup,” Girardi said.

For a while, it looked as if it could be a special game for Phil Hughes, who labored throughout his prior two starts. The righthander struck out the first five batters he faced and seemed overpowering. Hughes got back on track with seven strong innings (two runs, five hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) to improve to 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA.

Also overpowering for the Yankees was Nick Swisher, who crushed his ninth home run in the second inning. The ball struck the foul pole just below the third deck at Yankee Stadium.

Hughes didn’t get his sixth strikeout until the fourth inning, but it was timely. After Jhonny Peralta doubled home a run and sent Russ Branyan to third base, Hughes caught Luis Valbuena looking at a 3-2 changeup for the third out. Hughes utilized the changeup more, a response to having allowed 41 foul balls in his previous outing. There were 27 foul balls off Hughes Friday night.

Curtis Granderson returned to the lineup after coming off the disabled list and was back in center field as Brett Gardner moved to left. Granderson batted second, which he will likely do for a while against right-handed starting pitchers. The switch-hitting Swisher will probably be in the 2-hole batti
ng right-handed against lefty starters as Girardi tries to find a working combination for a spot in the batting order that has been troublesome this season.

Granderson somewhat inadvertently fueled the seventh-inning uprising. He fouled off two bunt attempts trying to sacrifice Derek Jeter, who led off with an infield single, to second. Swinging away with the count 0-2, Granderson doubled to right-center. A walk to Mark Teixeira filled the bases for Cano, who hit the next pitch into the right field stands for his third career salami.

Girardi has resisted the temptation to monkey around with the middle of his lineup despite the sporadic slumping of Teixeira and Rodriguez. Batting Cano fifth was the manager’s daring move of the season, and it has paid off quite handsomely. Cano might make a classic 3-hole hitter some day. That day has yet to arrive, but Robbie sure looked good batting fourth.

Randy Winn: A class act

As was speculated in this space Thursday, the Yankees decided to keep utilityman Kevin Russo on the 25-man roster and designate outfielder Randy Winn for assignment to create room for outfielder Curtis Granderson’s activation from the disabled list.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi pointed to Russo’s versatility. He started five of the Yankees’ previous six games in left field and is by trade an infielder who has played mostly at second base and third base. “At this time, this is the right move,” Girardi said, “but it wasn’t an easy one.”

It never is when a manager has to tell a fine person like Winn that he has to go. Winn, who played regularly for the past eight seasons with the Rays, Mariners and Giants, was signed by the Yankees to a $1.1-million contract to be their fourth outfielder, but he didn’t quite settle into the role. He hit .213 with one home run and eight RBI in 29 games and 61 at-bats.

Winn started 12 games while Granderson was on the DL and hit .250. “He did play better when he played every day,” Girardi said.

But in his last start last Saturday night against the Mets, Winn overran a fly ball down the left field line by Angel Pagan, who was credited with a double on a ball that should have been caught. And with Granderson back, Winn would no longer be playing regularly. Even he acknowledged that when coming off the bench his production was lacking. He had one hit in 13 at-bats (.077) before Granderson went on the DL.

“I played terrible,” Winn said before Friday night’s game. “It fits. An outfielder comes in, an outfielder goes out. The balls didn’t fall in for me. When I was hitting the ball, the other team was catching it. I tried hard to make the most out of it.”

Winn was asked if his struggles were due to dealing with being a role player for the first time in his major-league career. He would not take the out.

“That’s not an excuse,” Winn said. “I had a job to do here, and I didn’t do it.”

Winn went around the clubhouse and big good-bye to his former teammates one by one and expressed no bitterness.

“This is the way the game gets,” he said. “I’ll just go home and play with my kids.”

Same old AL for Javy

Javier Vazquez was back in the American League Thursday night, and it showed. Supposedly buoyed by a six-inning, one-hit outing against the Mets last Friday night at Citi Field, Vazquez stumbled backwards against the Twins. Target Field didn’t seem like much of a pitcher’s park while Javy was on the mound.

Minnesota raked him for eight hits, including six for extra bases, and five runs in 5 2/3 innings. The onslaught featured four doubles, a triple and a home run, and many of the outs were smartly struck as well. Vazquez was fortunate not to have allowed more runs, thanks largely to first baseman Mark Teixeira. He snared a liner by Jim Thome to end the first inning and started a double play that helped defuse a two-run second by the Twins.

It was an encouraging game all around for Teixeira, who also had a single and a double. Not so for Vazquez, who did not have to wield a bat this time outside the National League. Perhaps the bruised right index finger was a factor (he said not), but Javy’s fastball was mediocre and his breaking stuff was not crisp. Simply put, Vazquez pitched pretty much the way he did in his first five starts when he was 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA.

Vazquez’s ERA is down to 6.86, which is still unsightly. It is even worse against AL competition. His record breaks down to 2-5 with an 8.00 ERA in the AL and 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA against the NL. More inter-league games cannot come soon enough for Vazquez.

Jason Kubel homered twice for the Twins, a two-run shot in the second off Vazquez and a three-run shot in the seventh off Chad Gaudin, who was signed by the Yankees Wednesday and made a return appearance. Mariano Rivera certainly remembers Kubel, who hit a grand slam off him May 16 at Yankee Stadium. Kubel feasted on Yankees pitching this year, batting .467 with one double, three home runs and nine RBI in 15 at-bats.

The Yankees wasted a 10-hit attack. Robinson Cano drove in both runs, with a single in the fourth and a double in the sixth, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. The Yankees won the season series, 4 games to 2, for the fourth straight season.

For the second straight game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not use lefthander Damaso Marte against Twins left-handed sluggers Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Chan Ho Park faced them in the seventh, and both reached base, Mauer with a walk and Morneau with a single. They scored two outs later on Kubel’s second home run. The Twins had not homered in eight straight games at Target Field before Kubel exploded.

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