No such thing as a comfortable lead
Mark Teixeira led off the fifth inning Sunday night with a single. The Yankees were leading the Angels at the time by a score of 8-3, so some eyebrows were raised when Teixeira stole second base. There was a time when such a maneuver was against one of baseball’s unwritten rules, which was not to steal if your team had a lead of five or more runs.
That was a long time ago, however. In the modern era where offense is so rampant and ballparks like Yankee Stadium favor hitters so much, putting on the breaks is not expected in those situations. I remember years ago when Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog had a track team in St. Louis and clubs would get upset if his speedsters kept stealing bags even when the Cardinals had a big lead.
“Tell those sluggers in the other dugout to stop trying to hit home runs, and I’ll tell my guys to stop trying to steal bases,” Herzog said.
Okay, Teixeira could never be confused with Vince Coleman or Willie McGee or Ozzie Smith, but the point was that the Yankees should not have felt comfortable because they had a five-run lead. As it turned out, the Angels closed the gap to 8-5 in the seventh inning. This game was far from over.
Another stolen base proved pivotal for the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh. Robinson Cano, who walked with one out, swiped second as Teixeira went down on strikes for the second out. It put Cano in scoring position for Nick Swisher, who singled through the middle to bring Robby home. Raul Ibanez then greeted reliever Jason Isringhausen with a two-run homer that swelled the Yanks’ lead to 11-5 that was the final score.
The Yanks had a nice offensive mixture in this victory, which stretched Ivan Nova’s winning streak dating to June of last year to 14. They had a sustained attack to scored four runs in the third on RBI hits by Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira and a sacrifice fly by Swisher. Derek Jeter pushed them ahead even further with a three-run homer to right in the fourth.
Nova was touched for four runs and eight hits, including two home runs, in six innings, but he had eight strikeouts and held the Angels hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position (they were 1-for-11 in the game and 2-for-22 in the three-game series). Nova tied Whitey Ford and Steve Sundra for the second longest winning streak by a Yankees pitcher. Ford’s streak covered June 2 to July 10, 1961 and Sundra’s from Sept. 22, 1938 to Sept. 20, 1939. The club record is 16 straight by Roger Clemens from May 26 to Sept. 19, 2001.
David Robertson did another of his rescue missions in the seventh inning when the Angels staged a comeback attempt. They got a run off Rafael Soriano to make it 8-5 and had the bases loaded with two outs when Robertson came in and retired Mark Trumbo, who had homered off Nova earlier, on a fly to right.
It remains a weird situation that the Yankees have yet to get a run batted in out of the cleanup spot this season through nine games. Cano, who had two hits and scored three runs, lost a shot at getting the first cleanup RBI when his drive to left-center in the eighth inning bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double that kept Curtis Granderson, who likely would have scored, at third base. Yanks 4-hole hitters are batting a combined .206 with no RBI in 34 at-bats.