Upbeat ending for a downbeat trip
With Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list due to a broken bone in his left hand, Jayson Nix will be called upon to help fill the void at third base in a platoon with Eric Chavez. The day after A-Rod was knocked out of service, Nix paid back the Mariners with a bases-clearing double in the eighth inning Wednesday to ignite a comeback that sent the Yankees to a 5-2 victory, an upbeat finish to a downbeat trip to the West Coast.
The Yankees were splashed with a dose of reality on the trek to Oakland and Seattle. They had built a 10-game lead in the American League East and were expected to keep up their winning ways on the left coast. Instead, they ran into a fiercely competitive Athletics club that pulled off their first four-game series sweep of the Yankees in 40 years. The Yankees saved face in taking two of three games in Seattle, but it was far from easy.
They lost the game started by Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and came close to losing the finale as well in a game started by rookie Hisashi Iwakuma, who held them to one run on a home run by Derek Jeter over six innings. The Yankees were hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position before the eighth inning when they got some payback for A-Rod being drilled Tuesday night.
Ironically, the rally began with a hit by pitch of Jeter, who was one of three Yankees plunked by King Felix the night before. Singles by Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira filled the bases, which is not necessarily a good thing for the Yankees this year. When Curtis Granderson fouled out, it dropped the Yanks’ average in those situations to .194 before Nix got them over .200 (.202) with a double to left-center that cleared the bags.
It was a bold move by Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who sent Nix up to bat for Raul Ibanez against lefthander Lucas Luetge. Mariners manager Eric Wedge was expected to counter with righthander Shawn Kelley, but that was more to Girardi’s liking than having Ibanez face Luetge, who had struck out the Yanks’ designated hitter in a critical spot Tuesday night.
Nix’s hit overcame a 2-1 deficit Seattle had since the first inning against Ivan Nova, who had a strange afternoon for him. Nova is used to having many base runners, but that is usually because of hits allowed. He gave up two singles in the first inning and nothing after that, but he walked six batters, a career high. Nova had not walked more than four batters all year and had two or fewer walks in 13 of his 20 starts.
The Mariners ended up with only three hits in the game. A two-out single to right in the ninth inning by Casper Wells off Rafael Soriano (26th save) was Seattle’s first hit since the first inning.
Despite the 2-5 trip, the Yankees can lose no more than three games off the division lead they had when it started. And they are bringing Ichiro Suzuki home with them. It was quite a trip.