Two-out, RBI hits as big as home runs
Home runs are always welcome. They are the most crowd-pleasing of hits. The Yankees had two more of them Saturday, big blows by Curtis Granderson and Eduardo Nunez that factored in the 5-3 victory over the Rays. Yet considering the Yankees’ troubles all year with runners in scoring position, perhaps more satisfying were two-out, RBI singles by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez that kept the game from getting away from the Bombers.
The back-to-back homers by Granderson and Nunez off James Shields shot the Yankees into a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Granderson, who connected with one runner on for his 39th homer of the year, had struggled against Shields over the years. It was only his seventh hit in 59 career at-bats (.119) off the righthander. Nunez, on the other hand, was in the lineup largely because of his career success against Shields – 7-for-15 (.467).
The Yankees made it 4-0 in the fifth with a dash of little ball. Ichiro Suzuki, batting leadoff for only the second time since joining the Yankees, singled to center with two out. Jeter’s patience at the plate during a nine-pitch duel with Shields gave Ichiro the opportunity to steal second to get into scoring position. Jeet’s single up the middle sent Suzuki home.
Leads have not been all that safe lately in the hands of Yankees starters, but Ivan Nova in his first game back since Aug. 21 after a stint on the disabled list because of right rotator cuff inflammation held on to it during his six-plus innings. The Rays didn’t score until sixth when Evan Longoria cranked a 2-0 pitch for his 12th home run.
Manager Joe Girardi visited Nova at that point but had no idea of removing him. “I just told him to forget and move on,” Girardi said. “He fell behind in the count for one of the few time in the game. He was on an 80-pitch count and threw into the seventh inning. I was hoping he’d get through five, but he just kept it up. I was extremely impressed with his stuff and his command.”
Girardi went to the bullpen after Nova gave up a leadoff single to Jeff Keppinger in the seventh. The Rays eventually cut the margin to 4-3 on pinch hitter Luke Scott’s two-out, two-run single off Joba Chamberlain, which only amplified the importance of Jeter’s hit.
Insurance runs are just as welcome as home runs. That’s where A-Rod came in. The Yankees caught a break when Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton turned the wrong way in tracking a liner to right-center by Robinson Cano that clanged off his glove for a double. Rodriguez hit a liner to center off lefthander Jake McGee for a single that scored Cano with an enormous run for the Yankees.
The Rays brought the potential tying run to the plate twice in the ninth against Rafael Soriano, but he held firm for his 39th save. The Yanks’ victory pushed the Rays back to four games out of first place in the American League East. The Orioles-Athletics game was scheduled later in the night at Oakland, so the Birds had to look at that Yankees’ score all game knowing they needed a victory to stay tied for the top spot.