Yanks raise bar in march to postseason play
The Yankees have set their sights on higher ground than finishing in first place in the American League East. Before Sunday’s game, manager Joe Girardi cited the best record in the league for home-field advantage in the first two rounds of postseason play as a goal. That seemed in their range certainly until they went out and played a relatively sloppy game against the Athletics, who came off the canvas impressively on the day after a demoralizing, 14-inning loss.
Despite the 5-4 loss Sunday, the Yankees maintained their one-game lead in the AL East but were still at least one game behind the AL West-leading Rangers for the top mark in the league. Home-field advantage in the World Series will belong to the National League entry thanks to its All-Star Game triumph, but the Yankees are trying to guarantee playing more games at Yankee Stadium in the Division Series and Championship Series.
To do that they have to play better than they did Sunday when they looked more like the team suffering from a hangover instead of the A’s, who are still in the playoff picture. Oakland spit up a 3-0 lead but fought back to gain control of the game by the sixth inning with the aid of a tainted run.
Actually, there were a couple of tainted runs along the way for the A’s, but the one that hurt was the tiebreaker in the sixth which was created in part by one of two errors by Eduardo Nunez, who reverted to early-season form. Josh Donaldson, who reached base on a wild throw by Nunez that inning, eventually came around to score on a two-out single by Cliff Pennington.
With Derek Jeter relegated more to designated hitter duty while playing with a bone bruise in his left ankle, Girardi has gone with Nunez at shortstop to utilize his speed on offense. But on a day like Sunday when Nunez went 0-for-4 two errors stand out even more. An alternative to Nunez would be Jayson Nix, but Girardi seemed inclined to stay with Nunez.
Donaldson and Pennington also combined for one of those tainted runs in the second inning when Nunez should have been credited with an assist. He made a strong throw to first base after fielding a grounder by Donaldson, but umpire Larry Vanover called the runner safe, which was not verified by video replays.
“That’s the hardest play for me to see from the dugout, but I thought he was out by a step,” Girardi said. “I didn’t see the replay, but I could hear the crowd reaction. That usually tells you what the replay showed.”
Two batters later, Pennington homered, so the blown call at first base loomed huge.
Yanks starter Hiroki Kuroda hasn’t had a lot of run support this year, but he did Sunday. The Yankees came back from 0-3 to make the score 4-3 in the fourth that led to an early exit by A’s starter A.J. Griffin. Kuroda had wild-pitched a run home in the first inning and threw another one in the fifth that preceded an RBI single by Yeonis Cespedes. It was a decidedly uneven outing for Kuroda, who has been in many ways the Yankees’ most reliable starter.
The Yankees got all their runs in the fourth inning, two on Nick Swisher’s 22nd home run, one on a double by Raul Ibanez and one on an infield out by Nunez. Swish has a six-game hitting streak during which he is batting .409 with two home runs and seven RBI in 22 at-bats, and Ibanez has 5-for-8 (.625) with two doubles, two home runs and four RBI since lifting himself out of a 0-for-18 slump.
Jeter had two singles to push his hitting streak to 17 games in which he is batting .372 in 78 at-bats. Ichiro Suzuki had 1-for-5 and is batting .600 in 25 at-bats in a six-game hitting streak. The Yankees had a seven-game winning streak halted but were 7-2 on the homestand and move on to a soft spot on the schedule with a trip to Minneapolis and Toronto against last-place clubs.
“I am careful about saying you should win against such teams,” Girardi said. “The Twins won a game and scored 10 runs at Detroit.”
If the Yankees want to reach the goal Girardi has set for them, they need to play tough against every team they face.