Yanks gain ground on Orioles
The remaining schedule favors the Yankees, who moved a huge step in front of the Orioles Monday night by taking control of first place in the American League East with two games to play. Fortunately for the Yankees, their two games are against the last-place Red Sox. Unfortunately for the Orioles, their two games are against the Rays, who have a stake in the postseason sweepstakes.
The Yankees did what they needed to do by overwhelming a Boston squad that seemed more suited for Pawtucket, the Triple-A affiliate. A nine-run second inning fortified by four home runs started the Yankees toward a 10-2 victory behind CC Sabathia, who looked every bit an ace with an eight-inning performance in which he scattered four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts.
Meanwhile at St. Petersburg, Fla., Tampa Bay torpedoed Baltimore, 5-3. The Orioles had the potential tying runs on base in the ninth inning hoping to at least get even and then do their usual magic act in extra innings. Fernando Rodney prevented that, so the Yankees are back alone atop the division by a full game.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi might take some criticism for using Sabathia for so long in a game that appeared decided early. Look, there are no guarantees, and no lead is insurmountable. If Joe had pulled CC after, say, five or six innings, and the Pawtucket Sox somehow managed to rally against the bullpen, fans would have been furious. At this juncture of the season with a division title on the line, it is vital to win games.
With David Phelps starting Tuesday night, Girardi wanted a rested bullpen. I think he was right. Some might say that Sabathia could be called upon to pitch on short rest at some point in the postseason. Perhaps, but a manager cannot worry about that when he has a game to win now.
The Yankees flexed their muscles in a 13-hit attack. As he did recently on the Yanks’ final trip of the season, Robinson Cano led the way. He started the scoring with his 31st home run and added two doubles and two more runs batted in. During his seven-game hitting streak, Cano is batting .621 with seven doubles, one home run and eight RBI in 29 at-bats. He has raised his batting average over that stretch from .293 to .308, a 15-point hike that is almost unheard of this late into a season. The home run was career No. 175 for Cano, who tied Bobby Murcer for 20th place on the franchise list.
Nick Swisher also had three hits to keep his hot streak going. Over his past 14 games, Swish is batting .385 with four home runs and 14 RBI. Mark Teixeira celebrated a return to the lineup with his 24th home run in the four-homer, nine-run second inning that also featured round-trip blows by Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin. Tex’s 20 RBI in 10 games against the Red Sox this season are the most for a Yankees player against Boston in one season since Mickey Mantle had 22 in 1958.
There was also a feel-good moment in the eighth inning when Melky Mesa in his first major-league at-bat singled through the middle for his first major-league hit and RBI at the same time. The rookie was sent to the plate as a pinch hitter for Alex Rodriguez. Who knows where Mesa’s career will take him, but he surely won’t have any trouble remembering all those firsts on a night when the Yankees took over first.