(Hopefully it's not as stressful, but I'd take a repeat of this celebration tonight. Courtesy of the AP)
I can't remember the last time the Yankees played a final regular season game with this much meaning. And no, I'm not going to bother looking it up because there are plenty of other blogs out there that handle historical stuff better than mine. It's been frustrating, agonizing, refreshing, and exciting watching this last month of slim-to-none division leads, and it all boils down to what should be an incredibly drama-filled night of baseball tonight. The Yankees, after being in a pretty precarious spot last Sunday morning, have done what they needed to do and won their last 3 games, and they now find themselves in the driver's seat tonight with the man who has been their most consistent pitcher this season on the mound against a guy who has been absolute dog crap for his team. So what should we be looking for tonight? Here's my thoughts after the jump.
Big time players make big time plays in big time games. That's a generic sports cliche that, despite my friends and I readily ignoring it when it was repeated to us over and over by our college dropout assistant coach during over sophomore lacrosse season, does ring very true. There's a reason Reggie Jackson is called Mr. October, there's a reason that nickname was altered to Mr. November for Derek Jeter in 2001, and there's a reason that Aaron Effing Boone will always be a legend in New York despite having a relatively mediocre Major League career. The Yankees have a lot of big time players on their roster, at least in name, but too often this season those players have come up small in big time games. 2 guys who have stepped up as the pressure has risen these past few weeks are CC Sabathia and Robinson Cano. Not surprisingly, they are the best pitcher and best position player on the team, and their timing could not have been better.
(GAH!! What the fu-, oh. It's just Raul celebrating. Courtesy of Getty Images)
Last night was a night of opportunities in Yankeeland. The Yankees had an opportunity to clinch the AL East and move closer to securing the #1 seed in the AL with a win and some help from the Orioles and Rangers. David Phelps had an opportunity to help them get that win and continue to strengthen his case for 2013 rotation consideration with a good outing in place of Ivan Nova. The Fraud Sawx, after rolling out one of the lamest lineups known to man the night before, attempted to thwart those opportunities by re-inserting Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroyyyyaaahhhhh into their lineup against Phelps. That shouldn't have been enough to tip the scales, but the Yanks still ended up going longer than they probably wanted to get the win.
- Phelps made me look bad for writing another post singing his praises in the 1st when he got beat by Ellsbury and Pedroyaaahh for 2 runs in the top of the 1st.
- The Yankees scrapped a run together in the bottom of the 2nd on a pair of infield singles by Curtis Granderson and Eduardo Nunez, with an error and a stolen base thrown in. It wasn't a 9-run barrage, but it was something.
- Unfortunately, they couldn't take advantage of a shaky Jon Lester thanks to 2 Mark Teixeira inning-ending GIDPs. Joe made the brilliant call to bat Robinson Cano, the hottest hitter in baseball, 5th behind A-Rod and Teix, and through 3 innings that strategy failed miserably.
- There's no shame in giving up a couple hits and runs to a former AL MVP and a recent MVP candidate, and Phelps rebounded nicely from his tough 1st inning. He used his 4-seamer and 2-seamer generously and only gave up 1 more hit before getting lifted after 5.1 innings and 86 pitches.
- As has been the case many times this season, the Yankees weren't short on opportunities last night. They had 10 hits and a walk through 6 innings, but only 1 run to show for it. Teix's double plays hurt, but so did a 3-10 RISP effort that produced only 1 run-scoring hit (Nunez's in the 2nd).
- The bullpen did the job in relief of Phelps, tossing 3.2 innings of scoreless ball to keep the comeback in play. Joba Chamberlain and D-Rob were stand-out effective, working 2 near-perfect innings with 3 Ks to keep the game tied into the 9th.
- It was looking like another textbook Yankee blown-opportunity loss after Rafael Soriano gave up a solo HR in the top of the 9th until Raul Ibanez got the pinch hit call in the bottom half. Joe hasn't been pushing a lot of right buttons lately, but he did this time and Ibanez hit a clutch 2-run HR to tie the game at 3 and send it into extras.
- Soriano got used far more than Joe probably wanted to, Derek Lowe probably secured his postseason roster spot with 2 solid innings after, and it all led to fan favorite Francisco Cervelli drawing a 2-out walk and Ibanez coming up with the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 12th.