Bronx, N.Y., May 15, 2010 — The Yankees, a team that has had its share of run-ins with Hall of Famer and mlb disciplinarian Frank Robinson, would do well to steer clear of any punishable behavior on May 14. Sixteen years ago on this day, ex-Yankee Dave Winfield supplanted Robinson for 12th place on the career rbi list. Friday night, Alex Rodriguez blasted his way past Robby to move into seventh place on the all-time home run list. I’d suggest the Yanks be on their best behavior in the coming days.
A.J. Burnett did not have pinpoint control Friday night in the Bronx, and he was rarely able to use his signature curve to get him out of trouble. He had to be very good to best an on-his-game Scott Baker of the Twins, but although he never managed a one-two-three inning, and missed the plate almost as often as he found it, Burnett turned in a performance that ended up being that good. That his name isn’t graced with the “W” in the morning paper should not detract from that.
A.J.’s gutsy outing was part of the good news from the Yankee side, the biggest part perhaps except that they won the game 8-4. Joba Chamberlain pitched a dominant eighth, and the three-up, three-down ninth inning from Mariano Rivera was such a sight for sore eyes that it seemed we had last seen it on Yankeeography. Youngsters Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli kept pushing themselves forward on the Bomber bounty list, Mark Teixeira continued his resurgence, and one of the team’s biggest stars rose to the occasion when called to.
Coupled with the all-important “W” following a 3-4 road trip and two-game losing streak, the list of positives was enough to help the faithful forget yet another injury to a regular and the fact that the lineup they fielded was one of the weaker ones we’ve seen in Yankee land since the playoffs largely became a rite of passage about 15 years ago. Faced with second and third with no outs in the fourth and following on a leadoff double in the sixth, the sixth through eighth spots in the order came up with four swinging strike outs and two popups. The way Randy Winn, Marcus Thames, and Juan Miranda ended what could have been very long innings, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the baseball Umpire Joe West was longing for when he tore into the Yanks and Red Sox weeks ago.
As mentioned, Minnesota starter Baker had superb control. He dispatched nine of the first 10 Yankees through three frames with five strike outs and 41 pitches, just eight of them off the plate. It was frustrating watching home plate ump Alfonso Marquez continually pump his right arm for Baker as Burnett struggled through 99 pitches where he threw just three more strikes than balls. Ahead on an unearned second-inning run, Baker was rolling until Gardner shocked him with a 2-2 home run to deep right to lead off the home fourth. A Teixeira single, A-Rod walk and the first of two Robbie Cano doubles gave the Yanks a 2-1 lead until the prevent offense rolled in, with Winn hitting in Nick Swisher’s spot as the right fielder was removed with an injury.
A.J. looked rejuvenated with the slim 2-1 lead, getting two quick outs, but Joe Mauer tied it with a home run deep to left center in the fifth. But not for long. Later in the eighth inning Francisco Cervelli would hit a triple, a rare easy one because Michael Cuddyer misplayed his ball in right. But three-base hits are usually among the game’s most exciting plays, something Yankee fans have delighted to this year, as A-Rod, Derek Jeter, and Curtis Granderson are among the league leaders with two apiece. But when Brett Gardner singled with two down in the home fifth, then motored around to home on Teixeira’s double down the right field line, no base-running play could have eclipsed it in thrills and chills. Traditionally one of the best defensive teams in the league, Minnesota’s play to the plate could not have been better executed. The lightning-quick Gardner not only outran the struck and then thrown ball, he cut the bases in such perfect fashion en route that it is difficult to believe any ballplayer alive could have made the circuit quicker. If anyone in the crowd didn’t realize just how special a play we had seen, Teixeira being cut down at the plate on A-Rod’s ensuing single to left provided a clear comparison.
So Brett’s dash gave A.J. a 3-2 lead, and Burnett made a bid for his first one-two-three inning in the sixth. But he inexplicably walked light-hitting Alexi Casilla with two down, something that quickly became a non-problem as Cervelli pegged him out trying to steal. Baker survived the sixth as well despite Cano’s leadoff double as the bottom of the Yankee order did its second straight disappearing act.
But not only was this game decided in the seventh, each rally started with a little luck, and each required the respective teams’ star players to come through in the clutch. The creator of the epic Star Wars movie phenomenon George Lucas celebrated his 66th birthday this day, though it’s doubtful he’s aware that the Twins and Yankee had a Star War of their own in the seventh. A.J. got two ground-ball outs to start the top of the frame, but in between Denard Span lifted a broken bat single to center, then moved up a base on a fielder’s choice.
With victory in his grasp but Minnesota’s best two hitters, both lefties, coming up, Joe Girardi replaced A.J. with his southpaw specialist. That may be what Joe calls Damaso Marte, a guy who had a minus 2009 season only to pitch superbly in the postseason. But “Damage Pitch” Marte promptly surrendered a game-tying single to Mauer and a go-ahead double to Justin Morneau, although truth be told, Gardner’s poor throw home on the former certainly contributed to the mess. Manager Ron Gardenhire had his stars right where he wanted them with the game on the line, and they came through.
But the Yankees responded immediately. That Cervelli’s leadoff single was stopped in the infield is a tribute to Twins second sacker Orlando Hudson, but he never really had a shot to throw Francisco out. But the struggling Jeter was the one to catch a Yankee break. His one-hopper off Baker’s body knocked the Minnesota righty out of the game in more ways than one. That it caromed at roughly a 60-degree angle toward the short right field corner put Yankee runners on second and third with no one out. We can only hope the hot shot didn’t hurt Baker as well.
Gardenhire had his choice yet again. He had righty Brian Duensing walk the switch-hitting Teixeira to load the bases, placing the onus squarely on Yankee star third baseman and power hitter Alex Rodriguez. After some struggles Alex has been getting some hits lately, but the power hasn’t been there, with just three long balls in the season’s first six weeks. But Alex wasted no time. He fouled hard past third, then lifted the 0-1 pitch high and far to left center. Certain to be at least a game-tying sac fly when it left the bat, the moon shot continued to carry until it ended up clearing the fence by several rows. Gardenhire had rolled sevens (as in Joe Mauer’s number, for instance) in the top half, but his strategy was bust now, and the Yanks had a 7-4 lead. An eighth-inning tally finished it at 8-4 Yanks.
May 14 has been a pretty good day in Yankee history, as Wally Pipp, famous for being replaced in his position by Lou Gehrig, hit a grand slam in a 16-11 win over the Tigers on this day in 1923. Mickey Mantle victimized Baltimore hurler Stu Miller for his 500th career home run on May 14, 1967, and Doc Gooden threw a no-hitter against Seattle in old Yankee Stadium on this day in 1996.
And following on the George Lucas birthday, the day has had other big moments in the entertainment field too. The hilarious “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” had its last broadcast on NBC-TV on this day back in 1973. This may call for some research by many readers, but if you think that in light of the evening’s fun, that highlight would prompt me to yell, “Sock it to ‘em, Alex!” well,
You bet your sweet bippy, it would.