Fireballing Texas righty Alexi Ogando came in lossless, and Yankee ace CC Sabathia took the mound without a win, two records that did not change although both starters threw pretty well. Sabathia worked in trouble all night but, as he has shown time and time again, more often than not he can work out of it too. Not so early, however, as even though he struck out the side in the top of the first, a base hit followed by an Adrian Beltre drive high into a gusty wind to left gave the visitors a quick 2-0 lead. Slick Yankee defense held the line there for a while as nifty double plays removed leadoff base runners in the second and third innings.
But DH Michael Young, who evenly split six of the 10 Texas hits with his Rangers third baseman teammate, doubled leading off the fourth and promptly scored on Beltre’s soft single, a ball he lifted into short left even though he was fooled by a Sabathia curve ball. That increased the lead to 3-1, because Robinson Cano, batting cleanup as Alex Rodriguez took a night off to rest his tight oblique muscle, had turned on an Ogando fast ball leading off the home second and hammered it into the second deck in right. But the Texas duo was far from done. Once Russell Martin equaled the score with a two-run homer to left in the fifth (on the pitch after I once again bellowed “Russell the Muscle,” by the way), Young’s leadoff single and Beltre’s following double, both to left center, put Texas on top once again, 4-3, in the sixth.
Needing to adjust his Arod-less lineup anyway, aside from putting Cano in at cleanup with Nick Swisher and subbing third baseman Eric Chavez behind him, Joe Girardi relegated Brett Gardner to ninth with Derek Jeter leading off, and the recently hot Curtis Granderson behind him. In a nip-and-tuck seesaw battle that was decided late, it turned out Joe made all the right moves, and Jeter singled in front of a Granderson no-doubt-about it drive inside the right field foul pole, which has been a star attraction for two straight games, to give the Yankees their first lead of the night in the bottom of the sixth.CC, at 107 pitches through six, had a rare lead, and he left to hearty and well-deserved applause after striking out Julio Borbon to start the seventh. But Joba Chamberlain came in with no control, walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches, and paid for it, when Young (remember him?) doubled over Swisher in the right center field gap to tie the game one out later. Chamberlain redeemed himself somewhat, though, because with the lead run on second and after falling behind Beltre 3-0, he retired him on a comebacker to the box. With this series billed as a playoffs redo between two powerhouses, and the second of the three games playing to a national audience, these teams were living up to their billing and putting on quite a show.
Ogando was gone one out into the seventh too, giving way after a one-out Jorge Posada walk and Martin single to ageless soutpaw Arthur Rhodes, who was up to the task. Yankee fans of a certain age will remember that pinstriped lefty batters Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez did quite well against Rhodes when he was with Baltimore more than a decade ago, and in the eighth it became deja vu all over again, as Chavez followed a walk and single by switch hittters Mark Teixeira and Swisher with a single to center that plated Tex with what was the winning run.Rafael Soriano, with another indication that he will be great in the setup role in games where it is warm enough to grip the ball, had shut the Rangers down in the top of the eighth on nine pitches, and now it was Mariano time. The crowd reaction was electric, as usual, when Rivera trotted in and took the mound, and you wonder how many present this night and in the last few weeks at his seven saves and one win in the early season were witnessing this phenomenon for the first, or second, or third time. It was an easy thought to muse on on April 17, exactly 60 years after a young phenom named Mickey Mantle debuted in the Bronx, with a young elocution professor calling out his name over the public address system, in Bob Sheppard’s first day on the job. Five years later, Mickey hit two tape measure shots in an Opening Day win in Washington, and on April 17, 1961, Mantle accounted for all three runs including a first-inning home run in Whitey Ford’s 3-0 shutout over Kansas City in front of a sparse crowd in a freezing rain, something the 2011 fan can relate to.
None of the fans, veteran or first-timers, were disappointed as Mo worked his magic, setting down the Rangers one-two-three, with Chavez pegging out the speedy Elvis Andrus on a swinging bunt toward third to end it. Following a nice play by Jeter to start a double play in the second, Chavez had made a stellar stab in the hole to start a 5-4-3 in the third. And even though he did not hit any of the three home runs the Yankees blasted, keeping up a pace well ahead of their record-breaking 1961 squad back when the M&M boys owned the Bronx, Eric came off the bench and had two hits and drove in the decisive run.
Exactly three months ago, the world lost music business genius and impressario Don Kirshner. Perhaps as many youth as regaled the exploits of Mickey Mantle five and six decades ago, and are amazed by the continuing excellence of Mariano Rivera today, were tuned into early TV watching Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. For one day all this came together, because Sunday night,
The Yanks Rocked the Rangers