The A-Team

Bronx, N.Y., October 1, 2012 – Even coming off a lively eight-run comeback in a 9-6 win in Toronto in their last road game of the year, fans could be forgiven for being nervous when the the Yankees took the Stadium field vs. the last place Red Sox Monday night with the division crown on the line. Running away with the AL East and the sport’s home run crown six weeks ago, their offense has become tentative and often ineffective, roughly coinciding with the loss of some key lineup stalwarts to injury.

Thus, even with a revived CC Sabathia, their ace, on the mound, the Stadium became tense and quiet when Boston threatened to take an early lead once first baseman Mauro Gomez led off the top of the second by doubling to left center. He move up 90 feet on an out, but the Yankee ace stiffened and left him right there. Still, the crowd needn’t have worried: The A-Team was back in town.

What followed in the bottom of the second was an eight-hit, four-home-run, nine-run Yankee outburst against Boston Starter Clay Buccholz and ex Yankee Alfredo Aceves, a 68-pitch, half-hour-plus ordeal the two Boston righties had to endure against an offense capable of exploding against any team in the league. First baseman Mark Teixeira returned from a thigh injury that has cost him 30 games; he was lost to the team right around the time when third baseman/DH Alex Rodriguez was returning from missing a month due a hand broken by a pitch.

Hot-hitting second baseman Robinson Cano, who barely escaped a similar hand injury in Toronto Saturday, got the loud inning started, drilling Buccholz’s first pitch off the Mohegan Sun club facade past Monument Park just right of dead center. Teixeira took a third strike, but in the next eight pitches a single and two home runs (Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin) had the Sox reeling and the Bombers up, 4-0. Things quieted briefly as the Boston righty issued two walks and surrendered a single to load the bases, but the Yanks were just reloading. Rodriguez lined a sac fly to left for a second out, but a fifth run. Another vicious Cano swing netted his second extra base hit of the inning, a two-run double to right center. Then, given a second shot, Tex homered deep to right for 9-0. Nick Swisher added a double after his folloowing home run shot barely went foul, but the inning ended with a groundout.

Rodriguez and Teixeira were not the only key Yankee pieces who missed significant time this year. Staff ace CC Sabathia went through two disabled list stints, and had struggled for parts of five games since his second return. But he has been solid of late, as he would be this night. Daniel Nava reached him for a homer to right after the big frame, but CC increased his strike out total to seven in retiring nine of the next 10 to get the game through six innings at 9-1. His lone walk leading off the seventh, to Gomez, resulted in a score on a sac fly, but the powerful lefty retired Boston through eight innings on only 103 throws, allowing just four hits, the one walk, and two runs. His 70/33 strikes/balls ratio was textbook, and he pounded 20 first-pitch strikes to 29 batters. His low nineties fastball was solid, he had a lively slider, and a devastating change kept the Red Sox guessing all night.

On offense, the Yanks followed with threats in the fourth and seventh, but did not add a run until the eighth, when rookie Melky Mesa not only stroked his first major league hit good for his lone rbi for the 10-2 final score; he was the only one of five eager Yankee batters not to fall behind in the count, 0-2. Eduardo Nunez, Brett Gardner, and Chris Dickerson came on that frame along with Mesa; Joe Girardi inserted Casey McGehee and Chris Stewart on defense, and after warming Cody Eppley up, brought ex-starter Freddy Garcia in to pitch the ninth. Sabathia had pitched an eight-pitch, all-strikes, one-two-three top of the first; Garcia did the exact same in the ninth.

October 1 is rife with baseball history and, more specifically, big Yankee days. The Boston Americans (eventually Red Sox) started playing the Pittsburgh Pirates in what many see as the first World Series on this day in 1903, the first year the Highlanders (Yankees) played in New York. In light of tonight’s game’s four-home-run inning, it’s worth mentioning at least two Yankee long-ball feats: This is the day in 1932 that Babe Ruth is alleged to have called his World Series home run off Charlie Root; and on October 1, 1961, Roger Maris finally reached the end of his tortured quest, as he hit home run No. 61 to eclipse the Ruth record that had stood since 1927.

The October 1 calendar is dotted with a couple of big actor birthdays as well, the more recent of two belonging to English thespian Richard Harris on this day in 1930. Harris not only made the delightful comedy My Favorite Year, a title potentially descriptive of Sabathia’s favorite season, as he dominated baseball’s 2009 postseason, a feat he probably hopes to repeat this year, but also A Man Called Horse. Ask any Yankee fan who this team’s horse is, and CC will be the resounding answer.

Two years before Harris came along, American actor George Peppard was born. The Yankees came home following a long tense September having succeeded in never relinquishing their place atop the AL East standings. They’ve been repeatedly tied down the stretch, but never bettered. And Monday night, with three games remaining in the season, they walloped the Red Sox with a gathering of players that fit a Peppard TV cast to a [Mr.?] “T”: They won perhaps their biggest game of the year with,

The A-Team