On "Support The 'Stache" day at Yankee Stadium, Jason Giambi got the Yankees on the board in the bottom of the first with a two-out single that plated Derek Jeter from second base. Sidney Ponson then miraculously made that run hold up for five innings by stranding six baserunners (including three in the third inning) and erasing two others via a first-inning double-play and a caught stealing by Jose Molina, which ended the fifth.
Carlos Peña led of the sixth inning by trying to bunt his way on base, but his attempt rolled foul. Three pitches later, he launched a Ponson pitch into the bleachers in right center to tie the game at 1-1.
And so it remained, through a pair of perfect innings by Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth. In the seventh, Melky Cabrera led off with a single and was bunted to second by Jose Molina, but J.P. Howell relieved Edwin Jackson and struck out Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter to strand Cabrera. Mariano Rivera worked around a one-out walk in the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, DH Jorge Posada led off with a walk and was pinch-run for by Justin Christian, who was then bunted to second by Robinson Cano. After Grant Balfour came on in relief of Howell, Christian stole third base, but Howell struck out Melky and got Molina to pop out to force extra innings.
Mo was perfect in the top of the tenth, and with one out in the bottom of the inning, Jeter worked an eight-pitch walk against Balfour. Bobby Abreu then fouled off four straight fastballs from Balfour, took a slider low for a ball, and then laced another slider into the gap in right center for a game-winning double, his first walk-off hit as a Yankee.
The Yankees thus swept the first-place Rays in their short two-game series and improved to 7-5 against Tampa Bay on the season. The Yanks played loosely and confidently in this series, as evidenced by their embracing Mustache Day (Joe Girardi conducted his entire post-game interview looking like this), and by class clowns Cano and Cabrera dumping a cooler of ice water over Abreu's head as Kim Jones was preparing to conduct an on-field interview with him after the game.
With the sweep, the Yankees have pulled up to 6.5 games behind the Rays in the AL East. The Yanks are also just a game behind the Twins and a half game behind the A's in the Wild Card race, though they still trail the Red Sox, who beat the Twins at Fenway today, by 4.5 games.
That's the good news. The bad news is that, while the Yankees have won four games in a row, they have only averaged 3.5 runs scored over those four games and 3.63 runs per game over their last 11 contests. Setting aside their 18-run outburst against the Rangers a week ago, they've averaged 2.4 runs per game in ten of their last 11 games. Take out their two game-winning runs in extra innings, and they've scored just 2.2 runs per game during regulation in those ten games. It's a great credit to their pitching staff, particularly their bullpen, that they've gone 6-5 in those last 11 games.
Here are the starter's on-base percentages over those 11 games:
Okay, so maybe Molina's not the problem. Melky's picking things up, and Betemit has been sitting with Jorge Posada DHing, but Brett Gardner's game is built around his ability to get on base and he needs to start proving it. Hopefully Johnny Damon will only miss the minimum and be back soon after the All-Star break. I just worry that the break will allow Molina and Melky to cool back off. However it breaks down, it's clear that Damon and Hideki Matsui, who's off to Tampa to kick his rehabbing up a notch, can't get back soon enough.