If the Yankees and Red Sox both win tonight, the Yankees will move into second place in the East and will tie the Indians for second in the Wild Card race, leapfrogging the nose-diving O's (3-11 in their last 14 games with last night's win) in both cases.
And that is exactly what happened. The Yankees rolled to a tidy 5-4 victory over the Inidians behind yet another quality start from their ace, Chien Ming-Wang. Wang didn't have his best stuff, though some of that--such as a solo home run by Grady Sizemore on the very first pitch of the game--could be blamed on the soggy conditions as it had rained all day and was actually coming down pretty hard when the game was started some twenty minutes after the scheduled first pitch.
The weather soon cleared up, as did the Yankees' fortunes, with Melky Cabrera going 2 for 3 and scoring his first big league run amidst a four-run ralley in the bottom of the third. Jason Giambi capped that rally with yet another key hit, this one a two-out RBI single. Unfortunately, Giambi slipped on the wet dirt coming out of the box on that single, straining his left hip flexor. He was later replaced by Tino Martinez, but is not expected to miss more than one game, if that many.
If there was anything surprising about last night's game it was the important role played by Wayne Franklin. When Aaron Boone, a pesky 4 for 4 on the night, hit Wang's 110th pitch into center field for a two-out single in the seventh, Joe Torre called on the left-handed Franklin to pitch to lefty Grady Sizemore (he of the lead-off homer against Wang). That wasn't terribly shocking (though I would have expected Buddy Groom to be his first choice lefty in a two-run game). What was shocking was that, after Franklin got Sizemore to fly out to end the seventh, Torre left him in to pitch the eighth.
Now, Tom Gordon was unavailable due to the shoulder injury that knocked him out of Thursday night's game (his MRI was negative, the diagnosis is mild tendonitis, he's day-to-day), but Tanyon Sturtze was both available and warming up. The logic for sticking with Franklin was likely the fact that lefty Travis Hafner was due up second, but Torre could have used Groom to face Hafner had Sturtze allowed lead-off batter Coco Crisp to reach base. Perhaps looking to give Sturtze another day of rest coming off his Monday spot start in which he pushed himself to exhaustion, Torre stuck with Franklin, who pitched a perfect eighth, striking out Hafner and Victor Martinez to get the ball to Mariano for the ninth.
Oddly, it was Rivera who nearly blew the game. After striking out Ben Broussard to start the ninth, Mo gave up a double to Ronnie Belliard and a single to Jhonny Peralta (Belliard held at third knowing he could score on an out and perhaps respecting Carbrera's arm in center). Casey Blake then hit for lefty Jody Gerut and lifted a sac fly to left, driving home Belliard, the first run Rivera's allowed since May 6 (a span of 23 innings). After catching Blake's fly, Hideki Matsui threw to second to hold Peralta at first. As it turns out, that saved the game as Boone followed with his fourth hit to push Peralta to third before Mo got Sizemore to ground out to Tino to end the game.
It will be interesting to see if Franklin's perfect inning and a third will inspire Joe Torre to use him in more important spots over the next two games. I had previously argued that today's starter, Darrell May, would be a better option in Franklin's role as the second lefty and long man in the pen. Assuming one of them will be sent back to Columbus after the break when Brown and Pavano are (hopefully) activated, they could both be pitching for a job over these last two games prior to the break.
That's about the best I can do for a subplot to today's Old-Timers' Day match-up between May and Scott Elarton. I'll be at the game with the Futility Infielder's Jay Jaffe, mourning the absence of Dave Winfield while telling tales of the halcyon days of Steve Sax, Kevin Maas, Steve Balboni, Mike Pagliarulo and Dan Pasqua (all of whom will be in uniform).