The last two victories for the Yankees are just the kind of games that could make you start to believe. Then again, if you are an Indians fan, I'd think you are feelin' the faith pretty strong right now too. The Yankees won 1-0 yesterday afternoon putting pressure on Cleveland and Boston, who in turn both won one-run games last night as well. It was the Yankees league-leading 13th shutout on the year (go figure that), a nail-biter that featured some timely defense. I counted seven fielding plays over the course of the game (two by Jeter--including his John Stallworth over-the-shoulder routine, two by Cano--one featuring a nice pick by Jason Giambi, one by Matsui, another by Ruben Sierra, and the icing-on-the-gravy by Rodriguez-Cano-Martinez). Vernon Wells also robbed Bernie Williams of extra bases with a basket catch in right-center field that was the definition of smooth.
I figured that Toronto's starter Gustavo Chacin was due for a strong outing against the Yanks and he pitched very well. Bernie Williams slapped an 0-2 fastball in on his hands through the left side in the second to drive home what would be the only run of the game. With second and third and two men out in the frame Alex Rodriguez grounded out. It was a long, frustrating day for Rodriguez who looked off-balance and whiffed three times. The Bombers had an opportunity to score in the sixth but Luis Sojo made a mistake by sending Godziller Matsui home on a double to right center by Jorge Posada. Not only was he out by a mile, but Matsui didn't even make an attempt to get to the base or run into the catcher. The Yanks had ten hits but just couldn't score.
Shawn Chacon was even better, allowing just four hits to Toronto over eight full innings. Like Aaron Small, Chacon had good control and was able to use his breaking pitches to effectively keep the Jays off-stride. He only struck out one and was clearly saved by some huge defensive plays. Mariano Rivera was not available to pitch after playing in four of the past five games so Flash Gordon relieved Chacon in the ninth. After giving up back-to-back singles, Gordon had a challenging time with Corey Koskie before striking the Jays' third baseman out. Shea Hillenbrand, a Yankee killer, was next. Hillenbrand had grounded into a double play in his previous at bat, and the Yanks could only hope for lightening to strike twice.
It did. Hillenbrand laced a ground ball to third. Off-the-bat it felt like it had double, and a Jays win written all over it. The ball took a late, hard hop on Rodriguez, who gloved it cleanly and threw to second. Cano took the throw, and with the runner bearing down on him got off his throw to first. It bounced in the dirt, but Tino Martinez, who had just entered the game as a defensive replacement for Giambi, made the scoop. The throw beat Hillenbrand by a step and the ballgame was over.
It was a beautiful, heart-stopping win for the Yankees, and the finally play showed why the MVP is about more than just hitting. After the game, Rodriguez told reporters:
"To me, it's like hitting a walk-off grand slam," Rodriguez said. "I love it. Guys get on me because I get too excited. I'm like a 5-year-old kid out there having too much fun. But that was fun. With Mo being out today, that was a huge win for us."
Rodriguez and his teammates were pumped, as I'm sure many Yankee fans were too. It's just one win, but it was one to savor.