"We've been on the balls of our feet lately," Torre said. "We're not waiting for something to happen." Joe Torre (Hartford Courant)
For most of the first half of the season it felt like the Yankees were always losing by three runs, even when the score was tied. Just one of those seasons, man. But now, as they are playing their best ball of the season, the Yankees are finding ways to win games, even when their ace pitcher does give up three runs in the first inning. And so it went last night in the Bronx as the Yanks won a nail-biter in the bottom of the ninth inning, 7-6. Mariano Rivera blew his first save since April 20th, but Derek Jeter's infield single drove home the winning run as the Yanks remain tied with the Mariners for the wildcard and just four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East.
I expect the Yankees to win these days, but I'm not that brave. I kept thinking they were going to find a way to lose last night, especially since Chien-Ming Wang was far from sharp for a second straight outing. They tacked-on runs after taking a 4-3 lead on Wilson Betemit's two-run homer in the second inning, but left runners on second and third twice with two out. They just could not seem to pull away, and the Orioles have been more than pesky against New York this year.
A two-out wild pitch with a runner on third and two men out by Ron Villone in the seventh inning shaved the Yankee lead to 6-5. Then came Joba Chamberlain in his Yankee Stadium debut. He fell behind Miguel Tejada 3-1 but came back to strike the slugger out on a wicked slider. Joba got ahead of Kevin Millar who grounded out sharply to Alex Rodriguez. Joba ended the inning by striking out Aubrey Huff with another nasty slider. Joba was pumped, the Stadium was rockin.
Onto the ninth, and here is where I really started to squirm, knowing that Rivera was not sharp on Sunday in Cleveland. Mo generally has a bad spell right around this time of year, so it's not as if I'm alarmed. Still, there was a ballgame to win. Melvin Mora singled and moved to second when Ramon Hernandez grounded out weakly in front of the plate. With all three outfielders playing in, Tike Redman--what a name!---blooped a single to center. Melky Cabrera charged the ball and fired a strike home where Mora was nailed for the second out of the inning.
"They were playing very shallow and I think it was a really poor decision by me," [O's third base coach, Juan] Samuel said. "That was my decision that cost us the ballgame. Yes, we tied, but you can't predict what's going to happen next. You have to make your decision on that particular play, and that was a bad one by me." (The Baltimore Sun)
Redman moved to second on the throw, and Jorge Posada overthrew the bag trying to get him. Fortunately, Melky was there to back the play up. Unfortunately, that little gnat of a Yankee-Killer, Brian Roberts was up next. Right on cue, he fisted a little fly ball into shallow right. Abreu fielded the ball on a hop and fired home. The throw was in plenty of time but it was high. Posada had to jump to catch it and Redman slide in safely with the tying run.
But with one out in the ninth, Chad Bradford hit Melky in the back. Jason Giambi pinch-hit for Shelley Duncan (who had pinch-hit for Johnny Damon in the sixth) and singled between first and second. Cabrera took third, Jeter at the plate. Would the Yankees try a squeeze? Perhaps if Jeter could push a bunt towards second. Well, that is essentially what happened. Jeter swung and tapped a dinky ground ball past Bradford. Roberts charged and fielded the ball, but it was too late. Cabrera, who doubled earlier in the game to extend his career-high hitting streak to 18 games, crossed the plate and the Yankees had themselves another win.