I don't believe there is such a thing as a must-win game in May, but if ever the Yankees needed to post a W, it was last night. Earlier in the day, Hideki Matsui underwent successful surgery to repair was we now know is a fractured radius (the larger forearm bone on the thumb side of the arm). Matsui had two pins inserted and is expected to miss a minimum of three months, which would mean mid-August at the earliest. The Yankees are operating under the mindset that getting Matsui back this season would be a bonus, rather than a sure thing. With Gary Sheffield still on the DL, the Yankees played Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams at the corners last night, with Bernie batting fifth and Andy Phillips at first base and batting eighth against the left-handed Barry Zito.
With the A's similarly, if not more banged up, Zito and Chien-Ming Wang took a scoreless game into the sixth. The only runner to reach third through the first five and a half innings was Phillips, who yanked a one-out single past Bobby Crosby in the fifth, was bunted to second by Cabrera, and pushed to third by walks to Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter. He was stranded when Jason Giambi hit a ball 390 feet to dead center that settled into the glove of Mark Kotsay for the final out of the inning.
Alex Rodriguez broke the tie in the bottom of the sixth with a home run into the Yankee bullpen, his second tie-breaking home run in the last three games. With former Yankee Randy Keisler, who had just replaced Matt Roney on the A's roster before the game, in for Zito in the eighth, Bernie Williams doubled the Yankee lead with his second homer of the year, both of which have come off lefty pitching.
Thanks in part to some outstanding defense by Robinson Cano and Andy Phillips and a whopping four double plays, Wang had not allowed a runner past first in the first eight innings of the game, holding the A's scoreless on three hits and a walk and needing just 85 pitches to do it. Still, Joe Torre decided to have Mariano Rivera, who has the flu and had pitched in each of the previous two games and with a four-run lead on Wednesday, close out the game. Three batters into the ninth inning, Rivera had men on first and third with one out, but the Yankees' fifth double play of the game, a 3-6-3 DP started by Phillips, shut the door, giving the Yanks a much needed 2-0 win.
Today the Yanks send fifth-starter Jaret Wright to the mound to face former Big Red Blog paper . . . er, posterboy Brad Halsey. Wright will be making just his third start of the season, his last coming a week and a half ago in Tampa Bay. Wright has allowed just two runs in his last ten innings pitched and allowed just three hits over six innings to the Devil Rays. That said, there's nothing to indicate that he has anything other than luck to thank for that run.
Carl Pavano left his rehab start in Trenton last night after throwing just 63 pitches due to tightness in his right bicep, but pitched well, getting through six innings on those 63 tosses, holding the opposition to one run on three hits and no walks while striking out six. Still, Pavano was supposed to throw 90 pitches. He's scheduled to make his next rehab start on schedule, but one imagines the speed of Pavano's rehab will be in some way affected by the performance of Wright this afternoon.
As for Halsey, he'll be making his third start of the year after having spent most of 2005 in the Diamondbacks' rotation. The Admiral had a 1.42 ERA as the second lefty in the A's bullpen prior to being forced into the rotation by the injury to his former Yankee teammate Esteban Loaiza. In his two starts since then, he's looked a lot like he did in pinstripes, lasting into the sixth inning both times, but not cracking the seventh in either, and holding the opposition to three runs on both occasions.
Curiously, the lefty Halsey, who I once thought might have been the answer to the Yankees LOOGY problems and who was murder on lefties in his first two big-league season, has something of a reverse split thus far this year. Still, Torre is sticking with Phillips at first and Bernie (who is hitting .364/.400/.576 against lefties this year) batting fifth. Kelly Stinnett gets the day game after night game start behind the plate, batting eighth behind Phillips and ahead of the left fielder, Melky Cabrera. For the A's, Eric Chavez and Jason Kendall are back in the line-up, though Chavez will be DHing with Scutaro staying at third.