The Yankees defeated the Tigers handily yesterday behind Randy Johnson's second strong outing in as many tries against Detroit. Johnson, whose ERA was just shy of six before he threw six scoreless innings in Detroit back on May 29, dominated for eight innings, holding the Tigers to two runs on three hits and no walks while striking out eight. Of course, two of those three hits were solo homers by Magglio Ordoñez and Omar Infante (!). Not that it mattered much. The Yankees touched up Jeremy Bonderman for four runs in just over five innings, and for the first time since his home run in Seattle a week ago, Alex Rodriguez was in the middle of the action.
After popping out in his first at-bat, Rodriguez came to the plate in the third with two outs and Bobby Abreu on second via a double. He took two balls, then delivered just his second hit since that Seattle home run 21 at-bats earlier, a two-out RBI single into left center to tie the Tigers, who had taken an early lead on Ordoñez's solo homer. After Abreu singled home a pair of runs in the fourth, also with two outs, Rodriguez led off the fifth by doubling on a 3-1 count and then scored on a Bernie Williams single. Rodriguez again lead off an inning in his next at-bat, again getting ahead early, then blasting a 2-1 pitch off lefty reliever Jamie Walker for a solo home run to give the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Rodriguez finished the day 3 for 4 with two RBIs, two runs scored, seven total bases and one stolen base. Robbie Cano and Bernie Williams added another run after Alex's homer via a double and a single respectively and the Yanks took a 6-2 lead into the ninth.
Entering the ninth inning having thrown 94 pitches, Johnson walked Craig Monroe on four more, then fell behind Marcus Thames, whose first major league hit was a homer of Johnson in the Bronx when Thames was a Yankee and Randy was a Diamondback. Johnson took the gimme strike, then Thames fouled off three pitches before taking the Unit deep yet again to bring the Tigers within two. That sent Johnson to the showers and brought in Mariano Rivera, who started out by giving up a ringing double to Ordoñez, but then set the next three men down in order to preserve the 6-4 win.
The Yankees finish the year with a 5-2 record against the team with the American League's best record, both loses coming in games in which the Yankees held a ninth-inning lead, but were unable to use Rivera to nail down the win (the first loss came in Detroit after Mo strained his back putting on his spikes two days after pitching three innings to earn a win). Not too shabby. Unfortunately, there's little chance of these two teams matching up in the ALDS.
As it stands, the Yankees are a pretty good bet to be the first-round host of the central division team that wins the Wild Card. The Tigers, even if they finish with the best record, can't play a team in their own division in the ALDS, which would pass the Wild Card team on to the team with the second best record. Thus, the Yankees would play the Wild Card if they finished with either the first or second best record in the league. Only if they fell to third-best, or if the A's rose to the top of the heap (they're currently 5 1/2 games behind the Tigers and 2 1/2 behind the Yankees), or if the Tigers fell into the Wild Cart spot (their 4.5 game division lead is the smallest of the three in the AL) would we get a Yankees-Tigers ALDS match-up.
Got all that? Good, because there's a glut of news to report:
On Wednesday, Rivera confessed to having felt some discomfort below his pitching elbow for the past week or so. An MRI yesterday morning showed a mild muscle strain, but no structural damage and Mo earned his 33rd save of the year later in the afternoon.
Kyle Farnsworth's balky back had reportedly loosened back up yesterday. He's available to pitch
Jason Giambi has been experiencing soreness in his left wrist. He too underwent an MRI yesterday. Though the results have not been announced yet, he's reportedly available to play despite sitting out yesterday's game (which did come the day after he played both halves of Wednesday's double header).
With Hideki Matsui taking batting practice, the big question becomes, will be ready to rehab before the minor league season ends. The good news there is that the Trenton Thunder have clinched the Eastern League's Northern Division and will play through the end of next week at the very least and could play as late as September 16 if they go the full five games in the Championship Series. I think it's safe to say, however, that Gary Sheffield won't make it back this year.
Because Tuesday's rainout pushed Chien-Ming Wang up a day, the Yankees won't have a regular starter on full rest for Sunday's finale against the Twins. As a result they're calling up Darrell Rasner to take the start, a move I fully endorse.
Rasner looked sharp in a lone relief appearance for the Yankees back in that first loss to the Tigers in May, utilizing a nasty curve. He then landed on the 60-day DL with a sore pitching shoulder. After a brief rehab stint in A-ball in which the threw 13 innings across four starts, he was activated and optioned down to Columbus where he started this past Monday, allowing three runs on seven hits over six innings, striking out five and walking none.
Rasner made his only other major league start for the Nationals last year in his major league debut. He ran into trouble in the third inning of that game and got an early hook, but then followed that appearance with 4 2/3 scoreless innings out of the pen in which he allowed just one hit and walked none. Of course that's all tiny sample stuff, but in the minors, the 25-year-old Rasner has shown mid-rotation potential, displaying good control, a solid strikeout rate, and a knack for keeping the ball in the park. A good outing on Sunday could put him in the conversation for next year's rotation.
Mike Mussina is expected to be activated to start against the Royals on Tuesday, which would mean the Yankees would have started seven men in seven days (Wright, Johnson, Lidle, Karstens, Rasner, Wang, and Mussina)
With rosters expanding today, no moves will have to be made to clear room for Rasner or Mussina. Meanwhile, as expected, the Yankees have called up relievers T.J. Beam and Jose Veras, which is just what the doctor ordered for Scott Proctor and Ron Villone. They've also added third catcher Wil Nieves. Nieves, you'll remember, actually broke camp on the Yankees' 25-man roster because he was out of options, but didn't appear in a game before the Yankees picked Koyie Hill of waivers, at which point they were willing to take a chance on sending Nieves through waivers and back to Columbus. Once Nieves cleared, they did the same to Hill, who also cleared, though his season has since ended due to injury. Nieves will take the last spot on the Yankees 40-man roster. The Yankees are expected to activate Andy Phillips on Saturday, with more call-ups (Kevin Thompson?) to follow after the last-place Clippers' season comes to an end on Monday. The return of Miguel Cairo is also expected in the near future.
As I understand the rules, because Beam, Veras, or Rasner could be subbed in for the injured Tanyon Sturtze or Carl Pavano (safely assuming neither will be activated before the end of the season), everyone in the previous paragraph except Nieves (because the Yankees don't have any catchers on the major league DL), as well as the 25 men on the roster for yesterday's game (which means Karstens and Bruney in addition to the usual suspects), is eligible for the postseason roster.