Nunez Atones With Key Hit As Yankees Edge Cubs

GAME 69

YANKEES 4, CUBS 3

Talented young players like Eduardo Nunez can have you scratching your head when he boots a routine grounder one minute and have you marveling at his great ability to hit in the clutch the next.

And so it was on a late Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field as Nunez committed what looked to be a costly error in the sixth inning. But he singled and scored the tie-breaking run in the sixth and stroked an RBI double in the ninth to score what proved to be the winning run as New York edged Chicago.

Nunez, who is subbing at shortstop for an injured Derek Jeter, is 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and three RBIs in the five games he has started since Jeter was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 14. Of course, in limited play this season he also has committed eight errors in the field this season. So you take the bad with the spectacular.

With the Yankees and Cubs tied 2-2 in the sixth, Nunez slapped a line-drive single on an 0-2 pitch from Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (5-6). He moved to second on an sacrifice bunt that landed foul and spun into fair territory by Yankees starter A.J. Burnett. Brett Gardner chased Dempster with a infield single that moved Nunez to third. Lefty reliever James Russell then surrendered a long sacrfrice fly to right that brought Nunez in with the tie-breaking run.

The Yankees then had to survive a bizarre sixth in which they had to withstand a hit batter and two errors with one out in the inning. Burnett hit Carlos Pena with a pitch but then induced Reed Johnson to hit into what looked to be a routine double-play grounder to Nunez. However, Nunez booted it and both runners were safe.

Burnett was replaced by right-hander Cory Wade and Wade got Rafael Soriano to hit a grounder to Alex Rodriguez at third. But Robinson Cano dropped Rodriguez’s relay to second and the bases were loaded. Geovany Soto then lifted a shallow line drive to left to Gardner. Gardner caught the drive and threw a one-hopper to Russell Martin at the plate that beat Pena by plenty. Pena attempted to bowl over Martin, who spent about a week nursing a back injury. However, Martin held on and popped up to show Pena the ball as the Yankees escaped holding a 3-2 lead.

Nunez again picked up the Yankees in the ninth after Cano blasted his second double of the game with one out off Jeff Samardzjia. Samardzjia then walked Nick Swisher and Cubs manager Mike Quade called in left-hander John Grabow. Grabow retired Martin on a foul popup but Nunez laced a 2-0 fastball into the gap in left to score Cano. But Swisher was gunned down trying to follow Cano at the plate on a throw from Starlin Castro. As it turned out that run Nunez drove in would come in to play in the bottom of the inning.

Mariano Rivera was brought in to pitch the ninth and he was touched for a leadoff home run by Johnson. But after a Soriano single, Rivera got a double play off the bat of Soto and then struck out Jeff Baker on three pitches to notch his 14th save of the season.

Burnett (7-5) was the winning pitcher, though he lasted only 5 1/3 innings. Burnett gave up two runs on four hits, walked three and struck out eight. His only big mistake was giving up a two-run home run to Pena in the fourth after walking Blake DeWitt, allowing the Cubs to draw even.

The Yankees, meanwhile, could not get the big hit off Dempster, who gave up eight hits and six walks in 5 1/3 innings. The Yankees collected 11 hits and 10 walks on the day off five Cubs pitchers but they had four runners cut down on the bases and they did not get key hits with runners in scoring position. They Yankees stranded a total of 13 runners on the day.

But the victory gives the Yankees a 40-29 record and the Yankees gained a game on the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. They are now just 1 1/2 games out. The Cubs dropped to 29-41.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Burnett pitched a good game despite lasting only 5 1/3 innings. From the second inning through the fourth, eight of the nine outs he recorded were on strikeouts. Five of his Ks came on swings at curveballs in the dirt. Pitch count became an issue in the sixth and Girardi removed him after Nunez and committed his error.
  • Cory Wade, Hector Noesi and David Robertson pitched exceptionally well in relief of Burnett. Wade escaped the sixth on the double play at the plate that retired Pena. Noesi and Robertson each pitched a perfect inning in the seventh and eighth, respectively. Despite injuries to Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano, the Yankees bullpen has been holding late leads.
  • Cano was 2-for-3 in the game with two doubles, two walks, a run scored and he drove in the Yankees first run in the third inning. Cano now leads the team with a .293 average. He now has a seven-game hitting streak in which he is 12-for-29 (.414) with two runs and five RBIs. He also is hitting .328 for the month.
  • Granderson put his awful 0-for-4 game with three strikeouts on Friday behind him. On Saturday, he was 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and a sac fly RBI that gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Granderson is hitting .286 for the month with four home runs and 12 RBIs.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • The first inning set the tone for the whole day with the Yankees’ offense. With one out they loaded the bases against Dempster on a hit and two walks. But Cano and Swisher struck out swinging and the Yankees left three of what would become 13 base-runners on the day. They also loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning. However, Granderson flew out to shallow left and Mark Teixeira popped up in front of home plate to Pena.
  • The Yankees also had four runners thrown out on the bases. Granderson was caught stealing in the fourth, Rodriguez was thrown out by 15 feet by Soriano trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth, Gardner was picked off by Russell in the sixth and Swisher was nailed trying to score in the ninth. It’s real easy to see that despite 21 base-runners the Yankees only scored four runs.
  • Though’s Gardner’s relay to nail Pena at the plate saved them, Nunez and Cano are going to have to play batter defense. Cano won a Gold Glove last season but this season he has made six errors. All of them of have been of the careless variety. Nunez leads the Yankees with eight errors despite the fact he has not played much until recently. His glove-work and his throwing need to get a lot better.

BOMBER BANTER

Yankee right-hander Phil Hughes will make a rehab start at short-season Class-A Staten Island on Sunday. Hughes will throw about 65 pitches. Hughes has been on the disabled list since April 14 with right shoulder inflammation.  . . .  In the five games the Yankees have played with Jeter on the DL, Gardner and Swisher have combined to go 7-for-18 (.389) with six walks, which brings their on-base percentage to .542. They also have scored five runs.  . . .  The Yankees have come to terms with their first selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Dante Bichette Jr. Bichette, 18, is a third baseman and is the son of former major-leaguer Dante Bichette. The younger Bichette has arrived in Tampa, FL, and he will join the Gulf Coast League team there. Bichette hit .640 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs at Orangewood Christian School in Maitland, FL.  . . .  FOX Sports play-by-play schmuck Joe Buck was really embarrassed after his miscall of Johnson’s home run in the ninth off Rivera. Buck told a national audience that Johnson had tied the game at 3-3. Seeing as Buck is a useless shill who desecrates the memory of his father every time he takes the mike and he also hates the Yankees, it is fitting that he be caught with his pants down Anthony Weiner style. But, alas, we have to say it ain’t so, Joe. The Yankees had a 4-2 lead when Johnson hit his home run and the final score was 4-3. Serves you right, Joe!

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for a victory in the rubber game of the series with the Cubs on Sunday.

The Yankees will have ace left-hander CC Sabathia (8-4, 3.28 ERA) on the mound. Sabathia gave up four runs in seven innings but was pitching with a huge lead over Texas on Tuesday. The victory was his fifth in his last six starts. Sabathia is 1-2 with a 5.76 ERA against the Cubs lifetime.

The Cubs will counter with right-hander Randy Wells (1-1, 5.63 ERA), who gave up three runs on eight hits in six innings in a no-decision against the Brewers this week. This is only his fifth start since coming off the disabled list. He has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.

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