YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3
The Yankees played a game on Saturday that was very similar to the climatic fight scene with Rocky Balboa in the original “Rocky.” For the first six rounds, I mean innings, they were knocked down, hurt badly and they seemingly were clinging to the ropes in desperation.
But they came off the ropes swinging. It may have not looked pretty but New York sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs in the seventh inning to rally from a 3-1 deficit to down Baltimore and push their lead in the American League East back to three games.
For the first six innings Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (12-8) had the Yankees befuddled.
He retired the first 11 batters he faced in order until Robinson Cano hit an 0-2 pitch that was out of the strike zone over the wall to the opposite field in left for his 28th home run of the season. Of course, at that time Chen and the Orioles still held a 3-1 lead.
When the sixth inning began, Chen had given up only two hits and a walk while striking out four batters.
Steve Pearce, who was only in the game because Curtis Granderson had to leave in the third inning with a tight right hamstring, started off the rally innocently enough with a one-out single, his first hit for the Yankees.
With two out Jayson Nix worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Eduardo Nunez, who was just brought up on Saturday as the rosters expanded, stroked a broken-bat bloop single into left-center to score Pearce and end Chen’s afternoon.
Manager Buck Showalter summoned hard-throwing right-hander Pedro Strop to pitch to Ichiro Suzuki.
But Strop had issues with his command and he walked Suzuki to load the bases. Derek Jeter then ended up down in the count 0-2 before working it back to 3-2. And Strop promptly walked Jeter on an inside slider just out of the strike zone. Score tied.
Nick Swisher then continued the most improbable of two-out rallies by stroking a routine hard-hit grounder to the shortstop who is currently leading the majors in fielding percentage in J.J. Hardy and Hardy inexplicably booted it to allow Nix to score with what turned out to be the winning run.
Most of the 46,122 fans at Yankee Stadium who paid to see this heavyweight matchup stood up and cheered in delight.
It was these same fans who watched in horror as rookie right-hander David Phelps uncharacteristically walked six and hit a batter in his 4 2/3 innings of work.
Phelps walked Nick Markakis to start the game and after a Hardy single advanced him to third Markakis scored on a double-play groundout off the bat of Nate McLouth.
An inning later, Phelps hit Chris Davis with a 3-2 pitch and walked Mark Reynolds to begin the frame. Omar Quintanilla advanced them both on a sacrifice bunt and rookie Manny Machado scored Davis with a single up the middle.
Matt Wieters added the Orioles’ third run by leading off the fourth inning with a home run into the second deck in right-field.
Phelps, though he was wild, did keep the Yankees in the game because he gave up only three hits. The bullpen bailed the rookie out by shutting down the Orioles the rest of the way.
Boone Logan (6-2) pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory in relief.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano struck out two of the three batters he retired in the ninth to pick up his 35th in 38 chances this season.
The Yankees improved their season record to 76-56 while the Orioles fell to 73-59. But the damage from the game is that the Orioles blew a golden opportunity to come within a single game of the Yankees. Now they can leave the Bronx no closer than two games behind.
- Jeter’s at-bat against Strop was a classic illustration of what makes “The Captain” so special. Jeter was called out on strikes on a low pitch in sixth inning and he had words about it with home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook. But Jeter fought from 0-2 down in the count to 3-2 and earned the walk from Strop by taking two very close pitches. That was very courageous and it paid off big-time for the Yankees.
- Most Yankee fans will say Phelps stunk and disappointed them. But I would say Phelps showed more strength as a pitcher than I have ever seen in a rookie. He basically had no command and gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings. He never gave the Orioles a chance to break the game open and he battled with what little he had. That showed me a lot. Phelps is a keeper.
- The most overlooked player in the Yankees’ seventh inning had to be Nix. Nix drew two walks on the day and the second was a big one because it allowed Nunez the chance to drive in Pearce. Nix is hitting .254 but this is a very good role player who gives the Yankees good effort at the plate and he is very steady in the field. Nix does not get enough credit for what he does for the team.
- This team obviously is missing two big weapons in Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. That makes it hard on the rest of the team to step up. But they need to stop making pitchers like Miguel Gonzalez and Chen look like they are Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Yankees won on Saturday with just four hits and they used three walks and an error to their benefit. But the offense has to wake up soon.
- Andruw Jones is very close to earning himself a designated for assignment. With Nunez around to bat from the right side, Jones may be out of a job if he keeps putting up 0-fers as he did again on Saturday. He was 0-for-4 and did not get a ball out the infield against a rookie left-hander. He is now hitting .203.
- Russell Martin remains a major liability at the plate. He also was 0-for-4 and his batting average is now .196. With Francisco Cervelli back on the roster it might be time to let him have a shot to see what he can do with the bat. It certainly can’t be worse than what Martin has done.
Granderson had a precautionary MRI at New York-Presbyterian Hospital after the game and it appears his injury is not considered serious. Granderson grimaced as he struck out looking in the second inning and did not come out for the third. Manager Joe Girardi said that Granderson could be in the starting lineup on Sunday. . . . Girardi also told reporters that Rodriguez could rejoin the team in St.Petersburg, FL, on Monday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays. Rodriguez is rehabbing his fractured left hand at Class-A Tampa and the stint could end on Sunday. . . . Along with Nunez and Cervelli, the Yankees also brought up outfielder Chris Dickerson, left-handed pitcher Justin Thomas and right-handers Cory Wade and Adam Warren. Infielder Casey McGehee will also be added to the roster when Class-A Charleston’s season ends.
The Yankees have a chance to win the rubber game of the series on Sunday against the Orioles.
Phil Hughes (13-11, 4.02 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes is 2-1 and has given up three earned runs over his last 21 innings. He is 5-3 with 5.00 ERA in his career against the Orioles.
Right-hander Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.26 ERA) will start for the O’s. Tillman allowed one hit and struck out five in seven shutout innings to beat the White Sox in his last start. He is 2-3 with a 8.42 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.