YANKEES 14, RED SOX 2
Most baseball experts pegged the Yankees to win the American League East and to have the best record in the American League in 2012. However, those same experts were not counting on them needing 162 games to accomplish it.
But in a season in which the team lost baseball’s best closer ever, a 24-year-old hard-throwing starting pitcher, their best base-runner and defensive outfielder and their All-Star third and first basemen for long stretches of games while they blew a 10-game lead they owned on July 18. But they held on to win their division and maintain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Robinson Cano was 4-for-4 with two mammoth home runs and six RBIs and Curtis Granderson added a pair of home runs and four RBIs as the New York erupted with some heavy lumber to throughly thrash a hapless, listless and joyless Boston team on Wednesday in front of a jubilant paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 47,393.
Combined with the Oakland Athletics’ 12-5 victory over the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays’ 4-1 defeat of the Baltimore Orioles earlier, the Yankees’ victory gave them the dual prize of champions of their division and the best record in the league. It was the Yankees’ third division title in the past four seasons and they made the playoffs for the 17th time in the past 18 seasons.
The Yankees will open their postseason quest for their 28th world championship on Sunday when they play on the road against the winner of the Baltimore-Texas inaugural one-game Wild-Card playoff game, which will be played on Friday in Arlington, TX.
After Freddy Garcia struck out the side in the ninth inning, the stadium broke into delirious cheers as the team and coaches celebrated on the field and put on their charcoal-gray American League East champion shirts and caps.
Though the journey was a long one and it was fraught with many ups and downs, the Yankees came into the game confident they held their fate in their own hands. They only needed to win this one game.
The Red Sox put up a run in the first inning off Hiroki Kuroda on a Jacoby Ellsbury single and he scored – after advancing to third on two groundouts – on Cody Ross’ sacrifice fly.
The rest of the night belonged to Cano, Granderson and some booming hits all over the turf off Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and a tattered Red Sox bullpen.
After a 1-2-3 first inning, the real Matsuzaka (1-7) appeared in the second when Cano ignited the fireworks with a single to center and Nick Swisher drew a walk. One out later, Granderson launched his 42nd home run of the season into the bleachers in right-center to give the Yankees a lead they would not dare give up the rest of the evening.
An inning later, Alex Rodriguez rolled a one-out single into left and Cano crushed a Matsuzaka change-up into the second deck in right-field for his 32nd home run of the season. After a Swisher single, Bobby Valentine – rumored to be managing what will be his last game with the Red Sox – removed Matsuzaka after he gave up five runs on six hits and a walk in just 2 1/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Matsuzaka’s fellow countryman Kuroda (16-11) settled in nicely after the first frame to pitch a solid seven innings in which he gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck out four batters. Kuroda’s 16 victories are a career high since he came to the United States in 2008 and he also evened his career record to 57-57.
The Yankees were determined, however, to keep the pressure on the Red Sox and they did in the fifth when Rodriguez slapped a one-out double in the corner in left and Cano hit the first offering he saw off reliever Clayton Mortensen even deeper that his first homer into the second deck down the right-field line.
Though Cano entered the game with an eight-game hitting streak in which he had multiple hits in each game and he was hitting an unbelievable .571 over that stretch, he was not through punishing Boston’s beleaguered pitching staff.
With reliever Pedro Beato on the mound in the sixth, the Yankees rallied again when Russell Martin reached base when he was struck in the left elbow on a 3-2 pitch. Derek Jeter singled and, after Suzuki forced Jeter on a groundout and stole second, Rodriguez drew a walk to load the bases.
Valentine removed Beato in favor of Scott Atchison and Cano said hello to him with a single into right to score Martin and Suzuki. The Yankees were up 9-1 and Cano had six RBIs.
After the Red Sox scratched out a two-out run in the seventh on a Pedro Ciriaco double and a Jose Iglesias RBI single, the Yankees put the game away by sending 10-men to the plate and scoring five runs on the Red Sox in the bottom of the frame.
Granderson keyed that inning with his 43rd home run of the season, a solo-run shot over the Yankee bullpen wall in right-center to start the uprising. The home run was also a historic one for the team. Granderson’s blast was the 245th home run for the team this season, which broke the previous record of 244 by the 2009 Yankees, who won their 27th world championship that season.
By that time, the Orioles had already lost to to the Rays and the Yankees already knew they reached their goal. That just left playing out the string of the next few innings against a dispirited Red Sox team, which were outscored 28-7 over the three-game series sweep.
The loss of Mariano Rivera and Michael Pineda for the season and the injuries that shelved starting left-fielder Brett Gardner for most of the season and took Rodriguez and Teixiera out the lineup for key parts of the campaign are but a distant memory now.
The next step will be to rest the wounds of the season and await manager Joe Girardi’s difficult choices for a 25-man playoff roster.
But the champagne still flowed freely in the clubhouse, the smiles were genuine and there is, no doubt, a lot of relief that their epic struggle to get to this point was finally over. As Jeter said it after the game, “Now the real season begins.”
- Is it possible for the Yankees to send Cano to play some games somewhere so his red-hot bat does cool off before Sunday? In his final nine games, Cano was 24-for-39 (.615) with seven doubles, three home runs and 14 RBIs. Cano finished the season hitting .313 with a career-high 33 home runs and 94 RBIs. In his last at-bat, Valentine brought in left-hander Craig Breslow to face him with one out and two on. Breslow walked him on four pitches to load the bases. Smart move!
- Granderson’s two home runs and four RBIs give him a team-leading 43 home runs and 106 RBIs on the season despite the fact he struck out a career-high 193 times and hit just .232 this season. It goes without saying the Yankees’ lineup is a deep one but Granderson was hitting seventh on Wednesday despite the fact his 43 homers tied him with Josh Hamilton of the Rangers for second in the majors to Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, who hit 44.
- Kuroda put in a good performance in advance of his next start behind CC Sabathia in the playoffs. Kuroda had struggled somewhat in September (3-1 but with a 5.22 ERA). His outing was very sharp and he pitched very well once the Yankees had staked him to a big lead. Kuroda was, by far, the Yankees’ best and most consistent pitcher this season. The Yankees need him to pitch well in the playoffs.
A typical New Yorker might have found some faults here or there in this game. Yankee fans are a hard bunch to please. But I am not going to go there. They needed to win this game and they did it. Why be negative?
After some questioning from the media about his lineup on Tuesday, Girardi moved Suzuki back to the second spot, shifted Cano up to fourth and batted Teixiera sixth. Good thing, too, because Teixiera still does not have his timing at the plate down and he was 0-3 with a walk and a run-scoring fly ball. Cano, meanwhile, cleaned up in the cleanup spot. . . . It will be interesting to see how Girardi selects his bench and bullpen for the playoffs. Backup catcher Chris Stewart, outfielder Raul Ibanez, corner infielder Eric Chavez and middle infielder Eduardo Nunez are assured of spots but Andruw Jones may lose his spot in favor of Gardner. There also is a good possibility that Derek Lowe will make the roster and Garcia won’t because Lowe has proven to be valuable as a reliever.
The Yankees will open their playoff series in either Baltimore or Texas on Sunday. Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees.
The best-of-five American League Division Series will be telecast nationally by TBS.