The Yankee blogosphere and sports talk radio were abuzz prior to tonight's game. Brian Cashman joined the team mid road trip, a rare occurence. A line-up was posted that had Melky Cabrera in RF and Nick Swisher on the bench. Then the lineup was, as Walter Sobchak would say, unposted. Then Swisher went into a closed door meeting with Cashman and Joe Girardi. Then the lineup was reposted, with Swish and Melky switching spots. Speculation abound: was a trade in the works?
It was much ado about nothing. The only roster move was the merciful and long overdue DFA'ing of Angel Berroa to make room for Cody Ransom (more on that tomorrow). In typical fashion, everyone was left in suspense on that one until minutes before first pitch.
As for the game itself, it was much the same for the Yankees early on. The Braves were tossing a perfect game through five innings with the Yankees' best chance at a hit coming on a line drive off the bat of Joba Chamberlain. The comebacker grazed the neck of pitcher Kenshin Kawakami, knocking him out of the game, but Kris Medlin picked up where he left off, sending the Yankees down one by one.
The sixth inning started with the Yankees trailing 1-0 on a home run by human out machine Jeff Francoeur. Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk, ending the perfecto but keeping the no hitter in tact. With the offense scuttling, the team down a run, Gardner being virtually unstoppable on the bases, and the eight and nine spots due, everyone in the ballpark knew Gardner was going to be running. Medlin knew as well, and before he threw a single pitch to Francisco Cervelli, he threw to first three times. On the third attempt firstbase umpire Bill Welke called Gardner out, though replays showed him to be undoubtedly safe. Girardi came charging out of the dugout, and I'm sure he was fixed on getting tossed. Welke obliged, and as has seemingly been the case with his past ejections, the Yankees responded after the skipper had been thrown out.
Cervelli pulled a 2-2 curveball over the left-centerfield fence for his first Major League home run. It ended the no-no, tied the score, and gave the Yankees their first run since Sunday's ninth inning. After Joba lined to second for the first out of the inning, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon knocked consecutive singles to put runners on the corners.
When Medlin issued an unintentional intentional walk to Mark Teixeira, Michael Kay likely soiled himself in the YES booth. Boldly on his afternoon radio show and more tactfully on the YES pregame, Kay made it known that he strongly feels A-Rod needs to be dropped in the order while he struggles. Electing to load the bases to pitch to the slumping slugger must have been extremely gratifying to the play-by-play man.
Bobby Cox summoned flamethrower Jeff Bennett from the pen to face Rodriguez, and he quickly got ahead 0-2 as A-Rod struggled to keep up with his 94 MPH fastball. But when Bennett let one get too much of the plate, A-Rod lined a base hit to center, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead, their first since the fifth inning Sunday. I know it's not the best metric, but A-Rod does have 4 BRI over his last 3 games. Baby steps. Nick Swisher hit a solo shot in the seventh to make it 4-1.
Aside from the Francoeur home run, Chamberlain had a very good start. Entering the bottom of the seventh he had thrown 85 pitches and allowed just five hits and no walks while whiffing five. A single and an error by Chamberlain put two on with one out. Joba then allowed an RBI single to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.
Tony Pena, managing for Girardi, called for Phil Coke. Coke retired both batters he faced on flyouts, the first being a sacrifice fly that featured a circus catch from Swish on the RF warning track. Joba's book closed at 6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K. He was in line for the win with the Yankees leading 4-3.
The Yanks added some valuable insurance runs in the eighth. Johnny Damon led off with what should have been a groundout, but miscommunication between Casey Kotchman and Eric O'Flaherty left him with an infield single. Teixeira singled, then he and Damon moved to second and third on a wild pitch. This time, it was A-Rod who was intentionally walked. Take that Michael Kay.
Robinson Cano followed with a potential doubleplay ball to first. Kotchman came home, forcing Damon out. Brian McCann then tried to double Cano at first. McCann made his throw from foul territory along the first base line. His throw tailed back towards fair territory, on a collision course with Cano's back. Replays showed that Cano's left foot may have been slightly inside the foul line. Burned by a bad call in the sixth, a non call in the eighth went in the Yankees' favor on a play reminiscient of the 1978 World Series and 1998 ALCS. As Kotchman simultaneously chased the ball down and pled his case, Teixeira scored and A-Rod moved to third. Bobby Cox came out to argue. After Girardi had been tossed the all time ejection leader somehow managed to stay in the game. A Swisher groundout plated A-Rod and made it 6-3. The Yankees would need the extra runs.
In the eighth, Brian Bruney struggled, in spite of his sweet 'stache and unique hat. He walked Chipper Jones leading off the inning. McCann struck out, and Garret Anderson grounded to first, moving Jones to second. Kotchman walked and Francoeur drove Jones home with an RBI single to make it 6-4, and that was it for Bruney. Mariano Rivera, who hadn't pitched since last Tuesday, was summoned in a relatively high leverage 8th inning situation. Mo fanned Kelly Johnson to end the threat.
The Yankees batted around in the ninth, scoring two more runs to make it 8-4. The ninth batter of the inning was Mariano Rivera, he of four career plate appearances between the regular and postseasons and none since striking out on June 20, 2006. One could question the relative wisdom of allowing Mo to bat in a four run game with three outs to go. But the Yankees needed a win and Mo needed some work. The whole team had a good laugh when he lined a shot to center that was caught for the final out of the inning.
Rivera struck out the side in the ninth to end it. For those of you scoring at home, that's a pitching line of eight days rest, four batters faced, four strikeouts and a batting line of 1,100 days rest, 1 AB, and one line drive that's probably amongst the top ten best batted balls by a Yankee over the past four games. Such is the wonder of Mo.
At long last the Yankees caught a few breaks tonight, and they capitalized on them to end a three game losing steak. Here's hoping the breaks and the wins keep coming their way.