Even though both the Yankees and the Rays have increasingly less to play for with each passing regular season game, it wasn't apparent last night. The game had all the trimmings of a postseason match-up, save for the fact that Chad Gaudin was starting.
Like he did in his previous two starts for the Yankees, Gaudin fizzled out at a certain point. Unlike his previous two, he went deep into the game, holding the Rays scoreless up until Evan Longoria came to the plate in the top of the seventh inning. Longoria ripped an 0-2, lined shot over the wall in left field. Gaudin then gave up a single to Ben Zobrist and a walk to Pat Burrell prompting Joe Girardi to go to the bullpen.
He first called on Damaso Marte causing Joe Maddon to pinch hit for lefty-hitting first baseman Chris Richard with Gabe Kapler. Marte retired Kapler on a fly ball to right on only two pitches, but then with switch hitting Gregg Zaun due up, Maddon summoned switch-hitting Dioner Navarro, who spun around to bat left handed. Girardi countered by signaling for the righty Brian Bruney who got Navarro to ground into a force out at third. The managerial meddling didn't stop there as Girardi tapped his left arm for Phil Coke and Maddon deployed the switch-hitter Willy Aybar. Coke walked Aybar but got Akanori Iwamura to ground out to short, ending the inning.
Ironically, it was the most obvious move to the bullpen of the night that backfired on Joe Girardi. Phil Hughes was given the ball to start the 8th inning and was taken deep on his very first pitch to Jason Bartlett, a no-doubt shot to left field. It was Hughes' first blown lead as a relief pitcher. He gave up a single to the next batter but induced a flyball and a double play grounder to get out of the inning.
Even though lefty sidearmer Randy Choate has massive platoon splits, he was left in to face Derek Jeter in the bottom half of the inning. Jeter ripped one to right, but Gabe Kapler was standing right where it was headed. Johnny Damon then dragged a surprise bunt towards first base that got past Choate and looked to be a single until Choate flipped it to first with his glove, beating Damon by a half of a step.
The score remained knotted at 2 when Mariano Rivera took the hill for the top of the 9th. Mo knocked the Rays down 1-2-3, setting the stage for the Yankees 13th walk off win of the year.
Before his massive blast off of David Price in the second inning, Nick Swisher hadn't hit a home run at Yankee Stadium since June 8th. He had hit only three there all season. He had hit only one other walk off jack in his career. But he lifted his second round-tripper of the night just barely over the right field wall, and continued along with the obligatory jog around the bases, helmet toss and pie in the face. Predicatably giddy, Swish had a giant smile on his face right on through the post game interviews on TV.
Maybe it was the spunky newcomer conquering the demons that had sapped his power at home all year. More likely though, it was a statistical correction that Swisher's 25th and 26th homers on the year were lofted into the New York City night. Either way, it was just another game that the Yankees could have easily lost but seemed destined to win.