Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yanks Win Thriller, Clinch Playoff Spot

Like they did on Monday night, the Yankees began the night by stranding multiple runners on base. This time they had loaded the bags, but Jorge Posada flew out to deep left to end the threat. As noted on the broadcast, the Yankees have left at least two runners on base in the first inning 27 times this season, which is the most in the Majors. Robinson Cano doubled to lead off the second, but the Yanks stranded him too.

Ervin Santana recorded four strikeouts (all swinging) in those first two innings, and in those at bats, 12 of the 18 pitches he threw were sliders. The breaking ball was a little wild though, as catcher Jeff Mathis repeatedly had to block balls in the dirt, including the one Jeter struck out on.

Santana got away from the slider in the third inning, giving up a single on a change up to Mark Teixeira and then a prodigious blast into the face rocks in straightaway center to A-Rod on a 3-0 fastball he left right in the middle of the plate. Hideki Matsui then reached on a catcher's interference, advanced to second on a wild pitch and watched from there as Jorge Posada was the first Yankee to finally conquer Santana's slider, lofting it sky-high, just over the tall wall in right field.

After striking out two times in his first two at bats Derek Jeter flared his 200th hit of the season into shallow right field to lead of the 4th inning. In the top of the 5th, Hideki Matsui got in on the tater party as well, launching a shot into the bleachers in right-center.

Meanwhile, Chad Gaudin worked his way through four scoreless innings against the Angels. A five run margin seemed comfortable at the time, but it started slipping away. In the bottom of the fifth, Chone Figgins jacked a solo homer to right. Then Vlad Guerrero singled in Macier Izturis with two outs.

An inning later, after Alfredo Aceves had replaced Gaudin and stopped the bleeding, the wound was re-opened. Five men reached base in the 6th via four singles and a bases loaded walk. Two men scored, but it could have been much worse were it not for A-Rod's diving stab and throw to get Vlad Guerrero for the third out.

Joe Girardi let Aceves face Torii Hunter in the 7th inning, brought in lefty Damaso Marte to get the switch hitting Kendry Morales around to his weaker side. When Marte served up a double, Joe promptly went back to the well for Phil Hughes, who induced two grounders and got out of the inning.

Hughes did not escape the 8th similarly unscathed, although by little fault of his own. Cano failed to field a hot shot from Howie Kendrick, and the play was scored an error. Then, Kendrick took off for second, Jorge Posada's throw escaped into centerfield and Kendrick was a third with no one out. Hughes got Figgins to pop out, but Izturis singled home the tying run in the next at bat. Bobby Abreu worked a work, but Hughes buckled down and struck out the heart of the Angels order, Hunter and Guerrero to keep the game tied.

Things were looking pretty grim for the Yanks, but the bats got off on the right foot in the 9th inning. Brett Gardner singled and stole second (although replays indicated he was out), Derek Jeter walked and all of a sudden they were back in business. Johnny Damon moved the runners over with a successful sac bunt and Darren Oliver walked Mark Teixeria, bringing A-Rod to the plate.

At this point, it was tough to feel too confident. A double play or a strikeout would have felt like a severe blow to the Yanks' chances, but A-Rod came through, ripping a line drive to centerfield that Brett Gardner just barely scored on. Had it been another runner on third, there's a good chance they would have been out.

The game was turned over to Mariano Rivera for the first time since his blown save in Seattle. Kendry Morales led off the inning with a walk and was replaced by pinch runner Reggie Willits. Juan Rivera came to the plate, and in between three pick off attempts, the intensity was built throughout the at bat. Maraino scattered cutters around but not in the strike zone and Juan fouled a couple of the closer ones off. It ended with a beautiful strike 'em, throw 'em out double play, changing the momentum entirely. Next up, Eric Aybar grounded out to end the game and the Yanks finally came away with one in the Big A.

They also clinched their playoff berth, although technically that had already happened when the Rangers lost to the A's earlier in the night. The Red Sox were shutdown by Zack Greinke, who allowed two hits and walked three over six scoreless innings at Fenway, lowering his ERA to an incredible 2.08. The magic number is now at 6, opening the possibility of clinching against the Red Sox this weekend.

For the moment, we can put aside the questions and soak this one up. Feels pretty good, doesn't it?

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