Sunday, September 30, 2012

A split was never so good

             The Yankees had to be bright-eyed at a four game set against the 4th place Toronto Blue Jays as a road to get more wins than the Orioles en route to another AL East crown, but poor starting pitching and terrible hitting with runners on in Canada caused the Yanks to have to fight tooth and nail to get back to America without dropping into 2nd place.

             It seemed Ivan Nova had found himself after his first impressive start off the DL against Tampa Bay, but things where back in the air after he followed that up with a lousy start against the A's. It would be no better against Toronto as Nova was ineffective again and couldn't even finish the 5th inning. Brett Lawrie opened the scoring in the 3rd with a 2-run homer and Nova gave up two more runs in the 5th from an Edwin Encarnacion double. As for Yankee offense, there was none!! Brandon Morrow shut out the Bombers for 7 innings and the Yanks couldn't even scratch a mercy run against the Toronto bullpen. The only good news of the night was David Aardsma's first relief appearance of the season, but he too allowed a run. The Yanks fell 6-0 and their stay in Toronto was off to a stingy start.

             Hiroki Kuroda has been up and down since that brief period when he was the Yankees' best starter and a quality start was much needed after the Yanks dropped the first game. After getting shutout the night before, the offense wasted no time in getting to Chad Jenkins when Nick Swisher hit a double that knocked in two runs in the top of the 1st. Derek Jeter's ground out double-play an inning later brought another run home to make it 3-0 Yankees. Kuroda was tough early on, escaping a bases loaded jam unscathed in the bottom of the 2nd and didn't surrender a run until a Colby Rasmus solo job in the 5th. Kuroda allowed another run in the 6th before being removed, but by that time the Yankees had grown their lead to 7-2 thanks to a 3-run homer from the Canadian native Russell Martin, his 20th of the season as he has been marvelous these past two months, and then a RBI single from Ichiro. The closest the Blue Jays came to making it a game again was later on from a 2-run homer by Adam Lind that made it 8-4, but the Yanks completely blew it open with a Robinson Cano RBI single in the 8th and then a 2-run homer from Eric Chavez in the 9th that pushed the score to the 11-4 final. The Yanks received a good scare when Cano was hit in the hand by a pitch, but thankfully the x-rays were negative and major disaster was avoided, for now.

             In his first eleven innings in two games since coming back from the DL, Andy Pettitte hadn't allowed a single earned run and had two wins to show for it. In likely his last regular season start of 2012, Andy Pettitte took to the mound again in hopes of keeping those streaks going. Just as in those two previous starts, the Yankee bats gave Pettitte a 1st inning lead with a 2-spot from sacrifice flies from Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson off of Ricky Romero. Pettitte finally gave up a run, a solo homer by Rajai Davis in the bottom of that inning that cut the Yankee lead to 2-1. The Yanks left plenty of runners on the rest of the game, but after that first inning couldn't get any more in. Meanwhile Pettitte was tagged for another run, a RBI infield single by Davis in the 5th and then a go-ahead RBI double by Adeiny Hechavarria in the 6th that would eventually end Pettitte's day before the inning was done. The offense couldn't get anything going, even though Romero was out after three innings, and the Yanks would lose by the score of 3-2 which was nearly as miserable as their 6-0 loss to begin the series. Although he didn't pitch too badly, the lack of run support put Andy Pettitte at 5-4 so far in this comeback year of his, and worse, an Oriole win put both teams at a tie for the AL East lead.

             When the Yankees landed in Toronto they had to be thinking either sweep or at least getting three out of these four games, but already down two to one, the last game became a must-win that turned out to feel like five wins in one once it was all said and done. Phil Hughes was scheduled for this all-important start, coming off a tough loss he had to endure in Minnesota, and didn't look as good as he did on Tuesday when he put the Yankees in a 2-0 hole in the 1st. Eric Chavez cut that in half with his 16th homerun in the 3rd, but the rest of the offense was a no-show early on in this one against Henderson Alvarez. Meanwhile the Blue Jays kept pecking away at Hughes; a 2-run homer by Brett Lawrie in the 5th and then a RBI by Moises Sierra made it 5-1 Jays. Just like Nova a few nights previously, Hughes was only able to manage 4.2 innings before getting the hook. At the time the scoreboard was sporting a huge Oriole lead over the Red Sox in their game together that had the Orioles on track to end the day in sole possession of first place in the AL East.

             When it seemed the Yankees once 10-game lead in the AL East was about to make its final collapse in the 6th, the Yankee bats finally found a spark and the team displayed some of that same grittiness they showed against the Oakland A's last weekend. Cano would score in the 6th from a wild pitch to make it 5-2, and the bullpen, specifically Derek Lowe and Boone Logan (who got the win at 7-2 this season) kept the Jays off the board to keep the game within three runs. In the 7th, the Yanks would storm back to tie it thanks to an Ichiro sacrifice fly, a double by Robinson Cano, and then another wild pitch that allowed Alex Rodriguez to cross home. The Yankees would take the lead an inning later with the help of some small ball and two-out hitting, things the Yanks shy away from. Curtis Granderson lead off the inning with a walk, and Girardi left in Raul Ibanez against veteran lefty Darren Oliver (instead of going to the slumping Andruw Jones) and the non-moved worked out when Ibanez delivered a single to move Grandy to second. Russell Martin sacrificed both runners over with a bunt. Up came Eduardo Nunez and he knocked Granderson in with a sacrifice fly deep to center. With the Yankees now up 6-5, Girardi went to Brett Gardner to pinch run for Ibanez, still on second base. With two outs, Derek Jeter came to the plate and went his typical opposite field with a hit that scored Gardner for a 7-5 Yankees lead. In the top of the 9th, Granderson would come to the plate against Jason Frasor with the bases loaded and smoked a double to score two more and make it 9-5 Yankees. It wasn't a save situation in the bottom of the 9th, but certainly with the Orioles winning the Yanks were in desperation mode and selected for Rafael Soriano to put it away. The Blue Jays refused to go quietly and Soriano was unsharp with his location, soon enough bases were loaded with no outs. Instead of imploding to what would've been one of the worst blown games in Yankee history, Soriano settled down and only allowed one run with a double-play ball and the Yanks would escape with a 9-6 win to stay at pace with the O's in first place.

              The win, coupled by losses elsewhere in baseball on the day, gave the 92-67 Yankees a playoff berth after this injury-plagued and inconsistent-hitting season, but the final three games at home against the lowly Boston Red Sox will determine if they get the AL East title or have to crawl on their bellies with the new Wild Card rules. It's no excuse time for the Yankees as the Orioles have the tougher task of facing the Rays in Tropicana Field......

Treat him like a baby

             The Minnesota Twins are one of the Yankees favorite baseball teams to see on their schedule with a long list of success going back to 2002, and a trip to the new spacious ballpark out in the Twin Cities in late September to build up some wins against the Orioles was at a perfect time. Though the Yanks, as the road team, stayed on par by taking two out of three games, they'll (specifically Girardi) be kicking themselves for letting the middle game slip away if it indeed causes them to fall out of the 2012 AL East or Wild Card picture.

             Veteran Andy Pettitte was on the hill for the opening game as he made his second tune-up start off the DL as he tries to keep building his stamina back up. Opposing him was Liam Hendricks, with only one career win as a starter to his credit, and the Yankee bats made the world see why with three runs in the top of the 1st to give Pettitte some room to work with. After an RBI ground out by Cano, Nick Swisher blasted a 2-run homer way into the second level in right-center. Pettitte wasn't sharp early and found himself in a jam of his own in the bottom of that first inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Pettitte got gritty as usual and struck out Justin Morneau on a called third strike on the outside corner, then got Ryan Doumit for an easy ground out to short. That's about as close as the Twins got all night from doing any damage against Pettitte and the Yankee bats put the game away with more homers; Granderson's 40th in the 4th, Ibanez in the 7th, and Eric Chavez in the 7th as well for a 6-0 Yankees lead. Pettitte was able to go 6 innings this time around and didn't give up any runs. Cory Wade spoiled the shutout by allowing a solo homer in the 8th and the Twins scratched two more runs across in the 9th off of a sloppy Justin Thomas and David Robertson, but Robertson was able to finish them off at a 6-3 final score without having to use Soriano (with his dead arm issue).

            Phil Hughes was on for the second game and looked prime to win his 17th of the year, but a questionable managerial move and poor relief work by Boone Logan turned it into Hughes' 13th loss. The Yankees gave Hughes a 2-run lead in the 4th when Nick Swisher, who hit a 2-run homer the night before, hit another double-score shot to right that gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead on Esmerling Vasquez. Although Hughes surrendered a run in the bottom of the 4th, the Yankees righty was looking strong for most entire night and received another run from a Russell Martin solo jack in the top of the 7th. At 3-1 in the bottom of the 7th is where things started to home apart for Hughes. He gave up a single to Doumit to start the inning, followed by a walk, so there were two runners on with no outs. Hughes got the next hitter to pop out for the first out, but Jamey Carroll hit a weak ball to short Jeter couldn't make a play on and the bases were now loaded. Hughes kept his composure to strike the next batter out, but when the lefty-hitting Dernard Span due up next with two outs, manager Joe Girardi decided Hughes' night was done and called for the lefty Boone Logan to go after Span. Despite the fact Hughes was only at 99 pitches with the score 3-1, had pitched well all night, and was getting outs with runners on the bags in that inning, Girardi didn't cut him the slack he probably would with a more veteran pitcher and yanked him off the mound.

               The move totally backfired and Logan first let in a run from a wild pitch, and then from there was cuffed around from a Span RBI double and then a RBI Mauer single, both lefty hitters. Instead of being up 3-1, the Yanks were now down 5-3. Glen Perkins, the Twins closer at the moment, came on in the 9th to close it out and the hard throwing lefty was able to breeze through the first two outs. Girardi made one good call on the night and pitch-hitted Andruw Jones and the mightily-struggling former superstar cracked a solo homer to bring the Yankees within one run at 5-4, but the next hitter Jayson Nix struck out to end the affair and the Yankees had to swallow a tough loss. Had they won, with the Orioles losing that night, the Yanks would've had a huge 2.5 lead in the AL East, but instead had to stay at the 1.5 mark.

              With the final game becoming a must win for the Bombers as they couldn't afford to lose out against a lesser opponent within the crunch time of the division race, (the good) CC Sabathia stepped up for his second straight start to get the team out of Minnesota with the series win. Samuel Deduno started for the Twins, but was lifted in favor of (the joke) Brian Duensing after Deduno experienced an eye irritation issue inthe middle of the 2nd inning. The Twins had a 1-0 lead in the top of the 3rd, but then after Chris Stewart grounded out, the Yankees went on a 6-run barrage filled with bases loaded doubles, a single, a triple, even a wild pitch. Sabathia locked in from there and would eventually go 8 inning for his 14th win and get 10 strikeouts. The Twins poked another run in the bottom of the 8th off of the Yankees ace, but overall the big man was as dominating as he was last week against the A's. Chris Dickerson added a solo homerun in the top of that inning and later on Brett Gardner finally made an appearance as a outfield replacement when months ago it was said his 2012 was done due to that mysterious elbow/shoulder injury he had that was never healing. The Yanks walked out 8-2 winners and it was the Yanks 90th win of the season.

             The 90-65 Yankees still hold onto the AL Easy by a nose and try to reap the benefits of their late September schedule with a visit up to Toronto for four against the Blue Jays....

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting the grit back

             The Oakland A's have been one of the hottest teams in baseball after the All-Star break and greeted the Yanks on their last visit to the Oakland Colosseum with a miserable four-game sweep. When the Yanks saw their schedule at the beginning of this season, the match-up must have appeared to be a breeze to help close out the season, but now playoff implications were on the line with Oakland a possible threat for a Wild Card spot if in case the Orioles knock the Yanks out of the AL East crown, which is too a strong possibility.

             CC Sabathia hasn't quite been himself in 2012, and with two DL stints for a pitcher who is never on the DL, the Yankees had to be concerned they wouldn't be able to count on their ace for the remainder of the season to dominate the way he's done it before. With better control and more velocity this time, Sabathia delivered an ace-like performance with 8 shutout innings that included 11 strikeouts. Opposing pitcher Jarod Parker also went 8 inning, but unlike Sabathia, he gave up a run in the 4th inning from a Granderson sacrifice fly that brought home Swisher. With a high pitch-count and it being a save situation, Girardi called for Rafael Soriano to take the ball in the 9th. With one out, Oakland pinch-hit Brandon Moss and the lefty-hitter took a hanging slider from Soriano and sent it into the second deck in right for a dramatic game-tying homer. Soriano would get out of the inning without giving up anymore runs, but the Yankees were being put to task in extra innings where they haven't been too successful this season. Hard-throwing Oakland lefty Sean Doolittle worked the 9th unscathed and came out again for the 10th. That's when Russell Martin connected on one that went over the left field wall for a walk-off 2-1 Yankees win minus the AJ Burnett pie job after.

             The next game would start out with Ivan Nova looking to build upon his good start off the DL  facing Tampa Bay against Travis Blackey, but nearly six hours later it would conclude as one of the most unlikely wins in Yankees history. Both starters were ineffective with Nova getting slapped around for doubles for two runs in the 1st inning, only to have the Yankees score three off of Blackey, started off with a solo homer from the hot-hitting Ichiro Suzuki. Andruw Jones would later walk in the inning with the bases loaded for the third run. Nova wasn't able to get it together and was given the hook by Girardi with only on out in the 3rd after giving up a homer to Stephen Drew and then walking the bases loaded. Luckily for the Yanks, Clay Rapada was able to get a ground ball double-play to escape further damage, but an inning later Rapada allowed an RBI single to Cliff Pennington that tied the game at 4-4. In the 5th, Girardi went to the bench to replace Casey McGehee and opted for the struggling lefty slugger Raul Ibanez. The old veteran delivered for the Bombers with a bomb of his own over the right field wall that gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead.

             Derek Lowe, another aged veteran the Yankees have on the roster who hasn't looked good in a while, chipped in with 2.2 solid innings of relief, but a runner he left on base would eventually score on a Chris Carter single. From that point in the 7th inning until the 13th, the game remained tied with one rally killed after another on both sides, including some phenomenal plays in the field by Yankees first base sub Steve Pearce. Freddy Garcia, in his third inning of relief in the 13th without the services of Robertson or Soriano available, finally cracked and was belted hard for a 2-run homer by Jonny Gomes and then a massive shot to left by the dangerous Yoenis Cespedes. Justin Thomas came in to relieve Garcia, but he fared no better and let up another Oakland homer, this time it was rookie Chris Carter. Down 9-5 in the bottom of the 13th inning and the crowd in Yankee Stadium all about gone for the late afternoon, the Yankees put together an unprobable rally to tie the score!! That man again, Ichiro, lead off the inning with an infield hit. After singles from Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano loaded the bases, a wild pitch uncorked by Pat Neshek allowed Ichiro to come home for a 9-6 Oakland lead. Eduardo Nunez delivered on a sacrifice fly as A-Rod was able to move to third on that wild pitch and then scored. With Cano still on base, the tying run in Ibanez came to the plate and blasted a 2-run homer deep to right and the Yankees had come all the way back to tie it at 9-9.

              Cory Wade kept the A's off the board in the top of the 14th, and the Yankee bats but it away in the bottom of the inning. Eric Chavez lead off the inning with a single and was replaced by a quicker September call-up Melky Mesa. Jeter moved him to second on a sacrifice bunt, and Oakland ended up walking Ichiro (can't blame them) to put runners on first and second with one out. The next batter, Rodriguez, singled to center for what looked to be the game-winning hit, but rounding the base at third Mesa missed the bag and had to go back. Cano came up next with the bases now loaded and weakly grounded to the pitcher who threw home to force the out. When it seemed this game would never end, Eduardo Nunez finally brought it to a close with a sharp grounder to first that Brandon Moss had trouble fielding cleanly, and fittingly, Ichiro scored the game-winning run. The 10-9 Yankees win took 5 hours and 44 minutes to complete, with a total of 18 pitchers and 29 position players used for both squads. The win brought the Yankees to a season-high twenty-five games over .500 and it was another walk-off win to pay back the A's with from the heartbreak in Oakland.

              With seven wins in a row under their belt, the Yankees were looking for number eight that would give them the sweep against Oakland and serve as their second consecutive sweep after dispatching the Blue Jays earlier in the week. Hiroki Kuroda got the call for the last game, and like Nova, was very sharp. Without a strong bite on his slider, and with the help of a blown call by the first base umpire, Cliff Pennington slapped a 2-run homer to right that increased Oakland's lead to 3-0 in the second inning after they already scored one in the first. Yankee players and coaches were barking early too at the home plate umpire for his low and wide strike zone for A's starter A.J. Griffin, but by the 5th inning the Yankee bats did the talking. Nick Swisher got it started with a 2-run homer, and then later in the inning the resurging Raul Ibanez doubled in Granderson to tie the game at 3 all. The game-winning hero from the day before, Eduardo Nunez, grounded out to second that allowed Russell Martin to score for a 4-3 Yankees lead. Again, the Yankees had fought back against adversity, but this time it would be Oakland that would squeak away with a win. Kuroda was never able to find his groove and gave up runs in the 5th and 6th from RBI singles by Cespedes and Pennington respectively. It stayed 5-4 Oakland and in the 9th Oakland manager Bob Melvin went with veteran Grant Balfour for the save. The closest the Yankees came to tying it was a drive by Alex Rodriguez deep to right field that had the crowd ready to explode, but Josh Reddick planted himself in front of the wall and caught the ball anti-climatically in his glove. Cano looked at a called third strike to end the game and the sorely-needed winning streak had ended.

            Although the Yankees didn't get the sweep, they showed some swagger in gutting out two walk-off wins against one of the hotter teams in baseballs, something that should help their chemistry as the tight race with the Orioles for the AL East continues with the Yankees clinging to a one-game lead. Next up, the 88-64 Yankees send Andy Pettitte out for his next test in the spacious Minnesota Twins ballpark....

Monday, September 24, 2012

The old guys rule

             With fifteen games left in the season, the big boost the Yankees were waiting for in the return of Andy Pettitte had finally arrived as part of a day-night doubleheader when a rainy Tuesday night pushed back the longtime Yankee lefty from making his start against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. It turns out Pettitte wasn't the only old guy in the locker room set to make some noise, Ichiro's bat and legs found a renaissance and drove the Toronto birds batty.

             Although he could've pitched the night cap, the Yankees stuck with the pecking order and had Pettitte pitch the day game with David Phelps slated for the nightcap. The Yankee offense make Number 46 feel right at home again with a quick three-spot on the board early against Henderson Alvarez. Robinson Cano doubled in Ichiro for the first Yankee run, then a RBI groundout and sac fly pushed the 1st inning score to 3-0 Yanks. Andy Pettitte did his thing from there; putting base runners on, but generating double-plays to get him out of jams. Pettitte would go 5 innings, giving up 4 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts for the win (his first since June). The Blue Jays made a game of it in the 8th when they got to a shaky David Robertson in the 8th for two runs and Girardi needed to go to Rafael Soriano to get the final out in the inning, a line-drive to left that Ichiro caught in the face of the blinding sun. Speaking of Ichiro, he would double in the 8th (his third hit of the game) and later score to make it 4-2 Yankees on a Nick Swisher Soriano came back out in the 9th to finish the game off for his 41st save of the season which made Pettitte's return that much more pleasant.

             A few hours later David Phelps and Ricky Romero locked up with Romero looking to even up the series at a game a piece. Both pitchers proved stingy throughout the night, but it was Phelps that gave up the first run when in the 2nd he gave up a RBI single to Adeiny Hechavarria. Phelps' battery mate Chris Stewart got that run back in the bottom of the inning when his ground rule double plated Casey McGehee, but the Yanks lost a run on the play when the speedy Ichiro was forced to stay at turn when he would've scored had the ball not ended up in the stands. Phelps was solid over 6.2 innings, but didn't stay in long enough to get the win. In the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees stole a page from the Tampa Bay Rays playbook after Curtis Granderson lead off the inning with a walk. Jayson Nix successfully sacrifice bunted him over to second base. The also speedy Granderson stole third and set it up for pinch-hitting Steve Pearce to get him in, but Pearce failed with a strikeout, and that left it up to the surging Ichiro to get the runner in with two outs. The Japanese sensation didn't disappoint and slapped a ball to the opposite field that scored Granderson and gave the Yankees the narrow 2-1 lead. Even though he closed out the day game, Girardi went with Soriano again in the 9th to seal the deal for the Yankees that brought Soriano his second save of the day, and 42nd of 2012.

              In no way was Yankees manager Joe Girardi gonna sit the hot-hitting Ichiro Suzuki, even though Toronto was sending up a left-hander to start the third and final game of the series, Aaron Laffey. Through all the peeks and valleys of Phil Hughes circa 2012, he gunning for his mind-boggling 16th win of the season and things weren't looking good by the by the third inning when he had the bases loaded full of Blue Jays and already down 1-0. Hughes ended up hitting Moises Sierra to bring in a run that made it 2-0 in favor of the Jays. Then Ichiro got things cooking; first with a homerun in the bottom of the inning, and then in the fourth with bases loaded with Yankees this time, Ichiro pulled a double to right that swung the lead back over to the Yanks at 3-2. The fun in the inning didn't end there for the hometeam, Jeter would slap a single to bring in another run, and then to top off the inning, Nick Swisher crushed a grandslam deep into the Yankee Stadium night for a whopping 8-2 Yankee lead.

             With the big lead, Phil Hughes still struggled to get hitters out and gave two of those runs back in the fifth from a 2-run shot from Moises Sierra, who he plunked with the bases loaded earlier in the game. Hughes was only able to go the 5 innings, but it was enough to qualify for his 16th win of the season, which leads all other Yankee starters - somehow. The Yanks tacked on more runs to make it more of a blowout again in the bottom of the same inning, but in the top of the eighth, things got interesting again. The expanded September roster brought the return of the forgotten Cory Wade and he made the Yankees remember why they sent him down many months ago. Wade gave up three runs in the innings and required Chamberlain to secure the final out, which then turned the blowout game into a save situation. With the heavy workload of Rafael Soriano from the day before, Girardi instead went with the original replacement for Rivera, David Robertson, and he notched the save for the team.

             From the last time Toronto visited the Yankees and made them look like a last place team, this time the 86-63 Yankees looked like the team on the right path to inch out the Baltimore Orioles for the AL East. An important sign was Pettitte coming back strong and feeling normal after his long awaited start, but another was the emergence of Ichiro as a homerun-hitting and base-stealing menace spark the Yanks were looking for when they brought him over from Seattle. More returns are on tap for the Bombers as it was announced that Brett Gardner would be re-activated soon and used as a possible pinch-runner if the Yanks are able to reach the playoffs. Back at their high-water mark for the season with twenty-three games over .500, next up for the Yankees is a another team threatening to take a Wild Card slot, the Oakland Athletics...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Getting their Nova back

             Ivan Nova had been struggling for a long time since a very good first-half of the season, and the Yankees were hoping a stint of the DL to rest his achy shoulder would get the young starter back into form. The Yanks were able to improve their rotation in one swoop by penciling Nova back in and sending "Five-Inning" Freddy Garcia back to the bullpen. Another piece of the Yankee rotation in question has been CC Sabathia and his less-than-a-ace performances in recent weeks, and he would surely be tested against the Rays and their lethal lefty David Price.

             With cries of small ball from the New York media and Yankee fans as a solution for the team's recent offensive woes, the Yanks pushed across the first run of the series an old fashioned way in the 2nd inning. Russell Martin lead off with a single and was moved to second on a slow ground out by Andruw Jones. Then with two outs and Martin on second base, Steve Pearce blooped a single to center to bring the Yankee catcher home. It looked like perhaps Sabathia had turned the corner when he kept the Rays off the board through the first four innings, but then reality sunk in by the top of the 5th. A lead off double to Chris Gimenez, then a walk to Carlos Pena, a wild pitch, a single, and even an RBI ground out double-play from Evan Longoria, ended up bringing three runs across and the Rays had the 3-1 lead. Curtis Granderson committed lefty on lefty violence with a solo homer off of Price to cut the score to 3-2, but the Yanks couldn't get anymore off of the Rays' starter. Sabathia was sloppy again in the 7th and needed to be removed after allowing a RBI single to Ben Zobrist that made it 4-2 Rays. Cody Eppley got out of the 7th for the Yankees, but in the 8th, served up a solo homerun to BJ Upton on  a 0-2 pitch that gave the Rays a 5-2 lead. Johnny Peralta came in to start the 8th for the Rays and the Yanks had a window to crawl back. Derek Jeter, still as a DH with the bone bruise, started it off with a single, and after Nick Swisher popped up, Alex Rodriguez crushed a pitch to the second deck in right to inch the Yanks closer at 5-4. Rays manager Joe Maddon brought his closer Fernando Rodney in with only one out in the 8th to finally get out of the inning. Joba Chamberlain was called on in the 9th to keep the score at 5-4, but with a runner on third, a ground ball was hit to Eduardo Nunez, filling in at short for Jeter, that would've ended the inning without harm, but the ball went under Nunez's glove and the Rays increased their lead at 6-4. With the energy zapped out of the Yankees and the crowd from the costly error, Rodney breezed through the 9th to close out the 6-4 Rays victory.

             With the Yankees looking more and more pitiful each day and hopes of a long playoff run fading away, it was Ivan Nova's time to give the team a shot in the arm, by using his arm. It was a different Nova on the mound than what he's shown these past few months; accurate with his fastball, getting strikeouts, mixing in his slider and curveball, the DL stint really paid off. The offense gave him some runs to work with against Rays starter James Shields, starting off with a 2-run homer from Curtis Granderson in the 2nd, and then the very next hitter, Eduardo Nunez, back at short after the big error the night before, hit a solo blast off his own to give Nova a 3-0 lead. It wasn't until the 6th that the Rays got on the board when Evan Longoria crushed a solo jack to the Yankee bullpen for a 4-1 Yankee lead. Nova collected himself and finished off the inning. He would start the 7th as well, put was removed after giving up a hit to the lead off batter. Nova gave 6 innings and struck out eight Rays for his 12th win. The Rays drew closer in the 7th when Luke Scott, pinch-hitting, singled in two runs off of Joba Chamberlain. With the score 4-3 Yankees in the 8th, Alex Rodriguez gave Rafael Soriano an insurance run with a RBI single up the middle that pushed the score to 5-3. The former Rays stopper, and now Yankee Soriano, tip-toed his way through a hit and a walk in the 9th to get the save and allow the Yanks to take sole possession of 1st place in the AL East with the Orioles losing later on in the night.

             It had been a very long time since the Yankees had won a series a quality team, and a win to prove it to themselves and to the rest of baseball that they were still the Yankees was desperately needed with the season almost done. Hiroki Kuroda was on the mound for the Yankees and hard-throwing (but slumping) lefty Matt Moore started for the Rays. The Yankees were able to smack around Moore the last time they visited Tampa, and they got too him again for five runs in the bottom of the 3rd. RBI singles from Jeter (DHing) and A-Rod accounted for two runs, and Russell Martin went opposite field for a 3-run homer. Moore threw behind the next hitter, Curtis Granderson, and the home plate umpire felt it was on purpose and warned both benches. Joe Maddon thought the umpire overreacted, and for his opinions Maddon was tossed from the game. Kuroda had to grind his way through the game, giving up a solo homer to Ben Zobrist in the 4th and allowing three more runs in the 6th from a 2-RBI hit and RBI double-play. Kuroda was able to finish the inning and ended up going 6 with a whopping 10 strikeouts. The Yankee bullpen nursed the 6-4 lead the rest of the way and Rafael Soriano polished it off by getting his 40th save of the season. In a rare occurance, the Yanks had beaten out the Rays in a series and out-pitched them in the final two games.

         Back at the twenty games over .500 mark with a 83-63 record, the AL East-leading Yankees get more good starting-rotation news with Andy Pettitte's return scheduled for Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays, a team they really should take advantage of as they have the benefit of the easiest schedule left of teams in the AL playoff hunt....