Monday, July 17, 2006

Yankees Sweep to Within .5 of AL East Lead

Rivera's 400th save nails down weekend victory

The Yankees makeshift lineup has been playing tough all year, but it hasn't always translated to victories. The starting pitching has run hot and cold like this past May's weather. This weekend though everything came together and the Yankees swept the defending World Series champion Chicago White Sox in a three game set at Yankee Stadium. Sunday's victory was punctuated by a six out save record by Mariano Rivera for the 400th save of the sure Hall of Famer's career.

Just when you think this team couldn't look any flatter at times, they come out with a 1-2 punch and take it to their opponent. This series was as big as any they've played all season. With Boston losing 5 of 6 the Yankees have taken full advantage to get with 1/2 game of the AL East lead and are even in the loss column. The wild card is still a long shot because of the play of the Detroit Tigers and White Sox, but the Bombers are now within 3 of the Pale Hose for the extra playoff spot.

Friday Night Lights

The Yankees ended Jose Contreras's 17 game winning streak Friday night with a thrilling 6-5 victory in the series opener. A fired up Randy Johnson locked horns with Contreras through 7 innings of a 3-3 ball game. Johnson allowed 3 runs, but gave up just 4 hits, didn't walk a batter and struck out 6. He also nailed Joe Crede in the thigh with a pitch. It's nice to see batters unsettled when they're facing the Unit.

The Yankees loaded the bases in the bottom of the 8th on singles by Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, and a walk to Bernie Williams. Chisox manager Ozzie Guillen sent for his young lanky right-hander Brandon McCarthy to face Phillips. The move paid off as Phillips went down on strikes. Guillen then opted to call on lefty Matt Thornton to flip switch-hitter Melky Cabrera to the right side. Melky came thru in a big spot again, lining a go-ahead single to center as the bases remained loaded.

A sac fly by Miguel Cairo and Johnny Damon's RBI double plated two more and gave Mariano Rivera some room breathe as he came in to close out the 9th. And oddly enough Mo would need it. 3 straight singles by Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye loaded the bases with nobody out. Scott Podsednik's grounder to first scored one run and a sac fly, on a fine running catch by Bubba Crosby, by Juan Uribe brought home another. It was suddenly a 6-5 with 2 out and the tying run at third. Pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski battled Mo before finally flying out to Crosby in right to close out the game.

Afternoon Delight

Saturday's afternoon game on Fox set up as a great pitcher's duel between All-Star Mark Buehrle (9-7) and should-have-been All-Star Mike Mussina. Just like Fox's telecast though you can't count on anything. Listening to most of the game with the sound off was almost as delightful as watching the Yankees bombard Buehrle to the tune of a 14-3 win. Except for giving up a bomb to Jim Thome, Mussina (11-3) cruised through 6 innings for the victory.

The Yankees scored early and often. Derek Jeter knocked in the first of his 3 runs with a double in the 1st. An A-Rod RBI single and a two-run double by Bernie Williams put the Bombers ahead 4-0 after 3. The Yankees blew it open in the 4th on Jeter's two-run double and a two-run single by Jason Giambi. That was it for Buerhle, 3 innings pitched, 8 runs, 7 of them earned.

Andy Phillips would add a home run and 4 RBI and Bubba Crosby smacked his 1st home run of the year. Cliff Politte who was such an integral part of the White Sox run to the championship last year gave up 4 runs in 2 innings and was designated for assignment after the game.

Super Sunday

Sunday's match up featured Freddie Garcia the human yo-yo who has winning and losing streaks in a very inconsistent season. Jaret Wright, the master of the 5 inning outing went for the Yankees. While a sweep would be nice, having won 2 games already and having not-so Wright on the mound left you feeling that it would still be a productive weekend win or lose.

Both pitchers did their part. Garcia (10-6) gave up 6 runs in 7 innings and Wright (6-5) eked out 5 1-3 before turning things over to the pen with a 6-2 lead. Ron Villone, who has finally been allowed to become an important part of the pen, gave up a sac fly to Brian Anderson to cut the margin to 6-3. Juan Uribe followed with a two-out single to left to bring Joe Crede around third. The only problem was the ball was waiting for him and Jorge Posada's glove. Melky Cabrera tied for the AL lead in assists with Ichiro and Carl Crawford as he gunned down Crede at the plate to preserve the 3-run lead. For someone who looked so lost in the outfield last year, Cabrera has become the Yankees best defender out there.

The White Sox rallied again in the 7th - Podsednik blooped a single just out of the reach of Jeter and then Jeter mishandled Tadahito Iguchi's grounder for an error. 1st and 2nd, no one out and Jim Thome at the plate - not the prettiest of pictures. Even though he had a lefty on the mound, Joe Torre called in lefty specialist Mike Myers to face the dangerous Thome. Myers won out, getting Thome to fly to Bubba Crosby in center. With Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye coming up, Torre sent for Kyle Farnsworth. Both Konerko and Dye flied out to Aaron Guiel in right as the fans rose to their feet to give the pen a standing ovation.

Just when you thought it was safe to breathe here came the Chisox again in the 8th. Pierzynski hit a bomb off Farnsworth into the upper deck in right to cut the lead to 6-4. Crede and Anderson followed with singles and the good feelings towards Farnsworth quickly dissipated. Torre took no chances and called on Rivera for a 6-out save. Rivera, the master technician, took care of business quickly and efficiently. Uribe popped out for the first out and then the speedy Podsednik bounced into an inning ending 6-4-3 double play.

The 9th brought more drama as Iguchi led off with a double and Thome walked. But the right man for the job was on the hill. This time it was Konerko bouncing into the 6-4-3 double play before Mo blew away Dye to end the ball game.


Mariano Rivera became the 4th player to reach 400 saves all time and, no matter what Goose Gossage thinks, is the greatest reliever of all time and a sure fire 1st ballot Hall of Fame inductee.

Derek Jeter continued his MVP type season going 4-12 in the series with 2 doubles, a home run, 4 RBI and 3 runs scored. His .344 average is 2nd best in the AL.

Mark Buerhle seems to be feeling the effects of the number of innings he's logged this year. Buerhle had average 7.1 innings per start over his 10 starts thru June 27. In his 3 starts since then, he's totaled 14 1-3 innings, allowing 30 hits and 22 earned runs. His ERA has jumped from 3.22 to 4.43.

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