When a Yankee player crosses home plate after hitting a home run it has become customary for his teammate to raise a finger to his lips in the universal expression of “shhh.” That is very much how I feel this morning after the Yankees edged in front of the Red Sox into first place. According to The New York Times:
“I don’t think it really means anything,” shortstop Derek Jeter said. “We still have to play well. There’s no time to congratulate anyone or walk around and be happy, because we haven’t won anything. If we play well and win our games, everything will be fine.”
Behind a vintage performance by Randy Johnson the Bombers beat the Orioles 2-1 last night in the Bronx–their fifth one-run contest in their last six games–while the Devil Rays came-from-behind to topple the Sox, 7-4 in Tampa. The Bombers are a half-a-game up on the Sox, who have the day off, and remain a half-a-game behind the Indians for the wildcard. Mike Mussina will take the mound for New York tonight (with Senator Al Leiter waiting in the wings should Mussina falter in his return); the Yanks have eleven games left, while the Sox have ten.
Johnson was simply overpowering. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning. In the sixth, the fleet Bernie Castro reached first on an infield single. He slapped a shot down the third base line, a sure double, but it was stabbed by Alex Rodriguez, but there was no way to nab Castro. Melvin Mora then pounced on one of the only mistakes of the night for Johnson–a belt-high fastball–driving it into left center field for a double. After Miguel Tejada flew out to center, Javey Lopez hit another smash to third. This time it was to Rodriguez’s left. The Yankee third baseman slickly picked the ball and threw on to first to end the inning, saving a run in the process.
Rodrigo Lopez meanwhile was almost equally as effective if not as imposing. Changing speeds expertly, he stymied the Yankee offense throughout the evening (they were 0-8 with runners in scoring position). His biggest error–a flat change up to Matt Lawton in the second inning–was lofted over the right field fence for a two-run dinger that would be the difference in the game.
Johnson was replaced by Mariano Rivera in the ninth, a move that I was dubious about at the time. I just have a feeling that with all the work he’s seen of late Rivera has got to give sooner or later. The first pitch he threw pelted Melvin Mora in the arm. Tejada followed and bounced a high grounder to Rodriguez–too slow to be a double play–and Mora was forced at second. Lopez was next and roped a clean single through the left side. It looked as if could go all the way to the wall, but Hideki Matsui raced over, cut the ball off and returned it to the infield quickly. It was the kind of play that goes unnoticed in the box score, but I’m sure everyone in the Yankee dugout was appreciative of its significance. Rivera rebounded and struck out pinch-hitter Jay Gibbons, then got B.J. Surhoff to line out to first, the finishing touch on his 41st save and yet another incredibly tense game for the Yanks.