What better way to rebound from a dispiriting loss on Friday than to pummel that same opponent in a double-header sweep on Saturday? That’s exactly what the Yankees did, rebounding from Friday night’s 14-4 drubbing to win a pair by a combined 24-8 score yesterday.
The Yanks fell behind early in game one as Kei Igawa gave up solo homers in the first and second innings, but Igawa got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third when Delmon Young lined into a 4-3 double play, and Hideki Matsui tied things up with a rocket two-run homer into the right field seats in the fourth. Igawa again left the bases loaded in the fifth. Luis Vizcaino took over in the sixth, and in the bottom of that frame, the Yanks dropped a five-spot on reliever Jae Kuk Ryu. That rally almost didn’t happen. Following a leadoff single by Bobby Abreu and a pitch that drilled Alex Rodriguez in the lower back (later prompting Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano to good-naturedly mock Rodriguez’s dance of pain in the dugout), Ryu struck out Matsui and Jorge Posada. Fortunately, Cano delivered a tie-breaking two-out single that plated Abreu, then took second on the throw home, which allowed him to score on Andy Phillips’ subsequent game-breaking two-RBI single. Shelley Duncan then drove the nail in the D-Rays coffin with his first major league home run, and the Yankees got more laughs out of Duncan’s overly enthusiastic hi-fives (he almost beheaded Andy Phillips after crossing the plate, and nearly tore Kim Jones’ shoulder out of the socket when she tried to join in the fun by asking for a hi-five during the post-game interview).
Scott Proctor gave one back in the eighth on a solo homer by backup catcher Raul Casanova (whose beard and batting scowl make him look more than a little like Ice Cube) to set the final score at 7-3 Yanks.
The Yankees would be doing more laughing in the nightcap as Tampa Bay spot-starter J.P. Howell appeared to be throwing batting practice. Johnny Damon set the tone. Akinori Iwamura hit Matt DeSalvo’s first pitch deep into the corner in left where Damon, starting in left field in place of the DH Matsui, made a brilliant leaping catch, slamming in to the wall on his way down and then flexing at Melky Cabrera in celebration. After DeSalvo struck out the next two men, Damon drew a four-pitch walk from Howell, then stole second to jump start the Yankee offense. A single by Derek Jeter and doubles by Abreu and Alex Rodriguez make it 3-0 Yankees before Howell had recorded an out. The Rays countered with two, but the Yankees added one more in the second and three more in the third, with a double by Wil Nieves, of all people, being the big blow in the latter inning. That made it 7-2 Yankees, much as the first game had been, but this time the Rays rallied scoring two in the fifth to drive DeSalvo from the game and one in the sixth off reliever Brian Bruney. That was as close as they’d get, however, as the Bombers greeted former Yankee Jay Witasick with another five-run sixth inning, this one capped by Alex Rodriguez’s 497th career home run (and 33rd of 2007). Brian Stokes got thet same sort of greeting in the seventh with Hideki Matsui’s second homer of the day capping off another five-run inning that set the final score at 17-5.
Thus the Yankees keep the dream alive with the opportunity to win the series today as Andy Pettitte takes on James Shields, a match-up the Yankees won in Tampa to kick off the season’s second half thanks in part to fourth-inning home runs by Jeter, Rodriguez, and Abreu off Shields.
As for yesterday’s starters. Igawa again bent, but didn’t break and struck out six men in five innings along the way, earning another start. DeSalvo de-salvaged (sorry) his standing a bit with a passable outing that saw him strike out more than he walked for the first time in a major league appearance. Nonetheless, he’s headed back to Scranton and will be replaced by Sean Henn, who heads to the bullpen to take Edwar Ramirez’s spot. Since he was last optioned down to triple-A in late-June, Henn has posted a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings, striking out 10 against just one walk. Luis Vizcaino, meanwhile, earned the win in both games yesterday. Vizcaino, who also picked up the win on Opening Day, is now 8-2 on the season. That four of those wins have come in the last week is a testament to Joe Torre’s increasingly and surprisingly wily use of his most effective set-up man.