It weren’t pretty, but the Yanks took a broom to the Twins last night, capping off their thrilling “Walkoff Weekend” (TM) with a 7-6 win to complete a four-game sweep of Minnesota and extend their winning streak to six games.
Unlike the previous three games, most of the action in last night’s contest took place in the first inning. The Twins pushed across a pair of first-inning runs against Andy Pettitte, with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau each delivering an RBI single, the second enabled by Melky Cabrera missing the cutoff man on the first allowing Mauer to go to second.
Unfazed, the Yanks scored four against lefty Glen Perkins before making their first out as Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon singled then Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez each homered to left field. After Nick Swisher flied out to the warning track, a shot that looked like a third-straight homer off the bat, Robinson Cano sliced a ground-rule double into the stands along-side left field and Melky Cabrera singled him home. After a passed ball and a Ramiro Peña fly out, Francisco Cervelli hit a chopper up the middle that somehow missed Perkins’ glove, then hit the side of second base, avoiding both diving middle infielder. On the YES broadcast, Ken Singleton remarked that, “if there ever was a seeing-eye base hit, that was it.” Cervelli’s hit plated Cabrera with the sixth Yankee run and drove Perkins from the game with just two outs in the first.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey held things down from there with 4 1/3 scoreless innings, while the Twins tried to chip away. Michael Cuddyer led off the fourth with a solo homer to make it 6-3. Carlos Gomez singled, stole second, and scored on a Denard Span single in the sixth to make it 6-4. Span later hit a solo homer off Edwar Ramirez in the eighth, but that came after Teixeira added a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the seventh, this one from the left side of the plate, the second time he’s switch-hit homers in a game this season.
That extra run proved to be the winning margin. With Mariano Rivera having thrown 44 pitches over three innings the previous two days, Joe Girardi gave his closer the night off. Lefty Phil Coke, who relieved Ramirez and struck out Morneau for the last out of the eighth, was given the ninth in Rivera’s place. It wasn’t pretty. Coke’s first two pitches to leadoff man Joe Crede, who entered the game with a .296 on-base percentage, were balls. He recovered to go 2-2, but Crede fouled off four full-count offerings and ultimately drew a ten-pitch walk. Matt Tolbert then ran for Crede and moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a groundout that required Teixeira to range far to his right, and home on another groundout. With two outs, Carlos Gomez, who entered the game with a .286 on-base percentage, nearly replicated Crede’s at-bat, getting ahead 2-0, then even at 2-2 and ultimately working a seven-pitch walk. Mike Redmond seemed to be doing the same thing (2-0, then 3-1, then a pair of full-count fouls), but mercifully grounded to Cano for the final out of the game. Coke’s performance made the news of Brian Bruney’s impending activation (expected tonight) all the more welcome, though to the always forthcoming Coke’s credit, he humorously confessed to having been unnerved by the situation.
As for Teixeira, he was hitting .182/.354/.338 with three home runs and 10 RBIs on May 3, but has hit .351/.397/.789 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs in his last 14 games. Though his average will take a while to rebound (he’s still at just .239), he’s on pace for 45 homers and 127 RBIs, even with that slow start factored in. On-pace numbers can be very misleading, and Teixeira’s current single-season best for home runs is “just” 43, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tex comes very close to those numbers come late September. Teixeira’s career month-by-month splits show steady improvement with each flip of the calendar, and his defense was an important part of the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins. He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch the rest of the way as, by extension, are the Yankees.
Phil Coke’s postgame comments, delivered through a sort of delerious, almost punchy smile. Coke’s only other professional save came in the Sally League in 2006:
Kim Jones: What’s it like to get your first save?
Oh, man, that’s hard! No wonder Mo’s really good. I mean, man, he’s really good. [chuckles] I don’t know. You’ll have to ask me again tomorrow, ‘cuz I’m completely and totally gassed right now. My brain shut off . . .
Jones: It was that much different than a normal inning . . .
It felt like it. It really did. It was . . . you know, go out there with a two-run lead, it’s like, “okay, I’ve been out there with a two-run lead before.” [affects look of concern] It’s a little different.
Jones: What were you telling yourself and what were your teammates and manager telling you?
Joe came out and told me that, “right now, you’re the only guy I want out here. You’re the guy that we need out here right now.” And Cervelli told me that, he’s like, “man, it’s cool. Relax, dude. It’s alright. C’mon, play catch with me.” It’s like, “okay.” Then Peña came up to me, he’s like, [affects slight Mexican accent] “hey, reelax, dood, what are you doing?” I wasn’t to sure myself. It was fun. It was really fun. I’m glad to have gotten it out of the way, and if I get put in that position again at least I’ll know how to do it. So, that was pretty cool.
Reporter:What did you think of the play by Tex?
I was really happy that he knocked that down, ‘cuz that would have really not been very cool if he didn’t, and . . . man, I love that guy.
Reporter 2: What is so different about standing there in the ninth inning as opposed to the seventh inning?
I have no idea. I really don’t know what the actual difference is other than a nine versus, six, seven, or eight, but it just seemed like everything was way more amplified.
Kim Jones: It could have been the ballgame in the eighth, though. How did you get that strikeout of Morneau? You know dangerous he can be.
Uhm, I was a little mad at him. [smiles] Yeah, I was a little mad at him, so I wanted to make sure I went out there and did everything I could to get him out because that was a big out in that situation. I was really just focused on staying with Cervelli behind the plate and hitting my spots, and then the ninth inning rolled around and I don’t know what happened. [smiles and shakes head]
Jones: Did you know after the eighth, though, that you were going back out for sure.
Yes I did. Yes I did. And I was just trying to stay as relaxed as possible and not think about it. It was like, “okay going back out there for the eighth inning.” You know, trying to play mind games with myself rather than think, “oh God, where’s ‘Enter Sandman?’ Where’s that guy? Because he’s way better at this than I am.”
Jones: Did you say anything to Mo or will you say anything to him tomorrow about all this?
I actually walked up to him in the back and was like, “hey, you’re way better at that than me.” And he was like, “hey, good job, man. It doesn’t matter. You got the job done.” I was like, “yeah, but you’re still way better than I am at that job. So, you can have it right now. Thank you.”