On a warm Monday night at the Stadium, the first inning foreshadowed the rest of the series finale between the Yankees and Rays. Three Yankees hit long fly balls against Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine in that initial frame, including Mark Teixeira’s towering home run into the second deck of the right-field stands. The Yankees would hit several more long drives against Sonnanstine in later innings, including home runs by Nick Swisher (a two-run homer), Johnny Damon (a solo shot), and Derek Jeter (also a solo blast), all big parts of a 5-3 win over Sonnanstine and the Rays. The four home runs accounted for all of the Yankee scoring against Sonnanstine, who entered the game with an ERA of over seven.
Damon’s sixth-inning home run provided the winning margin. With the score tied at 3-3 and one man out in the bottom of the sixth, Damon launched his 12th home run of the season, easily reaching the right field seats. Two innings later, Jeter padded the lead with a leadoff home run, again hit to the familiar bull’s-eye region in right field.
Andy Pettitte’s first inning also provided a glimpse into his overall performance against the Rays. After loading the bases, Pettitte escaped on Joe Dillon’s slow roller to shortstop, handled deftly by Derek Jeter. Pettitte managed to escape from every jam he faced except for the third inning, when he permitted all three Tampa Bay runs. Though Pettitte struck out a season-high seven batters, he allowed five hits and three walks in what turned out to be a workmanlike effort at the Stadium. For his career, Pettitte has now won 16 of 20 decisions against the Tampa Bay franchise.
The two Phils, as I’m sure they’ve already been dubbed, then turned in standout relief efforts in the seventh and eighth innings. Phil Hughes, showing increased velocity with a 95 mile-an-hour fastball in his 2009 relief debut, pitched a 1-2-3 seventh. (The successful appearance will surely fuel speculation that Hughes will be used in Joba Chamberlain’s old role as the primary bridge to Mariano Rivera.) Phil Coke then followed with a scoreless eighth, setting the table for another masterful ninth inning by Mariano. More than 48 hours removed from his Saturday afternoon horror show, Rivera logged his second straight 1-2-3 appearance, capped off by a 93 mile-per-hour fastball thrown past the elevated swing of B.J. Upton.
The Yankees, now equipped with a full game lead in the American League East, will prepare for the start of a three-game series against the reviled Red Sox. It remains to be seen whether Rivera will be available for the first game at Fenway Park on Tuesday night, given that he has pitched three straight days. Joe Girardi says he’s inclined to give Rivera the night off, but the future Hall of Famer may attempt to talk his manager out of that plan, especially after throwing only 11 pitches in Monday night’s finale against the Rays.
Yankee Doodles: Nick Swisher was the only Yankee to pick up more than one hit against Rays pitching. With his 2-for-3 against Sonnanstine, Swisher lifted his batting average to a more respectable .257… Former Yankee left-hander Randy “The Snake” Choate made his second appearance of the series. The journeyman sidewinder, who was once part of the package sent to the Montreal Expos for Javier Vazquez, struck out Johnny Damon and walked Mark Teixeira in the eighth inning before being lifted in favor of former Met Jason Isringhausen. Isringhausen induced an inning-end double play from Alex Rodriguez, who heard a smattering of boos after going 0-for-3 with an error at third base… Former Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler hit a two-run homer for the Rays, his first of the season.