By Hank Waddles
If you missed last night’s game at Safeco Field, the only thing you really need to know is that the season almost came crashing down like so much Seattle rain when Franklin Gutiérrez smashed a line drive off CC Sabathia’s chest with two out in the bottom of the fifth inning. The ball ricocheted over to third base, but Alex Rodríguez didn’t even seem to look at Gutiérrez, instead racing to the mound along with Jeter to check on the big fella. My first thought was that the ball had surely snapped his collar bone, and I struggled to push from my mind the image of A.J. Burnett taking the ball to open the playoffs. Thankfully, Sabathia had been hit square in the chest, and immediately signaled that he was fine. Even so, with the Yanks having just stretched their lead to a comfortable 6-0 by scoring four in the top half of the inning (more on that later), I fully expected that CC’s night was over. Better safe than sorry, right?
But Sabathia shooed Girardi away without even bothering with a warm-up pitch, then cruised through the rest of the fifth as well as the sixth and seventh on his way to a league-leading 18th win. With Beckett’s well-documented struggles and Verlander’s Metrodome disaster, only Sabathia, King Felix, and Zack Greinke remain in the race for the Cy Young. Sure, Greinke will get a lot of deserving support, as will Hernández, but when was the last time either of those guys pitched in a game that really mattered?
But back to the game. As good as CC was, it didn’t matter too much what the hitters did, but they did a lot, putting to rest all of last night’s silliness about how the team might respond after Rivera’s blown save. Johnny Damon rapped out another three hits, Robinson Canó added four of his own, and even Francisco Cervelli added two. Wouldn’t he look good on the post season roster, Joe?
But the big story was Mark Teixeira, who either almost hit for the cycle or almost hit three homeruns, depending on how you want to look at it. He launched a drive to the depths of centerfield in the first inning, and just as it was about to scrape over the wall, Gutiérrez reached over and flipped it back into play, missing the catch but allowing Big Tex to lumber all the way to third for his third triple this week. He then hit a three-run homer to right in the fifth and followed that up with a broken-bat single in the seventh, leaving him just a double shy of the cycle when he led off the ninth inning. Batting from the right side for the first time on the night, Teixeira rocked a Luke French changeup towards the gap in left center. Certainly a double, maybe more.
In Girardi’s presser he’d later reveal that Jeter was yelling for the ball to get down and hit the wall, but Tex had simply gotten too much of it, and it soared deep into the night and over the fence. As Teixeira smirked his way around the bases, everything seemed back to normal. Another win. Even though the Red Sox keep rolling, and the Angels are looming next week, things still look good. The magic numbers are dwindling (9 for the division, 2 for the wild card), and it’s almost time to start resting some regulars and juggling the starters to line them up for the post season.
Also, now’s the time of year when we can start looking at a few milestones. Robby Canó’s four hits upped his season total to 193. Jeter’s at 196, meaning the Yankees will likely have two players topping the 200-hit mark for the first time since 2002 when Bernie Williams and Alfonso Soriano turned the trick. Also, Hideki Matsui hit his 26th home run of the season, and I mention this for two reasons. One, he set the record for most home runs by a Yankee designated hitter, which is quite a mouthful. (I was a bit disappointed that the YES crew didn’t interview his parents or the scout who signed him in Japan, but maybe that’s coming during Sunday’s game.) More importantly, though, I’ll never get tired of the shtick that Jeter pulls whenever Matsui homers. You know how it goes. Jeter stands on the top step, staring at Matsui as he trots towards the dugout, maintaining a stony expression until the last minute when he breaks into a grin. Sure, the pie-in-the-face is nice, the helmet-bouquet-toss is clever, but this little thing, the Captain giving some shit to another veteran, just might be my favorite. I love this team, and I really, really can’t wait for October.