The Yankees weren’t playing their best baseball coming into their just-completed seven-game homestand, but the prospect of facing two of the three worst teams in the majors, the Indians and Orioles, as well as getting Curtis Granderson and Jorge Posada back from the disabled list promised better results. The Yankees got them by taking three of four from the Tribe, then sweeping the lowly O’s, wrapping up a 6-1 homestand with a 6-3 win over Baltimore on Thursday afternoon.
Despite the relatively close score, there wasn’t much drama in this one. The Yankees put up two runs again Baltimore starter Kevin Millwood in the bottom of the first, the first scoring on a balk when Millwood’s spikes caught on the mound in the middle of his slide-step, the second scoring on a Robinson Cano double that extended the Yankee second baseman’s hit-streak to 17 games. CC Sabathia gave up a solo homer to Adam Jones in the top of the third on what looked like another sinker up in the zone, but the Yankees answered right back with three runs in the bottom of the frame, two scoring on a home run by newly-minted active career homer leader Alex Rodriguez that hitting coach Kevin Long predicted was coming before the game, the third manufactured from Millwood’s ensuing walk to Cano.
Brett Gardner led off the sixth with a home run to right, his third of the year, all three coming at home and going to right field. That set the Yankee tally at six, making room for the two-run jack by Luke Scott that Sabathia allowed in the top of the seventh. Sabathia cruised through most of the game. In the first six innings, he allowed only Jones to reach base (on his home run and a comebacker that Sabathia swatted down with his big bare paw only to pull Mark Teixeira off the bag with his throw, ruled an error). He seemed to wilt in the heat a bit in the seventh when his pitch count approached 90, allowing a single to Ty Wigginton before Scott’s homer, a booming shot into the second deck in right, then walking the struggling Garrett Atkins, but CC rallied to strike out Jones (his seventh K of the game) and get a fielder’s choice to wrap up his seven innings with 94 pitches. Sabathia allowed just three hits in the game, two of them were home runs.
Joba Chamberlain followed Sabathia with a perfect eighth. Mariano Rivera then made things slightly interesting by starting out the ninth by walking Nick Markakis and hitting Wigginton to bring the tying run to the plate, only to reach back and strike out Scott on a sharp 94 mile-per-hour cutter, then hit 95 twice while getting the final two outs, one of those pitches being a fastball riding in that the righty Jones swung through for the final out.
Credit Rivera’s velocity, Sabathia’s homers and “early” exit, and perhaps Gardner’s shot as well, to the heat. It was hot Thursday afternoon, and so are the Yankees, which is exactly what they needed to be in this soft spot in their schedule. The Yanks are just two games behind the Rays, and, if they can survive their three game set in Toronto against the surprising Blue Jays this weekend, they should stay hot next week when they rematch against the Orioles (who seem likely to have a new manager by then) in Baltimore then return home to face the National League’s worst team, the Astros.