Headley chases the glory in Yankees debut

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
1:59
AM ET

NEW YORK -- Chase Headley's day began in a hotel room in Chicago and ended in a shower of orange liquid on the grass of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

In between, he said goodbye to old teammates, said hello to new ones -- including another one named Chase -- bade farewell to a longtime partner (his beard) and had his first four encounters with the Yankee Stadium faithful, the last of which ended in triumph as he drove in the winning run in Tuesday night's 2-1, 14-inning victory over the Texas Rangers.

"He's had a whirlwind day," said Joe Girardi, master of understatement.

The fact it was Headley who finally ended the nearly five-hour marathon that devoured 17 pitchers and saw more than 400 pitches thrown just lent a final bizarre footnote to what has already been a bizarre two games between these former bitter postseason rivals, and we're only halfway through the series.

Headley's hit completed a Circle of Chases, which began when Chase Whitley threw the first pitch of the game at 7:09 p.m., and ended when Headley hit the last pitch just as the clock struck midnight.

[+] EnlargeChase Headley
AP PhotoAcquired from the Padres Tuesday, Chase Headley played the hero on his first day in pinstripes.
In fact, the two had had a comical meeting earlier in the evening when Whitley, seeing an unfamiliar face in the dugout, went over and said, "Hi, I'm Chase."

Headley responded, "Hey, I'm Chase, too. That should be an easy one to remember."

Now, Chase Headley's first day as a Yankee will be a tough one to forget.

For Yankees fans who were a bit dubious about the deal that sent Yangervis Solarte, the sensation of spring training, to San Diego in exchange for Headley, the sensation of 2012, the game's ending may have given a little reassurance that maybe the Yankees knew what they were doing here.

But Headley, for one, never had any doubt.

"Hopefully I can get back to being the type of player that I know I am," he said. "That may not be 30 and 115 [his HR and RBI numbers for the Padres in 2012], but I know I'm a good player and I know that I'm better than I've played this year. I look forward to being that player again."

The Yankees could certainly use that player, and as soon as possible.

Tuesday night, they were certainly glad to settle for the player Headley is now, a switch-hitting spray hitter who uses the whole field and gives you, as GM Brian Cashman said, "a professional at-bat."

That he did in the 14th inning, batting left-handed against righty Nick Tepesch, a starter pressed into relief duty as the Rangers' ninth pitcher of the night. He took a 1-1 sinker the other way, dunking it into left-center to score Brian Roberts from third base to bring a merciful end to a game that looked for a long time as if it would never end, and for a shorter time as if it would, only with another crushing Yankees loss.

Headley, who had arrived in the Yankees dugout at 7:40 after a flight from Chicago, where the Padres were playing the Cubs, had already had three chances to win over the Yankee faithful, coming in as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning for Zelous Wheeler, whose days as a starting third baseman also ended at that point.

Headley received a surprising ovation on his first at-bat from a crowd that has become desperate for any sort of help. But the cheers soon turned to groans when he struck out. He grounded out in the 11th, and worst of all, bounced out to second to end a 12th inning in which the Yankees loaded the bases with one out and failed to score.

So by the time he came up in the 14th, with Roberts at third and Francisco Cervelli at first, the pressure was on.

"There’s a lot of nerves there," Headley said. "But I kinda stepped out of the box and I thought to myself, ‘Why not?’ Why wouldn’t this day go this way?"

Why not, indeed.

Headley had already wowed the crowd with a leaping catch of a liner by Rougned Odor to end the 10th inning. But as much as the Yankees need help with infield defense, they need hitting more. And for more than four hours all they had managed was six hits off seven Rangers pitchers, including a starter (Nick Martinez) who came into the game with a 1-6 record and 5.10 ERA. And with Yu Darvish looming as tomorrow's starter, a loss Tuesday night would have made the prospect of being swept at home by the team with the worst record in the American League a very real, and revolting, possibility.

"It’s unbelievable," Headley said of his hit, one of just two timely Yankee hits all night. "But sometimes these things happen, man. You’ve got to want to be up in that spot. "It was a long day, but a great way to finish."

And for the Yankees, not a bad way to start, either.

Other Chase comes up big: Chase the Pitcher -- Whitley, that is -- pitched a whale of a ballgame, although when he left in the seventh inning, he had no way of knowing it was only half over. But he certainly did his job, going deeper into a game than he had since June 12, and leaving after six-plus scoreless innings of seven-hit, six-strikeout ball. The fact that he had not pitched in nine days didn't hurt, either.

"The rest helped physically, yes. And mentally, yes," he said. "I was able to kind of regroup and start fresh. Clean slate. New beginning. It was important."

Yes, there is a Jeff Francis: The Yankees picked up Jeff Francis from Oakland on July 11, but he had yet to appear in a game. And most fans probably forgot he was even on the team. In fact, as the Yankees went through pitcher after pitcher, it appeared Girardi might have forgotten, too. But after he had gone through every other name on his list, Francis finally got a chance to pitch the 14th inning. He got a 1-2-3 inning, and to the surprise of everyone, the win, when the Yankees went on to score in the bottom of the inning.

Francis said he wasn't particularly that keen on pitching tonight. "I’m hoping the game ends at any time," he said. "I mean, you want to pitch and you want to help your team, but you don’t want to see a game go 15 innings, when the guys are out there for five hours. You want to see it end."

It ended shortly after Francis' appearance, which was remarkable for the fact that he hadn't pitched since July 2 and hadn't even picked up a baseball in anger in nearly two weeks, although he did loosen up on the field before the game tonight.

"Well, we've been in close games," he said. "Our starter’s been going deep into games. I really couldn’t point to a time where I felt like I’d been passed over. So like I said, I've just been waiting for my opportunity and hoping to make the best of it."
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jacoby Ellsbury
BA HR RBI R
.269 15 67 69
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Teixeira 21
RBIJ. Ellsbury 67
RB. Gardner 81
OPSB. Gardner .755
WM. Tanaka 12
ERAH. Kuroda 3.81
SOM. Tanaka 135