Francisco Cervelli flops to conquer

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
7:14
PM ET
NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi loves the combination of Shane Greene on the mound and Francisco Cervelli behind the plate. The excitable Cervelli is the perfect counterpoint to the low-key Greene, and the manager has put the two of them together for all six of Greene's major-league starts, including Thursday's 8-plus inning masterwork that resulted in the Yankees 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers.

But it was the pairing of Cervelli and David Robertson that really nailed down the victory, and in particular the work of Cervelli, who twice had to sprawl in front of the plate to block Robertson curveballs in the dirt to prevent the tying run from scoring from third.

[+] Enlarge David Robertson
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesFrancisco Cervelli's blocking skills came in handy on Thursday.
At that point in the game, it seemed as if the Yankees had weathered their gravest threat -- runners at first and second, none out and pinch-hitter Miguel Cabrera at the plate -- but Robertson defused that threat by getting Cabrera to tap a 1-1 pitch slowly over second base, where Brendan Ryan turned it into an easy double play.

But the real threat came form Robertson himself, whose curveball has a tendency to dive earthward just short of home plate, making it as much of a challenge to his catcher as to a hitter. With the weak-hitting Don Kelly at the plate and Ian Kinsler on third, Robertson bounced an 0-1 curveball to the left of home plate, where Cervelli had to sprawl full-length to keep it from going by. Two pitches later, Robertson did virtually the same thing, only to the right side of the plate, and once again, Cervelli was flat on his face, literally saving the game.

"I just put it in my brain, you got to stop everything," Cervelli said. "I don’t know how, but you gotta stop it. Forget about mechanics, forget about anything. Just stop it."

That he did, and on the next pitch, an off-balance Kelly looped a cutter softly to Stephen Drew at shortstop. Game, and series, over.

"He was outstanding on the blocks," Girardi said. "The balls that are really difficult for a catcher to block are the ones that are way out in front, because you can get blinded a little bit. And there was one of them on Kelly."

The pairing of the outgoing Cervelli and the taciturn Greene may seem unlikely, but so far it has worked well. Greene is now 3-1 with a 2.89 ERA.

"I think our communication, outside the field, is good, and we just have always a good plan," Cervelli said. "He’s a good guy, and he just throw the ball wherever I ask."

In terms of personality, the two could hardly be more different, a contrast that Cervelli thinks works to the advantage of both.

"I think in the beginning, like his first two starts, his adrenaline was up and that's happened to me in the past," Cervelli said. "So sometimes if's hard for me, because he's watching me all the time and if got a lot of energy he’s gonna get crazy. So I just got to step back and calm down and try to let him make pitches. It’s like a relationship, boyfriend and girlfriend. You got to figure it out, and make it work."

Drew love for Yankees: The Yankees also owe this win to Stephen Drew, who not only had the game-winning hit, a bloop that dropped just inside the LF and bounced into the stands for an RBI ground-rule double, but also figured in two of the three Yankees double plays in his first game as a Yankee back at his old position, shortstop.

But for Drew, the most important thing seems to be one more chance to prove himself after sitting out the first three months of the season while waiting for a multi-year contract offer that never came. Now, he has about seven weeks to help his new team reach a playoff spot, which could be a selling point when he hits the free-agent market again this winter.

“It’s huge," Drew said of the win, and his opportunity. "Coming from last year [a member of the Red Sox 2013 World Championship team] over there, every game counted, and now being in the race again for me, it’s a lot of fun to be a part of. It’s nice to be a part of this team.”

Long time coming: The last time the Yankees shut out the Tigers in the Bronx was August 30, 2006. The winning pitcher? Chien-Ming Wang.

High-water mark: With the victory, the Yankees fifth in their last six games, they improved to six games over .500, a mark they had reached two other times this season. They are 13-7 since the All-Star break and 5-2 since the trade deadline.
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

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146