Saturday, June 14, 2014
Big win? Eh. Biggest win? No doubt.
By Wallace Matthews
There hasn't been a bigger Yankees win this year than Friday night's.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When you're just 66 games into a baseball season, it seems silly to call any one win, or a loss for that matter, a "big" one.
However, at any point in the season, any one game can legitimately be termed the "biggest" of the season simply because you are comparing to what has already taken place. Certainly, there will be bigger games this season for the Yankees than Friday night's 7-0 win over the Athletics.
But as of now, there hasn't been a bigger Yankees win this season, if only because up to this point, this team had yet to do something truly notable, let alone remarkable.
But beating the A's, the AL's best team, at home, where the Yankees had not won for seven straight games stretching back three seasons, qualifies as a notable achievement for this season, especially coming on the heels of a three-game sweep of the Mariners in Seattle, and coming five days after they had plunged to the point of mediocrity, 31-31, after two losses at home to the very ordinary Kansas City Royals.
And then there was the way they did it, riding a 6-2/3 inning, two-hit performance by David Phelps, a pitcher who had allowed 13 earned runs in less than 12 innings in his previous two starts, and had taken on the look of a guy who was in the rotation only because the Yankees had no one else to plug in there.
Coming a day after Chase Whitley, a rookie making just his sixth major league start, pitched into the eighth inning of Thursday's 6-3 victory over the Mariners, it made Joe Girardi's pregame words -- "This is our rotation through the All-Star Game at least" -- sound a little less ominous.
And then there was the offense, which didn't hit with power but certainly with maximum effect, stringing together 12 singles, getting RBIs form six players, going an unheard-of (for them) 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position and even tacking on four runs in the eighth inning.
Asked to assess his roster so far, this is what Girardi came up with: "Extremely professional. Very mature. They know you’re going to go through good times and bad times, and they never panic. They’re just very professional."
Now, the Yankees are on a four-game winning streak. They have a chance to take a series from the best team in the AL, and maybe even -- dare we breathe it? -- sweep them. Less than a week after being 31-31 and six games back of the AL East-leading Blue Jays, the Yankees suddenly find themselves at 35-31 and a mere 3-1/2 games out. (And, we should mention, just a game behind the Angels in the wild-card hunt.)
That is why it is foolish to judge a team off a weekend, or a week, or even a month. In baseball, things can change in a hurry, or they can change over the course of an entire summer.
The only thing you can be sure of is that whatever you think of a team today, your opinion is likely to change a month from now.
Suddenly, a rotation anchored by Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda and filled out with the likes of Phelps, Whitley and Vidal Nuno no longer seems so frightening. And an offense that for a solid week was having trouble putting up two runs in a game has averaged 6.5 for the past two.
Success breeds confidence, and confidence leads to success, so it was no surprise when Phelps -- who when asked if Friday night's game was his best of the season, countered with, "It's one of the best of my career" -- declared, "We don't consider ourselves fill-ins," speaking for himself, Whitley and Nuno.
"We all have confidence in our ability, and we know what we’re capable of doing," Phelps said. "It’s just a matter of going out and showing it. We wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have faith in us to go out and get the job done. That’s one thing that we just have continue to do is show that we’re able to do it."
The Yankees' offense, so sluggish for so long, jumped right on Sonny Gray, scoring two in the first and another in the second before the young right-hander settled down to retire 13 in a row. But once Gray left the game, the bats reawakened against lefty Jeff Francis, tacking on four more with five hits, none of which got past an outfielder and one of which didn't get out of the infield, in the eighth.
"That’s the recipe for scoring enough runs, and that’s what you need to do at times," Girardi said. "Through all this, I think guys have kept at it. They’ve had their struggles, but guys have kept at it, and maybe we’re getting them all hot."
The manager stopped short of calling it a "big win," because he knows as well as anyone how long and unpredictable the baseball season is, and how something that can seem vitally important in June could be forgotten in September.
But Mark Teixeira didn't hesitate for a second when asked if it was too early in the season to term any one victory a big one.
“Right now, every win is a big win for us," he said. "We don’t have a huge margin for error. So this is definitely a big win, yeah.”
Was is truly a "big" win? That will be determined by what happens the rest of the way.
But whether it was the biggest Yankee win of the year is not even open to question.
Compared to what has preceded it, this one was huge.
Insult and injury:Brendan Ryan has been waiting for this moment all season long, the moment when he comes into a visiting ballpark as a late-inning replacement and gets booed, unmercifully, by a crowd that came to take a long, last look at Derek Jeter.
"I thought it was funny," Ryan said. "If I'm one of the fans I’m probably doing the same thing. So I thought it was, yeah, appropriate. I don't blame 'em one bit."
What Ryan did not expect was to be reduced to a quivering mass of pain on the ground after being hit in the elbow by a Jim Johnson curveball.
"I’m embarrassed," he said, laughing. "I know I’m going to be subject to a lot of flak from the guys, I’m sure, and deservedly so. I mean, who goes down from a curveball?"
Well, basically anyone who gets hit, as Ryan did, on the so-called funny bone, which is of course no laughing matter. Ryan said his fingers curled up, his pinky went numb and "my whole arm felt like it was on fire."
But he stayed in the game and was able to play the field in the bottom of the ninth. After the game, he had an X-ray, which came back negative.
"I think once they saw I was all right, everyone was kinda laughing at me," he said. "So if any of those guys want to say something to me, I get it. I’ll embrace it. What else can I do?"
Odds and ends: Jeter had singles his first two times up and now has four straight multihit games. He is now 10-for-24 (.417) on the road trip and has raised his overall batting average from .258 to .275. ... Jacoby Ellsbury's RBI single in the first extended his hitting streak to 17 games. ... Dellin Betances relieved Phelps to get the last out of the seventh, then struck out two of the three hitters he faced in the eighth. Betances now has 65 Ks in 38-2/3 innings. ... The Yankees' win guaranteed that this will be a successful road trip. They are now 5-2 with two games left to play.
Today: Hiroki Kuroda (4-4, 4.14) faces LHP Scott Kazmir (7-2, 2.20) in Game 2 of this series, first pitch at 10:05 p.m. Clubhouse opens at 6:35, lineups and pregame news and notes shortly thereafter, so drop by around then.