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SEATTLE -- By just about every measurable yardstick, the New York Yankees' offense is decidedly below average.
They rank 10th in the AL in runs scored, 13th in hits, 12th in on-base percentage, 11th in team OPS and only three clubs in the league have a lower team batting average than their .245. Right now, the second-highest batting average in their lineup, .276, belongs to Chris Stewart, the prototypical "defensive catcher."
And yet, through the first 63 games of their 2013 season, the Yankees have managed to beat Justin Verlander, David Price, R.A. Dickey, James Shields, Justin Masterson, and now, although he did not take the loss in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Seattle Mariners, have come out on top both times they have faced King Felix Hernandez this season.
They have essentially no offense, and at the same time, they have just enough.
Which is why it was oddly fitting that the winning run on Sunday was driven in by Stewart, who on a different Yankees team might not have even been playing in the game, and certainly would have been called back to the dugout with the game tied in the ninth inning and the go-ahead run on second, waiting to be driven in.
|Ichiro Suzuki plated the decisive run in the ninth of the Yankees' 2-1 win Sunday in Seattle.|
But this is a different Yankees team, one that no longer bludgeons its opponents into submission but rather lulls them to sleep before trying to sneak away with a victory in the end.
That is precisely how they won their series finale with the Mariners -- they leave Seattle having taken three of four games here and head into Oakland having won six of their past seven, a week after having lost six of the seven before that -- by dint of the excellent pitching of David Phelps, who matched Hernandez for six innings, and one timely hit by Stewart, a sharp grounder through the hole in left off Yoervis Medina that scored Ichiro Suzuki for what proved to be the winning run.
"We've had some really timely hits," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Think about the couple we got today. We didn't get a whole lot with runners in scoring position, but we got enough, and that's the important thing."
The Yankees' previous timely hit came seven innings earlier, when Brett Gardner, who leads the team in hitting at .284 and had four hits in the game, singled off Hernandez in the second inning to drive in Jayson Nix. After that, Hernandez, who had been shaky early (he loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks in the first but escaped with two strikeouts), settled down and held the Yankees to just one more hit, a double by Gardner, in the fifth inning.
And when Medina got into trouble in the ninth by issuing a leadoff walk to Ichiro and saw him reach second on Nix' sacrifice bunt, it was only natural for Stewart to wonder if he would get a chance to hit.
"Usually I don't even get a chance to be in that spot, especially with a right-hander out there," Stewart said. "But my mind's made up. I'm going to hit until Joe [Girardi] tells me I'm not. I don't want to be in a situation where I'm playing guessing games up there. I want to make sure my mind's right. If Joe pulls me then Joe pulls me."
Girardi could have gone to the left-handed hitting Lyle Overbay in that spot, but after discussing the matchup with hitting coach Kevin Long, he decided to stick with Stewart, a decision that might have been influenced by the fact that Stewart's backup, Austin Romine, is batting just .146. In any event, Stewart, who had singled off Hernandez in the second, got the pitch he wanted from Medina and smacked it into left for the game-winner.
"It was a huge confidence booster, you know?" Stewart said. "Joe felt good about the situation and I felt good going into it."
Stewart, a career backup who has never had more than 183 at-bats in any season, is now more than halfway to that total due to the broken hand suffered by Francisco Cervelli, and the added playing time has certainly helped.
"I'm in a routine every day, seeing live pitches and I'm able to make adjustments to my swing quicker," he said. "It's not like I'm going four or five days between my last at-bats, so being in a groove has helped out a lot."
Still, the Yankees would not have to be depending so much on guys like Stewart if they hadn't suffered wholesale injuries to their starting lineup, or if the guys who are being paid to carry the offensive load were keeping up their end of the bargain.
On Sunday, the heart of the Yankees' order -- Mark Teixeira, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, the 3-4-5 hitters -- went 0-for-11, and Teixeira struck out four times. Throw in Robinson Cano, who went 0-for-3 and is down to .272, and you've got a lineup that is fearsome only to its own fans.
"Well, I mean that's what we are right now," Girardi said. "Maybe we're a little different club than we have been in the past. But we've pitched really well and we've found ways to win. Sometimes it's not how many hits you get. It's when you get those hits."
The Yankees managed just seven hits in this game, and only two off the Mariners' bullpen. But really, all they needed was one, from a decidedly average hitter who right now is among the best the Yankees have to offer.