Coming off a stretch of some of their ugliest baseball in more than a decade, the Yankees -- not to mention the fanbase -- were hoping that the team could restore some semblance of normalcy against the Baltimore Orioles and starter Kevin Millwood, who they'd disposed of rather handily earlier this season.
Of course, Millwood was apparently having none of that, making Buck Showalter look like a genius -- not to mention me eerily prophetic once again in my Series Preview ("I guess Buck is counting on the Yankees having one of their patented 'we-should-really-be-beating-the-heck-out-of-[Insert Mediocre Starter]-but-instead-will-completely-forget-how-to-play-baseball' games.") -- in tossing seven innings of one-run ball against New York. The one run came on a second-inning bomb off the bat of one Alex Rodriguez, who has rather quietly been on fire since returning from the DL earlier this month, hitting a beautiful .341/.391/.683 in September.
Now I've been able to look past a lot of the Yankees' poor play of late primarily due to the level of pitching they've had to deal with. But facing Kevin Millwood and only being able to plate one run over seven is just pathetic. Especially considering that the New York Stranded Baserunners once again left more than 10 men on base in this game.
Heading into the top of the 9th it was 3-1 Orioles, and things felt fairly hopeless, considering the Yankees' all-around poor offensive showing on the evening. All things considered, you couldn't really have asked for a better start from A.J. Burnett, who held Baltimore to those three runs over seven innings of his own, although you could probably ask that he not surrender a solo home run to Robert Andino of all people. But hey, a two-run deficit should in theory be plenty surmountable for a team like the Yankees.
Unfortunately given the way things have gone for the team of late, between stranding more baserunners than Texas has relief pitchers and also the season-long issue of mounting fizzled late-inning rallies, it seemed as though the Yankees would once again be going home losers as closer Koji Uehara came in. Of course, this was the same Uehara who gave up Nick Swisher's walk-off home run last week, so there was certainly a glimmer of hope.
Jorge Posada led off the inning with a spectacular at-bat and was ultimately able to dunk an opposite field single into left to get on base. Derek Jeter struck out, part of a 1-5 night for him with five LOB, and Curtis Granderson came through with a big base hit of his own. With one out, the Yankees now had two chance to hit a go-ahead three-run home run with their two biggest home run threats heading to the plate in Mark Teixeira and A-Rod. Tex, who has been mired in a pretty miserable slump since breaking his toe, wound up weakly popping out. Tex seems like he's in pretty dire need of some rest, so it might be time for Juan Miranda to get a game or two at first base. And then something incredible happened.
Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate with two outs in the top of the ninth inning with two runners on base and his team down by two. With a 1-2 count on A-Rod, Uehara threw a fastball inside that looked like it just missed being strike three. I've seen guys rung up on that pitch plenty of times, and Baltimore's dugout sure thought that was the game right there based on Alex's amused reaction as he looked over at the Orioles after the call, seemingly aware that he may have been gifted another pitch. For what it's worth, according to both Brooks Baseball and Texas Leaguers it was indeed a ball.
On a 2-2 count, Uehara grooved his next pitch right down the middle and Alex did with it what he's done so many times before, and reminded us of why he's worth every penny they pay him: he absolutely clobbered the ball into the left field seats, putting the Yankees ahead 4-3 and once again rescuing the team while down to their final out. It doesn't get much more dramatic than that, folks.
I was watching the game with a group at a bar, and I absolutely lost my mind once A-Rod connected. I don't think I've been so jacked up for a home run since 'Rod hit that go-ahead grand slam against Minnesota back in May. Of course, that blast came in the seventh inning while this was in the ninth, reminiscent of A-Rod's numerous postseason heroics from last October.
Mariano Rivera came on to close the game out without incident, preserving the Yankees' 4-3 victory. And to top it all off, both the Rays and Red Sox lost, enabling the Yankees to hop back into first place and shave two games off their magic number. Now hopefully this talk of Boston making some noise will begin properly fading away.
I'd like to say that with that one swing of the bat Alex wiped away two weeks' worth of frustration. While it was certainly an incredibly euphoric moment, and he was able to put smiles on a lot of dejected Yankees fans' faces last night, the team still needs to start playing much, much better -- in particular, plating the zillions of runners they've been stranding on base would be most helpful. But the home run undoubtedly came as a huge relief, and was a great place to start.