Yankees: Can Beanball in Beantown Spark Season Turnaround?
Added by Elizabeth DiPietro on August 21, 2013.
So, how was your Tuesday? Betcha Jayson Nix’s was better.
The utility infielder, who almost always finds a way to factor into the game when he plays, was an integral part of the Yankees’ doubleheader sweep of the Blue Jays. He went 3-for-6, with two walks in the twin bill, including a game-tying home run and walk-off single in the nightcap.
Since the embarrassing sweep by the White Sox, the Yankees are 9-3 and have won all three of their series, despite playing formidable opponents, such as the Tigers and Red Sox. An offensive resurgence, fueled by hot streaks from Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano, has resulted in the Yankees scoring 74 runs over that stretch, averaging out to a little over 6 a game.
But do the rejuvenated Bronx Bombers have enough legs to dash into the playoffs? It’s not impossible, but it certainly won’t be easy. They’re six and a half out of the division, chasing Boston and Tampa, who will probably continue to flip-flop positions for a while. They’re five out of the wild card, but need to hop over four opponents to clinch. The good news is that the Yankees’ late-season schedule is conducive to making up ground; 28 of their remaining 37 games are against division rivals, so their fate is largely in their own hands.
Sports fans, New York fans in particular, like to believe that a season is made up of a series of moments, and that you can look back on the year gone by and pinpoint exactly when things started to go right, or maybe when they started to go wrong, as the case may be.
If the Yanks do make the playoffs, they will no doubt look back on Sunday night’s heated match against the Red Sox as the turning point of the season. Boston starter Ryan Dempster brazenly appointed himself baseball vigilante when he drilled Alex Rodriguez in the elbow, in protest of the fact that A-Rod was still playing while appealing his suspension. An irate Joe Girardi was ejected after expressing his outrage at the umpire for not ejecting Dempster, and A-Rod exacted the best revenge by going deep on Dempster a few innings later.
(Photo Credit: NY Daily News)
The Yankees won the game in dramatic comeback fashion, and exhibited a camaraderie not seen in quite some time. (In some weird way, it was beneficial for the Yankees that Dempster wasn’t ejected; if A-Rod had hit his homer off someone else it wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying). They put their personal feelings towards A-Rod aside and rallied behind him for the sole reason that he was wearing a gray jersey with “New York” stitched across the front, just like they were.
Now it’s been revealed that Dempster will be suspended for only five games, which is less than a slap on the wrist considering he won’t even miss a start. The Yankees are unsatisfied with the punishment, and some say the incident has about-faced A-Rod from Public Enemy Number One into—dare I say?—something of a victim, a role that A-Rod gladly embraces. Love him or hate him, it’s simply wrong to intentionally hit another player, to paraphrase Girardi, especially when he’s following the procedures set down by the players’ union agreed upon by everyone.
So, A-Rod had his day on Sunday, but went 1-for-7 with 5 strikeouts in the doubleheader, which proves those magic moments are nothing if not fleeting.
It’s more realistic to look at the Yankees’ journey to the playoffs as a mountain to climb with plateaus, rather than a fork in the road where one path leads to the playoffs and the other to the golf course. They need to go out and play each day with the confidence that they can win. The lineup has certainly proven that, but starting pitching needs to up its consistency. Phil Hughes, easily the weakest link in the rotation all year, gave arguably his best performance of the season in Tuesday’s nightcap. CC Sabathia was shaky on Sunday despite earning a win, and it’s difficult to predict what Andy Pettitte is going to give you, especially this late in the season. However, Pettitte does have the distinction of being MLB’s winningest postseason pitcher, so he’s certainly accustomed to performing under pressure.
The Yankees have performed like a well-oiled machine over the last two weeks, with decent pitching keeping them in the game to set the stage for late-inning rallies at times, and clutch offense bailing out shaky pitching other times. They’ve finally got a lineup that extends deeper than Cano. (In fact, he’s hitting .538 in his last 10 games, and it’s no coincidence that A-Rod’s backing him up). They need to continue to play with the attitude that every game is a must-win, and a can-win.