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Yankees' mission: Deliver knockout punch

08/17/2012 12:07 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Despite Thursday's loss, Ichiro and the Yankees slide into another Red Sox series with momentum.(AP)
The paying public left Yankee Stadium displeased on Thursday afternoon, many early after watching the underbelly of the Yankees bullpen waste a five-run, sixth-inning, rally that put the Yanks in position to secure a four-game sweep of the Texas Rangers. Players and fans alike were cheering over the prospect that the Yankees would wipe out one of the American League’s best team, one that’s fighting the Bombers tooth and nail for the junior circuit’s best record.

Alas, 47,645 ended up booing Joba Chamberlain, the comeback kid who combined with Cody Eppley and Boone Logan to give up five runs over the subsequent two innings that led to a 10-6 loss. Such disappointment, however, must be short-lived if you’re a Yankees fan. The big picture is this: The Yankees took three out of four from a powerhouse and earned a 1 ½-game lead for home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Sure, one can fairly point out a sweep would have bumped the lead the 3 ½ games, but the Yankees are winners of seven of nine and are 10-5 in August.

That’s a lot of momentum to take into a weekend series against a Red Sox team in a state of chaos. Bobby Valentine’s crew is 5-10 this month and many players allegedly staged a mutiny against their manager. Never mind the Sox are 12 ½ games out of first place and 6 ½ from a Wild Card berth. The situation brought about from a Yahoo! Sports report that some players requested a July 26 meeting with ownership to request that Valentine be fired became so dire that principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and team president Larry Lucchino flew to Baltimore to offer their support for the team and Valentine in particular.

Still, Lucchino admitted the Red Sox are a “long shot” to make the playoffs. And the Yankees, who lost two of three to the Red Sox in the series right after Boston’s meeting, have another chance to do what they failed to do last month, deliver the knockout punch.

“We played pretty good baseball (this series). We pitched, for the most part, pretty well. We swung the bats pretty well. You can’t rest on what’s happened the past four days, you have to plug along here, because we’re still in a race. We’re in a race in our division. We’re in a race for the best record. I do like the way that we played, and let’s hope it carries over to this weekend.”

What the Yankees don’t hope carries over is Thursday’s performance of a bullpen that until then has been resolute. In his sixth appearance since his return to the Yankees from Tommy John surgery and a dislocated ankle, Chamberlain took the brunt of the blame for Thursday’s loss after allowing Craig Gentry’s RBI single that gave the Rangers the lead for good. Chamberlain was touched for two runs on four hits in 1.1 innings. He owns an ERA of 9.00 and opponents are 13-for-29 (.448) against the right-hander, which prompted Girardi to admit after the game he’ll be using him in low-leverage situations.

“I didn’t hear it, but I would have booed, too. I [stunk],’’ Chamberlain said. “They paid to see a good game and I didn’t throw one. My son has booed me. You have to keep it in perspective. It wasn’t good. They pay a price to see a good game, to see something good and it wasn’t. That’s their right.’’

It’s also accurate to cite that the Yankees remain in a good spot with a six-game AL East lead following a July swoon (13-13) that extended into the beginning of August. David Phelps (subbing for the disabled CC Sabathia) and Hiroki Kuroda (a complete-game two-hitter) were solid and tremendous, respectively, against a Rangers offense that leads the Majors in runs. Derek Jeter, atop the AL with 159 hits, is riding a 12-game hitting streak and is batting .395 (30-for-76) over his last 17. Nick Swisher is batting .326 (14-for-43) with two homers and 12 RBIs over his last 10 games with at least one RBI in his last five. Andruw Jones, who will see time against two Red Sox lefty starters this weekend, has homered an average of once every 14 at-bats.

Then there’s Ichiro Suzuki, who seems to have found a comfort zone after arriving via trade on July 23. Ichiro is hitting .303 as a Yankee after going 3-for-3 on Thursday and is 9-for-18 with six RBIs over his last eight games. Ichiro was imported to help fill the void left by Brett Gardner’s elbow injury and has helped the Yankees continue to compensate for a rash of injuries. In the midst of their own storm, the Yankees have survived, whereas the Red Sox are teetering on the brink. And unlike last month it’s the Yankees’ job to put their reeling rivals down for the count.

"They talked about that last time they were here and they took two of three in three one-run games," Girardi said. "We know how potent that team can be and we need to win games."

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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