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Yankees rally for key win over Baltimore

Bottom of the seventh changes the Yanks' season
09/01/2012 4:28 PM ET
By Joe Auriemma

Robinson Cano hit his 28th home run of the season in a 4-3 win on Saturday.(AP)

The first six innings of Saturday’s Yankees-Orioles game played much like the nine innings of Friday night's game, with Orioles pitchers stifling Yankees hitters and Orioles hitters doing what they needed to do to win. In fact other than a Yankee Stadium home run to left field by Robinson Cano in the fourth inning -- only one of two hits Wei-Yin Chen allowed in his first six innings of work -- the Yankees had nothing. They once again looked like a team beaten down by injuries and inconsistent play. To make matters worse they lost another of their superstars in the second inning, as Curtis Granderson exited the game with tendinitis of his right hamstring. Granderson’s condition would be later deemed day-to-day.

Yankees starter David Phelps battled hard and got timely double plays when he needed them, but the usually in-control Phelps, who had only allowed one walk in his previous 17 2/3 innings pitched, walked six and left the game down 3-1 with two outs in the fifth inning.

Nothing seemed to be going right. It seemed almost inevitable that the Yanks’ 10-game lead in the American League East was going to be whittled down to one game. And then came the inning that very well might prove the most important of the season for the New York Yankees.

With one away and Chen still dealing in the bottom of the seventh, Steve Pearce stepped to the plate and singled to ignite the once subdued crowd. But Chen got Russell Martin to fly out for the second out of the inning, and looked like he might escape the seventh unscathed. Jayson Nix then came up to provide the most important at-bat of his Yankees career. Down 0-2 in the count, Nix fouled off the third pitch and then took four straight balls out of the zone for a seven-pitch walk.

Pearce moved to second on Nix's gritty at-bat, bringing up Eduardo Nunez to keep the rally going. Nunez, recalled to the Major Leagues with the September 1 roster expansion, swung at Chen's first-pitch 92 MPH fastball and got just enough to line a single to center to score Pearce. Nunez's hit made him an impressive 6-for-9 on the season with runners in scoring position. Even more important, his hit brought the Yankees within one run.

Buck Showalter's biggest mistake of the inning may have been keeping Chen in one batter too long. He left Chen in to face the right-handed Nunez, who made him pay with an RBI single. Chen was taken out of the game in favor of power righty Pedro Strop, who tried and failed to limit the damage. Strop had trouble finding the zone as he faced Ichiro, and walked him to load the bases for Derek Jeter.

If the Yankees do hold on to their division lead and the seventh inning of Saturday’s game is looked at as one of the most important of the season, then Derek Jeter's at-bat will be looked at as the turning point.

Jeter quickly fell behind 0-2. But the Captain battled for an important seven-pitch walk that scored the tying run and essentially brought the Yankees all the way out of the funk that brought their division lead down to two. Strop could not find the plate, but it was Jeter's experience and keen eye that kept the at-bat alive on very close pitches he could have easily swung at.

“Jete can get down in the count, Jete can jump on you early in the count,” Joe Girardi said about Jeter after the game. “There's a lot of different things we've seen him do over his long career, so I think experience plays a big factor.”

The crowd was once again alive in the Bronx. It seemed as if that Strop’s walk of Jeter sucked the life out of the once-unflappable Orioles.

“He's done that before. That's part of his success,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Strop after the game. “It's a ride sometimes, but he's been great. He's been one of the reasons why we're here. It's not something we're going to dwell on.”

Finally Strop faced Nick Swisher in what would be another battle. Swisher worked the count to 3-2, and hit what looked like an inning-ending tweener to short. But J.J. Hardy couldn't handle the ball, allowing what was ultimately the game-winning run to score.

The rally ended there, but not before the scoreboard read “4-3 Yankees.”

“You look at some of the guys that got down in the count 0-2 and come back and take their walks,” Girardi said. “It was just an outstanding job on their part of just taking what the Orioles gave us, grinding out some at-bats and giving us the lead.”

With seven outs left in the game, a once double-digit lead in the A.L. East could have and almost did dwindle down to one -- that is until the most important half inning of the season. The Yankees held serve as David Robertson and Rafael Soriano nailed down the victory.

“It's nice to win,” Girardi said. “This is the team we're going to have to beat obviously to get to where we want to be. It's a nice win and we want to carry it into tomorrow.”

The Yankees will need to carry some momentum into Sunday to give themselves breathing room before their most critical road trip of the season. At this point, the Yankees need to take it not just game-by-game, but inning-by-inning. The bottom of the seventh in Saturday's victory is a good place off which to build.

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