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Baserunning the key that spurs Yankees, costs Astros in series finale

05/02/2013 12:54 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Brett Gardner stole a base during Wednesday's victory against the Astros.(AP)
Baserunning is one of the most fundamental parts of baseball, and it ended up being the key difference in a Yankees win (and an Astros loss) on Wednesday night.

For the Yankees, it was veteran savvy on the bases that helped them score what ended up being the winning run in the sixth inning. With runners on the corners and one out, Ichiro Suzuki hit a chopper to second base against a drawn-in infield – but Lyle Overbay, the runner on first, stopped dead in his tracks as the ball reached Jose Altuve, forcing Altuve to throw to first base for what was his only play.

“With a runner on third, you tell yourself to not run into a tag, because that’s a double play. It was a double play anyway, but it’s not the regular one,” Overbay said.

Overbay ended up being out on what became a 4-6-3 double play, but because the force on him was removed once Ichiro was forced, Eduardo Nunez, led off with a double, was able to score from third with the eventual game-winning tally before Overbay was tagged out at second.

“I’m out anyway either way, so I’m just trying to be smart. I don’t think they double up Ichiro if he throws to second, and it’s not like I was going to be able to get in there and take out the shortstop,” Overbay said. “So it was kind of a no brainer.”

It was his savvy that made the play, but Overbay credited first base coach Mick Kelleher’s heads-up assessment of the defensive alignment for setting the stage.

“The pitch before, Mick mentioned that (Altuve) was playing more shallow, so if Ichiro it softly he might not be able to turn two and might throw home,” Overbay said. “As soon as Ichiro hit it, I knew it was soft enough to where I couldn’t get by (Altuve), so I stopped to wait; I was kind of expecting him to throw home, but I don’t think he could’ve gotten (Nunez), so it worked out.”

“That was very smart, it takes a heads-up play to realize don't get tagged and allow the double play to happen that way,” manager Joe Girardi said after the game. “He allowed it to happen where they have to throw to first, so I give Lyle a lot of credit.”

Come the ninth inning, the Astros got a leadoff single off Mariano Rivera, but it was a baserunning “mistake” that kept them from capitalizing. According to manager Bo Porter, Brandon Barnes was running on a straight steal when Matt Dominguez lined a ball up the middle, one that was caught by Robinson Cano for what looked like an easy 4-unassisted double play.

“Barnes is a green-light guy, and he took advantage of some things that we talked about pre-game. He got a great hump and had the base stolen, and Dominguez did exactly what he should’ve done (by swinging at) a strike in the zone,” Porter said. “He hits the ball in the gap and Barnes scores, or if it goes over Cano’s head it’s first and third and nobody out. The aggression was great and everybody executed, it just so happened that the ball ends up being lined to Cano.”

The Yankees’ second baseman was shaded a bit up the middle, and manager Joe Girardi joked that the play went exactly as planned.

“ I thought he was going to get there, I did, and I was really pleased that he did,” Girardi said.

The Yankees skipper had praised Cano’s ascension into a leadership role prior to the game, and on a night where he went 1-for-4 with a solo home run, it was Cano’s veteran savvy that helped the Yankees pull out a one-run victory. “We think Robbie has taken somewhat of a leadership role just because of some of our injuries, and we also think that he’s at a point in his career where he’s secure in doing that,” Girardi said. “He’s got a young shortstop next to him, and I think he’s done a very good job with Nunez and being his big brother out there.”

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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