Yankees Postgame Notebook: Bombers get gritty to gut out series win over Tigers
It was more gritty than pretty, but the Yankees made a bit of history - good and bad - and gutted out a 5-4 walk-off win over the Tigers Sunday to stay above .500 and claim their first series win since the All-Star break.
That first adjective is the one Joe Girardi used to describe Andy Pettitte's outing, one that saw him allow just one run but also last only 4.1 innings before being lifted after 101 pitches with the bases loaded.
"He was in trouble a lot but figured ways to get out of innings and only give up the one run…I thought it was extremely gritty on his part," Girardi said.
"(I) just (threw) too many pitches early in the game, but it was nice to only give up one run; that was huge," Pettitte added. "But I was able to get out of some jams and Shawn (Kelley) came in and got me out of a jam in the fifth, and that was huge. … I had three walks, and a couple of those guys you're obviously going to be extremely careful with, but it's a product of them just being a good lineup and trying to make quality pitches."
Pettitte allowed that lone run in the first but got out of the first thanks to a 5-5-3 double play, and found ways to wiggle out of three more innings with at least one runner left on base in each. Still, that brought his pitch count up, and while he was obviously disappointed to leave just two outs shy of qualifying for the win, the veteran lefty understood the circumstances and was happy that the team won in the end.
"It's taxing on my body to throw so many pitches so early in the game. I'm out there grinding and battling as hard as I can, but we have to win ballgames right now," Pettitte said. "I'm extremely upset I couldn't go deeper, but right now I'm looking at positives, and the big one is that we won. That was a good club over there, and hopefully we can build on this. If we're to get where we want to be, the playoffs, we have to win series, and this is a good step."
Offensively, the Yankees staked themselves to an early lead with a little bit of history; Alex Rodriguez went deep in the second inning for his 648th career home run, with his 1,951st RBI putting him past Stan Musial into sole possession of fifth place on the all-time RBI list.
"That means I'm getting old," A-Rod joked before adding, "but to think about what (Musial) did in his career, it's humbling to be up there."
An Eduardo Nunez sac fly added a second run that inning and an A-Rod single made it 3-1 in the third, but in the fourth, Alfonso Soriano made it 4-1 with his third homer as a Yankee this season - a blast that also happened to be his 2,000th career hit. Soriano had been 0-for-9 since recording No. 1,999 in Chicago, and after admitting the other day that he felt a little lost, he was relieved to notch 2K the same way he got No. 1.
"It's nice to get it, now I can feel more comfortable because I don't have to think about it," Soriano said. "I feel very blessed. My first hit ever was a homer and my 2,000th was too…I've worked hard, but I'm blessed."
The game was rather quiet until the eighth, when David Robertson allowed a solo homer to Brayan Pena and a single by Jose Iglesias before the Yankees defense kicked in; Rodriguez made a great play at third to get Iglesias on a force, and then Brett Gardner crashed into the wall to rob Torii Hunter f an extra base hit, starting a rather rarer 8-7-6-4 inning-ending double play in the process.
"I was just trying to figure out when I was going to catch my next breath; I really didn't know what happened and I wasn't really looking up," Gardner said of the catch and play. "It knocked the breath out of me, but when I was running in after the inning I felt alright again.
"I saw that he hit the wall very hard. I went to see if he was okay and he threw me the ball and I just threw it in," Soriano added. "He made a great catch."
In the ninth, the Yankees turned to Mariano Rivera as usual, but saw something that until today they had never seen: Rivera blowing his third straight save. Home runs to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez tied the game, and afterwards, "The Sandman" gave the Tigers credit but put the onus squarely on himself.
"I didn't get the pitch where it was supposed to go. They're professional hitters, and you have to continue working," Rivera said. "I've been doing what I've been doing for 18 years; I just didn't throw the ball where I needed to."
And, as you might expect, he had no clue it was a first for him.
"There's always a first time, I guess," he said, "but I don't pay attention to that stuff. We have to continue fighting, and the most important thing is that we won.
But, Rivera was bailed out for the second time in three days by Gardner, whose game-winning solo homer with two outs in the ninth was the fifth walk-off hit of his career (and second in a row).
"That's the first time I've ever hit a walk-off homer, and it might be my last," he joked. "I've had a couple of seeing eye singles but never a homer. It felt good, but it didn't matter who it was, we needed a win. After what happened in Chicago, it was deflating losing that game and getting swept, but we were able to hang on and win twice here."
Gardner also said he wasn't surprised "one bit" that Rivera had never blown three straight saves, but he doesn't like to think he's "bailing out" a bullpen that has been so good for so long with his recent heroics.
"Mo's bailed us out quite a few times, and (Rivera and Robertson allowing three runs) doesn't happen very often; those guys aren't perfect, and in my opinion they're still the best 8th and 9th inning guys in the game," he said.
Andy Pettitte, for his part, agreed.
"(Rivera) spoils us all, so any time you see him blow one much less three it's shocking, but I don't think it will faze him or anyone in the locker room," Pettitte said. "The next time he comes into the game with the lead, we're going to feel extremely confident."
In the end, it all worked out, and the Yankees hope today's heroics are the start of a strong stretch to come.
"They're a first-place team, and that gives you more confidence," Soriano said, "because we have to think that if we can beat a first-place team, we can beat any other team too."
"We definitely want to answer the bell against good teams," added Alex Rodriguez, "and we're going to fight all the way to the end."