Joe Girardi hopes "extremely important" game and series win over Detroit is Yankees' turning point
The win was their third straight home walk-off victory and second in three nights, both of the latter coming courtesy of perhaps an unlikely suspect in Brett Gardner.
"Twice in a row now we've won with walk-offs from Gardy...it was a great win for us," Girardi said. "We saw something (Mariano Rivera blowing his third straight save) we've never seen in however many years Mo's been pitching, but for Gardy to pick us up, it's great."
Gardner made an incredible catch that turned into a double play in the eighth inning and then got the game-winner in the ninth, and the skipper praised how much of a spark plug the center fielder truly has been over the first four-plus months of 2013.
"He's been outstanding for us and had a really, really good year; we really missed him last year when he was hurt, but he's been playing every day this year and been really good," Girardi said.
One of the other key catalysts on both sides of the ball was Alex Rodriguez, who got the Yankees on the board with his first homer of the season and later added an RBI single - one that could have been a double if not for A-Rod's "rustiness" - to push the lead at the time to 3-1.
A-Rod had been just 3-for-15 in his first four games since returning from the disabled list, but Girardi hopes his 2-for-4 performance on Sunday will be the turning point.
"I think it's unfair to expect him to be in mid-season form," Girardi said. "Our hope is that he is, but you're never sure when a guy comes off the DL and he's been there for a long time. Today was a great day for him, though."
As big as the offensive contribution was, Rodriguez's great defensive play in the eighth to snag a ground ball to his right and force out the speedy Jose Iglesias may have been just as important, as it set the stage for Gardner's literal breath-taking double play.
"We had two huge defensive plays in the eighth and he had one of them," Girardi said. "I told you I thought he was pretty explosive, and I wasn't sure what we were going to get when he came back, but I felt pretty good about it, and I think he's moving as well as he did before the surgery. It's a small sample size, but he made an impressive play to his right, and has made a couple plays to his left and coming in…so far, so good."
Rodriguez did have an off-day Saturday, but there was no doubt he'd be in the lineup Sunday.
"I knew I would play him today; as I said on Friday, we had a long night and a quick turnaround," Girardi said. "If we had a later game (Saturday) I probably would have played him all three, but I just felt it's probably in our best interest not to run him out there. He's coming off a serious injury and we have to keep him strong."
Despite the big day, though, Girardi (and to an extent A-Rod) admitted there's still a little rust to be knocked off.
"He says he's a little rusty because the ball he hit down the right field line (for the RBI single), he thought he fouled it straight back and that's why he didn't run," the skipper said with a smile.
And, as the Girardi also alluded to, A-Rod may get to knock some other rust off soon too, as it might not be long until he is once again flanked by his usual companion on the left side of the Yankees' infield.
"We'll continue to increase his workload here, and I think that when we go on the road, he'll go down to Tampa to increase his baseball activities," Girardi said of Derek Jeter, who is still on the DL with a strained calf. "I think at some point this week you'll start seeing him do tee and toss."
For now, though, the Yankees will take it one day at a time, and on this day, they were able to overcome a "gritty" if short outing from Andy Pettitte, Rivera's third straight blown save - a phenomenon Girardi waved off by saying "it's not like you forget how to pitch in a week, he just had a bad week" - and another near-collapse to pick up a game win and series victory they desperately needed.
"This one was extremely important because we had the lead and we lost it again," Girardi said, "but we're going to be playing in our division a lot and playing good teams, so we have to win games."