Yankees Postgame Notebook: "It's about time I chipped in"
That's especially true in baseball, and over the course of a season's struggles, there's often one watershed moment where progress becomes the rule rather than the exception.
The New York Yankees sure hope that Wednesday night was that moment for Brian McCann, who went 2-for-3 with five RBI to almost single-handedly spur the Yankees to a 7-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
"Tonight was a good night, and it's about time I chipped in," McCann smiled after the win. "It was just nice to contribute on the offensive side for a change."
"When you get contributions up and down your lineup, and we really believe in him as an offensive force and he showed it tonight," manager Joe Girardi added. "A couple of tough lefties he's facing and he goes 2-for-3 and drives in five…we're going to see more of that."
McCann was hitting just .220 coming into the game but was at a .263 clip against lefties, and he certainly made the southpaws pay. His two-run homer in the fourth gave the Yankees back a 3-2 lead after they had just surrendered the edge the previous half-inning, and his bases-loaded, two-out triple just out of the reach of Colby Rasmus in the seventh busted the game open.
"(I was thinking) 'please don't catch it,' and when it fell, I knew I had a good chance for three," he laughed, jokingly adding that he also remembered his last triple back in 2009 because "I think the guy fell down and lost it in the lights."
Put all that together, and you have a catcher who not only helped his young starter through five gritty innings, but also tied his career-high RBI total in carrying the team's offensive load.
"Just the fact that I wasn't really contributing was on my mind, but I've been grinding in the cage working," the backstop said. "A couple things felt good last game, and I was able to carry it over to tonight."
"He's done a great job behind home plate and he's never taken it behind home plate, but you know guys get frustrated, especially when they're used to hitting," Girardi added. "It's just real subtle adjustments, nothing big that he's done, but he's a worker and he expects a lot from himself."
That kind of performance is one that can even make Brett Gardner, who went 4-for-5 with two runs scored and a huge tag-up play in the first, and Adam Warren, who pitched two perfect innings, acknowledge that it wasn't their night.
"Chase (Whitley) pitched a great game tonight, McCann had a huge game for us, and it was a great all-around team win," he said. "We all love to have a game like Brian did tonight. But he's swinging the bat well, and I know he's been working his tail off."
"I think he did great," Warren added. "We've been kind of waiting for an explosive performance like that; we knew he was capable of doing it, so it was great to kind of see him to break out tonight."
Of course, if you ask McCann, Gardner is the real "stud."
"He can do everything on a baseball field you can possibly ask for; he starts it at the top of the order, steals bags, and plays Gold Glove defense, so yeah, I can't say enough about him," McCann said.
Meanwhile, on the mound, the Yankees were pretty good at worst and dominant at best, with starter Chase Whitley representing the former. He allowed just two runs on five hits over five gritty innings, and he acknowledged that after back-to-back starts of seven innings or more, this was a reminder that things won't always come so easily.
"They're difficult, so I knew I had to go out there and battle. Mac called a great game and got some big hits for us," Whitley said. "I fell behind some guys, but I stayed with Mac (Brian McCann) and the defense did their job tonight. This is one of the first times I've really had to bear down and battle, but they helped me out a lot."
"They made him work, and this may have been his highest pitch total since he's been here, and that was just in five innings," Girardi added. "We thought he gave us a great five innings and that was it."
The bullpen then mostly represented the latter, with the trio of Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and David Robertson showing just how versatile and dominant the back end of the bullpen can be by spinning four scoreless frames of no-hit ball with four strikeouts.
Jose Ramirez was a slight hiccup in the middle, getting pulled in favor of Betances after allowing back-to-back doubles in the eighth.
"Tonight, Adam hadn't thrown in the last couple days, so I knew he could give us two innings, but Dellin had thrown two innings last night so I knew he could give us one, and that's why I did it the way I did," the skipper said. "Here in a different part of the order I might have went to Dellin first, but I chose to use Adam, and if he had only thrown 20 pitches in those two innings I might have sent him out for a third."
"I was probably more rested than I have been, so I was ready to go out there and throw all my pitches, and I trusted Mac to call the right pitches," Warren added of his two perfect innings.
In the end, a win is a win no matter the route, and for his team to get two in a row over the division leader is a huge step in the right direction.
"This is big. This is the team we're chasing, and these games are extremely important, because playing within your own division is the easiest way to lose or make up ground. It was big to do it with Chase on the mound, because he's really given us quality starts."
A few more notes from a successful Wednesday in the Bronx:
-If there was one negative to McCann's night, it was that he found out he won't be winning the Yankees' fantasy World Cup pool. McCann had a Spain jersey in his locker, and locker neighbor Gardner revealed McCann had the Spaniards, who were mathematically eliminated after a loss Wednesday, in the pool, joking that "yeah, they didn't do too well…maybe he was angry about that!"
-As for Girardi, it was a night of press conference crashings; he had the brother of one of the HOPE Week honorees join him pre-game, and following it, it was his youngest daughter Lena who decided to join the podium with her dad, causing Joe to later laugh that it's "all in a day's work."
-Back on baseball, here's Gardner on his night: "I feel pretty good. I just go out there and try to put the ball in play and do anything I can to get on base. I take a lot of pride in my role; I try to get on and get over to scoring position so these guys can drive me in."
-Girardi did not sleep on Gardner either: "He's played extremely well too. He's given us great at-bats at the top, last night his 12-pitch at-bat set the tone, and he got it going again tonight."
-Shawn Kelley was available and warmed up in the fifth inning, but never came in later because of caution according to Girardi: "With what he's been through, we were just careful and didn't want to get him back up again because he was hot. We're just being a little cautious right now."
-The skipper on how his expectations for Whitley, who is now 3-0, have changed over the last five weeks: "We expect him to pitch well. We weren't really sure what we were going to get when he came up because we had never seen him as a starter…we had never really seen the distance he could give us or the slider that he has featured."
-Warren on the importance of winning the first two games of this series: "I think we all look at this as a big series. We're playing the team at the top of our division, so it's big for us to get two games on them. It's early, but we'll take two against a division rival any time we can get them."
-We'll give the last word to Girardi, when asked about the torrid streak of Derek Jeter, who was just 1-for-5 tonight but did reach on an error that led to the Yankees' first run: "You look at the way he's swung the bat the last couple weeks, and he's been a big part of our offense, with a few multi-hit games in there. He's contributing, and that's important, because he's a big part of our club."