Yankees Postgame Notebook: One ace trumped, three to go
The Yankees may not have done that quite as much as they could've against reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, but once was all they needed to eke out a 2-1 victory over the Tigers in their series opener at Yankee Stadium.
"Series are important for us the rest of the way, and obviously you want to get off to a good start at home, which we did," Girardi said after the game. "It won't get any easier for us tomorrow, but we played an outstanding game tonight."
To wit, it could have been a 'could have been' night for the Yankees; despite going 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position, they had three huge scoring opportunities go by the wayside in the first five innings, but the one time they did get to Scherzer was all they'd need.
That came in the third, where three consecutive singles by Ichiro, Brett Gardner, and Derek Jeter set the table, and Jacoby Ellsbury's sac fly - one that probably would have been a three-run extra-base hit if not for an amazing catch by Detroit center fielder Ezequiel Carrera - gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
"That looked like it had a chance to give us a much bigger lead; that's an unbelievable play by Carrera, and it really changed the complexion of the game, because it kept it a close game the whole way," Girardi said. "I thought we swung the bats pretty well tonight, but they made some really good defensive plays all around."
Added Ellsbury of the catch: "It was a spectacular catch, and I don't know if I've seen a better one all year. It saved most likely three runs and we probably would've broken open the game if not for that. That's one you hope falls for you, but he made a tremendous play."
Two batters later, Brian McCann laced an RBI single to right that scored Gardner and made it 2-0, and that was that; Scherzer escaped the two later jams and he and Phil Coke retired the final nine Yankees in a row, but the damage was already done.
"We know how talented their starting rotation is, but they're not always going to have perfect stuff," Girardi said. "Sometimes pitchers will have their A-game and sometimes they'll struggle a little bit, but I thought our guys put good at-bats on (Scherzer) and made him work."
But as good as Scherzer's start turned out to be, credit Brandon McCarthy (and later, the Yankees bullpen) for being just that much better.
McCarthy fell just one out shy of a technical quality start, but for most of his 116 pitches, he baffled the Tigers; the righty, who is now 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA as a Yankee, wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second by striking out Alex Avila and Eugenio Suarez and never looked back, leaving with two on in the fifth after allowing just one unearned run over 5 2/3 innings.
"He's used his sinker extremely well, but I thought he used his curveball really well tonight," Girardi said. "I thought he got some really big outs with it and did a good job. He's been huge for our rotation, and every start has been a good one; he's done a good job of giving us distance most of the time, and he's pitched about as well as you could."
"Any time I can get the curveball going is important; if I'm able to change speeds, throw strikes with it and get it out of the zone for swings and misses or bad contact, it gives my fastball some breathing room," McCarthy added. "It's not easy (to navigate the Detroit lineup), they just keep coming and coming; you just have to stay focused as much as you can as long as you can, and I was just trying to grind through pitches and not give in."
The 'pen picked him up from there, with Matt Thornton quickly retiring Avila to end the sixth and the trio of Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley, and David Robertson retiring nine of the 10 batters they faced to close out the victory.
"I've told you that I really like our bullpen, and they've been a huge part of our success all year long," Girardi said. "We've asked a lot of them, and they've given us a lot, but whenever we have a lead, I like our chances because of that they've done."
The finish gave Robertson his 30th save of the season, one no one was sure was coming after D-Rob had pitched three days in a row.
"He came to me today and said he felt good," Girardi said. "Before this stretch he had three days off, so I went to him, which I've done with him in the past late in the year. I don't think he's a pitcher for me tomorrow, though."
If the name of the game is to win series, the Yankees are off to a good start - but with another ace in David Price Tuesday and two more great pitchers ahead, Ellsbury cautioned that the team just has to take things one day at a time.
"It's a nice win, but we can't look too far ahead. They have some great pitchers over there and a very good offense as well, but we're going to go out there with our game plan tomorrow and try to do it again.
A few more notes and quotes from the Yankees clubhouse:
-Ellsbury had been 3-for-39 over the last 11 games coming into Monday, but went 2-for-3 with the sac fly and thinks he's turning a corner: "The last few days I feel like I've been swinging the bat well, but I've been feeling comfortable and confident at the plate."
-Girardi on Ellsbury's recent stretch: "Obviously we know he's a great player. They're going to go through streaks where they're hot some days and not others."
-Mark Teixeira was scratched just prior to the game because of light-headedness, but Girardi didn't seem concerned that it was a long-term thing: "We did get in at 4:30 in the morning, which may have had something to do with it, but he did feel better later in the game. I think he'll be a player for us tomorrow but we'll have to see how he feels."
-Teixeira on the situation: "I was getting ready for the game as normally I do, and all of a sudden I started getting really dizzy and nauseous. They said I might have been a little dehydrated so I got two IV's, but I'm not exactly sure what happened."
-Girardi on why Headley took over at first base for Teixeira: "I've kind of given Headley a heads up since he's been here that he might go over there, and I told him today that if I gave Tex a day off this week, he'd probably have to go over there and play first base; I didn't know I'd be telling him at 6:15 that it would be today, though."
-Headley on his time at first: "I felt okay. It had been a long time since I had been over there so I felt a little shaky early on, but as the game went on I felt more comfortable. You just do what you can and try to play the game as focused and relaxed as you can and not worry if something goes wrong. I was able to do that and we made it through, but hopefully we get Tex back soon, because I think he does a better job over there.
-Last word goes to Girardi, doting on the fact that his team has now played a franchise-record 14 straight games decided by one or two runs: "The good thing is that you have a chance to win every night, if you look at it that way, but you know that your bullpen gets taxed too. As long as you win them, they're okay."