Friday night was a big one in the Bronx, not only because the Yankees broke an ugly five game losing streak in which their slumping bats produced just three walks and ten runs and not only because they defeated the rival Red Sox, but because two of their biggest sluggers finally returned from the DL. Despite the plethora of injuries and anemic offense, New York’s fantastic pitching staff had kept them just two games behind division leader Boston heading into June. That is a deal many Yankee fans would have signed up for when the season kicked off, as the mantra seemed to be “just hover around .500 and don’t fall too far out before the reinforcements arrive”. That goal seemed to slip further and further away as both starters and replacements hit the DL at a far more frequent pace than they returned from it. And even when Curtis Granderson arrived to finally save us from watching Ichiro flail away helplessly, he only lasted a few games before his hand was broken by another errant pitch.
After suffering through an embarrassing four game sweep at the hands of the Mets, it seemed as if the clock had struck midnight and these miracle Bombers were about to turn back into wilted pumpkins. The unlikely heroes, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Jayson Nix, who carried them through April, had regressed past the mean in May. CC Sabathia was battling velocity issues and was possibly being forced into the realization that his days of unleashing overpowering octane may be gone for good. Young starter David Phelps had his worst start of the season and even the amazing Mariano Rivera blew a win that could have made the cross-city series a bit more palatable.
Despite the standings and the fact that it was starting on May 31, the weekend series against the Sox in the Bronx seemed like a big one. With a sweep, the Sox could put some serious distance between the two teams, extend their lead to five games and push the Yankees from an ugly slump into an extended free fall. As the Yanks turned to their struggling ace, the Sox rolled out Jon Lester, who has seemingly turned things around after a rough 2012.
No matter which way you slice it, the Yankees, with the majority of their right-handed bats sidelined, have struggled against left handed pitching this year. Thankfully, on this balmy night in New York City, the Yankees received a much-needed gift in the return of RHB Kevin Youkilis and switch-hitting Mark Teixeira. Both were immediately inserted into the top of the lineup and paid immediate dividends as they saw a combined 36 pitches in eight appearances, helping knock Lester out of the game early in the seventh inning. Teixeira also walked and scored a run while Youkilis knocked in another with a big two-out single. Adding these two premium bats into the top half of the order helps push down guys like Wells, Nix and Lyle Overbay, which lengthens the lineup, and also provide legitimate protection for MVP candidate Robinson Cano. For a team that ranked just outside the AL basement in pitches per plate appearance, the reemergence of two of the best pitch eaters in the league is a sight for sore eyes. Even with these reinforcements, the lineup is still a work in progress and the hope is that more help, in the form of Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, will arrive by July.
The Yankees won the game 4-1 behind a vintage Sabathia performance and for at least 18 hours, all was right in the House that George Built. Today is another day, and the short-term memory small sample size news cycle will churn on and on. And as annoying as the overreaction can be (I’m looking at you, Mets fans), it also adds to the charm and beauty of baseball. Every day we get to watch another game and as the old John Sterling axiom goes, you are only as good as that day’s starting pitcher.