You had a starting pitcher give a performance that was desperately needed both for himself, and for the team, and you had an offense that was stymied all night by the opposing starter, but was woken up late thanks to a clutch run scoring double by the oldest member of the team, and a game-winning, first-pitch three-run home run by one of the younger players with the least amount of MLB service time.
They were seconds away from a disastrous loss and instead, it became pandemonium in mere moments.
CC Sabathia and the much-needed good start
Sabathia came into last night's game with a 5.16 ERA on the season and always had trouble in Tropicana Field in the past, but he picked things up there recently and thanks to last night's start he has now a 1.74 ERA (4 ER - 20.2 IP), .233 BAA (16-73) in his last three starts there. (Those numbers are courtesy of Jeff Quagliata of YES).
So what did CC do? He mixed his pitches well. From Brooks Baseball:
Because of this, he also had a nice variety of pitch speeds as well:
He gave up three hits - all singles. Two of them came in the slightly scary second inning when he loaded the bases with only one out. Asdrubal Cabrera hit an 89 mph fastball on the outside for a single to shallow right-center and Steven Souza Jr. singled on an 89 mph cutter on the inside of the plate that Brendan Ryan misplayed allowing Cabrera to advance to third. Sabathia then issued a five-pitch walk to Richie Shaffer which loaded the bases. Luckily, Kevin Kiermaier grounded into a force out and J.P. Arencibia flied out to end the inning.
CC's one bad inning didn't result in any runs!
The only other hit Sabathia surrendered was a single in the fifth to Kiermaier who was erased from the bases by an Arencibia double play to end the inning.
Sabathia was pulled with two outs in the seventh inning after giving up his second walk of the game. All told, Sabathia threw 111 pitches, 68 for strikes, gave up the three hits, walked two and struck out six Rays.
That crazy ninth inning starring A-Rod and Slade!
The Yankees were very close to being no-hit last night. Rays' starter Erasmo Ramirez kept them off the bases for seven innings and things didn't seem like they were going to get much better heading into the top of the eighth inning. That's not to say that they were flailing at the plate. They had hit the ball hard a few times but at people or outfielders were making crazy catches. Like the one right field Mikie Mahtook made on a long fly ball off the bat of Brian McCann that doubled off Brett Gardner and prevented the Yankees from scoring in the seventh.
It's plays like that which make you think that maybe it isn't your team's night.
Thank goodness for Carlos Beltran who apparently doesn't believe in that hooey and hit the fourth pitch of his leadoff at bat, a 90 mph fastball, off Shaffer's shoulder at first. It ricocheted into right for a single and the no-hit bid was over.
Then, the Rays scored in the bottom of the eighth to make it 1-0 and most of the people watching the game were resigned into thinking that the Yankees were going to lose a heartbreaker and that poor CC had a great pitching performance wasted.
To start the ninth, Joe Girardi pinch hit Dustin Ackley who hit a 93 mph fastball from Brad Boxberger into center for a single. Could things be cooking? Jacoby Ellsbury, who has been three kinds of awful since returning from the DL, promptly grounded into a double play to send everyone at home into a complete tizzy. Gardner came up two outs and walked on four pitches. Next, the old man came to bat. During his at bat, Gardner stole his 19th base of the season to put himself into scoring position. And just as everyone at home was willing him to do something big, Alex Rodriguez did just that by hitting a 93 mph fastball on the outside of the plate into center for a double which scored Gardner easily, tying the game and firing up the Yankees bench.
Here's the video:
They weren't done.
Chris Young came into pinch run for Rodriguez at second, Boxberger intentionally walked McCann and Slade Heathcott stepped into the box. Heathcott came into replace pinch runner Rico Noel who replaced Beltran when he hit his eighth inning single.
Heathcott didn't waste any time. He hit the first pitch he saw from Boxberger thanks to some advice given to him by John Ryan Murphy who told him Boxberger liked throwing first pitch fastballs. Even Boxberger admitted after the game that he didn't think Heathcott would swing at the first pitch. It wasn't as if the pitch was a total cookie over the plate. It was high, near the outside corner, and Heathcott was still able to reach out, hit it and get it over the fence.
Here's the video:
The Yankees' bench understandably went apeshit after the home run. Talk about a big swing both literally and figuratively. The team was an out away from a deflating loss and instead were looking at a 4-1 lead with two outs in the ninth.
That's all the Yankees would need. Andrew Miller came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth and struck out the side in 14 pitches. Ho hum.
After the game, Rodriguez was asked about Heathcott's big ninth inning home run. "Just tremendous," Rodriguez said. "You get caught up and I become a fan when you're watching a young kid with so much talent. Big, signature Yankee moment. It's a moment he'll never forget."
Yes, Alex used the phrase "signature Yankee moment."
Brad mentioned in his recap this morning that if last night's win wasn't the biggest of this season, it was definitely in the top three. I'm not sure I agree. Given how many games are left and given what's at stake, I think it was the biggest win of the season, so far. And who knows? Maybe the Yankees could have a couple more of those "biggest wins" down the stretch. Wouldn't that be nice?
[Numbers, heat maps and charts courtesy of Brooks Baseball and ESPN Stats and Info]