By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
The Yanks got just what they needed Wednesday afternoon in Minnesota if they plan to go deep into the playoffs.
CC Sabathia’s eight innings of two-run ball certainly helped. That’s the main thing, because we all know that if the starting pitching doesn’t hold up in a best-of-five American League Division Series– exactly where the Yanks appear headed — they’re probably not going to get to the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.
So they have that to be happy about. But they should absolutely rejoice over the fact that the 8-2 victory featured a six-run third in which not one souvenir baseball found its way into the fans’ hands.
Big stuff, this. The Yanks had needed seven homers to score nine of their 10 runs in the first two games of the series. But on getaway day, as Joe Girardi’s team secured their 11th 90-win season in the past dozen years and inched ever closer to a division title, they kept it all inside Target Field.
We’re not exactly talking small ball here. No dinks and dunks, or bunting for one run. But it had a distinctly different taste than their traditional bloop/blast recipe that they have used the rest of the season.
Not as spicy, perhaps, but still with enough kick to satisfy.
They’ll need that mix in the playoffs.
Playing without two of their star blasters — Alex Rodriguez (sore foot) and Mark Teixeira — they destroyed Twins left-handed reliever Brian Duensing with, curiously enough, a lineup that featured seven left-handers.
Chris Dickerson and Ichiro Suzuki started things with one-out singles, followed by Derek Jeter’s walk to load the bases. In earlier games, the Yanks might not have scratched out as much as a single run, given their near comatose .252 average this year with runners in scoring position. That ranked 18th in the league heading into the game.
They didn’t fall asleep this time, though. Robinson Cano, he of the untimely double play, banged a two-run double to right for a 2-1 lead.
Nick Swisher singled to drive in Jeter, and Curtis Granderson roped his fourth triple of the season for a 5-1 spread. Granderson scored soon after on a wild pitch.
Not exactly small ball. No bunts, as the Yanks were swinging and swinging hard. Instead, it was a gaggle of well-placed hits with inside-the-park power.
About the only downer was Jeter’s 0-for-4 outing that ended a 19-game hitting streak. But that’s mere bookkeeping. No big deal.
The bottom line here is the fact that for one day at least, the Yanks showed that they could score runs in bunches without use of the homer. It had a healthy effect on everybody, including Sabathia, the 14-6 flamethrower who has now given up just two runs over his last two starts spanning 16 innings. Even as Eric Chavez walked back toward the dugout thinking that he’d recorded the third out of the fifth — there were only two down and he should have turned the double play — Sabathia had enough of a cushion to relax and pick up his confused third baseman.
The Yanks would do well to put another couple of these types of games together in Toronto, where they’ll face a weak enough team to lock up the division before the final Red Sox series, if only those pesky Orioles would cooperate.
Make no mistake — the Yanks are basically incapable of playing true “small ball.” They don’t bunt with finesse. They swing lumber. Big lumber. Often enough, they cost Bud Selig a mint on the baseball inventory.
But when the thunder and lightning doesn’t happen — it may not against the better pitchers they’ll face in the ALDS — it would be a comfort for Girardi to know that they can still generate some high, crooked numbers without leaving the yard.
Do that, and the Yanks might just find themselves going deep.
In the playoffs, that is.
If and when they make the playoffs, will the home-run happy Yankees struggle against elite pitching? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…