By Sweeny Murti
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When you’ve played 159 games and still haven’t clinched the division, it really doesn’t matter how you win. You just need to win. There’s no need to rank them. A win is a win is a win.
But a game like Sunday’s in Toronto might make you feel like it counted for a little more. Down 5-1 after 5 innings, it didn’t much feel like the Yankees were going to win. But when it was over, the Yankees had punished the Blue Jays’ bullpen and reminded everybody which team has been in first place for the last three and a half months — and which team is ready for hockey season.
Um, if there is a hockey season I mean. Whatever.
The Yankees tend to look old and tired when they lose, and full of veteran savvy when they win. Rarely do you see those two happen over the course of nine innings, but Sunday’s 9-6 win was exactly that kind of game.
The Comeback in Canada won’t go down as a legendary one. But it is certainly the game that kept the Yankees in a first-place tie. It is certainly the game that once again kept them from losing back-to-back games for the first time in almost a month. And it is a game that reminded us how potent the Yankees’ lineup can be top to bottom when they get going and have opposing pitchers in retreat mode.
Let’s not forget that Mark Teixeira finally returns this week, back from the calf strain that knocked him out for all but one game in September. The Yankees played exactly one game in the crucial months of August and September with both Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in the same lineup. While A-Rod isn’t exactly his youthful self, or it would seem not even Aurelio Rodriguez in his youthful self, opposing teams are still talking about his potential threat. And batting in front of red-hot Robinson Cano might actually get him some pitches to hit. Now all he has to do is hit them.
Curtis Granderson’s slide toward .220 appears inevitable. What ends up higher, his strikeout total or his batting average? Still, 40 home runs and 100 runs batted in mean he is capable of being a run producer again. Russell Martin has saved his most productive month for the most crucial time. Nick Swisher has put together another good year. Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez have collected more big hits. And even Eduardo “Put Me in Coach” Nunez has shown the type of offensive lift he can deliver.
Did I mention Derek Jeter? Oh yeah. Him too.
CC Sabathia seems to be back to No. 1 status after his last two starts. You trust Andy Pettitte even if he had walked straight off the ranch in Texas into a postseason game. Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes have had some struggles lately, and Sunday was certainly in the clunker category for Hughes. But they’ve both put together some good streaks this year too.
The Yankees aren’t perfect by any means. And they aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders. It seems as if one aspect of the game comes into question most nights. But that is also our overly critical eyes at work. We look for faults and reasons we think the Yankees can’t win as opposed to why they can win. Opposing scouts and executives believe the Yankees have a shot to win it all.
They aren’t a lock. But a shot is all you want.
In order to get that shot–a real shot, not just the one-game roll of the dice–the Yankees need to win a few more games. The schedule is their friend right now: three games at home with the Red Sox, rival or not, one of the worst teams in baseball this year. The Orioles play the Rays in St. Pete and the A’s and Rangers square off in Oakland.
The Yankees are still in position to reach the first goal they set out for every season, and that is to win the division. They’re still in position thanks to the Comeback in Canada. Maybe that game will prove to be a turning point. If it is, I call dibs on the trademark.
Get ready for some more edge-of-your-seat baseball. This is the fun part.
And remember, this train carries losers — and winners. Meet me in a land of hope and dreams.
What’s your confidence level in the playoff-bound Yankees? Be heard in the comments below!