By Ernie Palladino
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The Yankees are always going to have their ups and downs this year. That’s how things go when the line for the disabled list looks longer than the one for the premier of Despicable Me 2.
But the last two games have looked just mah-vel-ous for Joe Girardi’s limping team. With Lyle Overbay banging a grand slam Wednesday night and Derek Jeter making his long-awaited 2013 debut Thursday afternoon, could it have gotten any better?
Jeter’s return is the highlight here, of course. Though Overbay, apparently resuming his clutch hitting of the early season, certainly had his high point with his sixth-inning blast that turned a four-run lead into a rout and made it all so easy for Ivan Nova and his fastball to shut down the Royals. Recall that this team had scored just one run in each of its three straight losses that preceded it, and they haven’t exactly been killers at home. The 8-1 win marked their home season high in run production.
Then came the announcement that Jeter would be penciled into the lineup Thursday afternoon — a day earlier than expected, but certainly not rushed. Girardi had hoped Jeter would be able to play consecutive minor games for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, but it was at last deemed unnecessary.
Maybe he just didn’t want the Mets stealing all the back pages, what with Zack Wheeler pitching such a nice game in San Francisco Wednesday night. Can’t beat The Captain’s return.
Whatever his reasons, they paid off. Jeter, after taking the batter’s box to a standing ovation, jumped on the first pitch he’d seen in nearly nine months and slammed it for a mighty single. Well, OK, it wasn’t mighty. And Jeter didn’t slam it, certainly not in the Ruthian style we often equate with such verbs. But even more positive than a solid single, he legged out that bit of contact for an infield single as he joyously accepted help from third baseman Miguel Tejada’s bobble.
So maybe that twice-broken ankle is healed after all.
Now we have to see about his quad. Jeter had it tighten up on him in his third at-bat, and was taken out in the eighth for Brett Gardner. The results of Thursday’s MRI should be known today, and that will determine whether he plays tonight.
If he sits, it’ll mean another setback in an already long road for the aging star, and certainly would put that black cloud that hangs over the Yanks this year squarely over the Stadium again.
But let’s be optimistic that this was just one of those tweaky things. There was too much positive going on Thursday to get all gloomy and doomy.
The Yanks were down 3-0 to the Royals thanks to Andy Pettitte’s rocky start, but Jeter scored the Yanks’ first run of a come-from-behind, 8-4 win on Vernon Wells’ sacrifice fly, and later contributed an RBI groundout in his 1-for-4 debut before the quad started barking.
Jeter batted second in a DH role. The next test is to put him in the field. As hopeful as Jeter’s performance in the Yankees’ second straight victory may have been, Girardi may want to wait on that. Jeter looked a bit rusty in his final Triple-A rehab start, so it may be more prudent to keep Eduardo Nunez at short. Especially since he went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI Thursday. Certainly, if the MRI doesn’t come out right, Nunez will have to stay there. And if it does show nothing, they can still keep Nunez in the lineup if they push him over to third, though the Yanks have been reluctant to play him anywhere except shortstop.
All that will shake out within hours. Regardless of how the shuffling goes, the fact remains that with Gardner now nursing a bruised right ankle, Travis Hafner day-to-day with an injured foot he hurt while hitting off a pitching machine, and Alex Rodriguez not due back until after July 22, the day his 20 allowed days of minor-league rehab expires, Jeter’s return marked a happy, happy day for the Yanks, even if it is only one day.
It didn’t hurt that Overbay produced another clutch hit. His two-run single in the fifth erased Kansas City’s lead and put the Yanks ahead for good.
A grand slam and ostensibly a game-winning hit two days in a row for Overbay. Jeter’s debut.
It’s been a good couple of days. A good report on that quad would be the topper.
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