By Ernie Palladino
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Sometimes, the little guys win even though they wear a big name across their chests.
For the Yanks, the interlocking NY of the home uniform signifies a royal line. But the real kings of baseball the past four days got dressed in the visitor’s clubhouse — Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander and yesterday’s opposing arm, Rick Porcello.
Most ardent followers know that Scherzer, Price and Verlander won the Cy Young Award the last three years, and Porcello with 13 wins has planted himself in the middle of this year’s conversation.
What chance did Joe Girardi’s ragtag collection of starters have against that rotation? Well, let’s count ’em up. Of the four games, only Price was successful. The winners? Arizona castoff Brandon McCarthy, a veteran hanging onto his career by his fingernails in Chris Capuano, and rookie Shane Greene.
The 3-1 mark in the series left them a half-game out of the wild-card spot. Given the Yanks’ issues with the pitching staff and lineup, the most recent being Mark Teixeira’s slashed pinky finger, winning this series against the Tigers’ All-World guns is sort of like the Boy Scouts beating up a SWAT team.
For this one stretch at least, the Yanks played like postseason contenders. Not strong ones, mind you. The McCarthy, Capuano, Greene triumvirate is only going to take this team so far. But for three out of four games, those guys shut down the AL Central leaders, holding them to six runs, four of which came in support of Price in Detroit’s only win — and winding it up with Greene’s eight-inning gem.
It wasn’t as if the rotation did it by themselves. They got quality help from the bullpen, especially closer David Robertson. All he did Thursday was to get a guy named Miguel Cabrera, rumored to carry two MVP awards in his back pocket, to ground into a ninth-inning double play before he retired Don Kelly to end the game.
They received barely enough support from the lineup. It produced just eight runs in the wins, two of which came with what has become a trademark slim margin. The Yanks have turned two- and one-run margins into a regular occurrence of late, so none of that is surprising.
Here’s the takeaway from all this. Wins are wins. Whether it’s the popguns putting three isolated events together and beating the howitzers, or a hurting offense doing just enough to squeak by the Central leader, fans should enjoy them. Talent like the Yanks have thrown out there of late will eventually find its own level. Given the makeshift nature of their current roster, this won’t last.
The good news that Masahiro Tanaka threw painlessly off flat outfield ground Thursday means that his comeback is progressing nicely. It was just soft-tossing from 60 to 90 feet, but again, it’s the little victories that offer encouragement. If Tanaka’s right elbow cooperates, and the makeshift rotation continues to tread water until he returns in September, good things might happen.
Add that Chase Headley has been a good defensive pickup as well as a .267 hitter in his 16 games since coming over from San Diego, and the picture brightens still.
If the rest of the offense can come around, it will make things infinitely easier for the pitchers to do their jobs. The narrow margin of error has been their problem all season.
Still, the recent stretch offers hope. They’re 7-3 over the last 10. They have closed in on the wild card. And on paper, the pitching is vastly over-matched.
They do play the games for a reason, though. The Tigers series proved why.
Once in a great while, the little guys win.
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