Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not dead yet

When Mariano Rivera served up an 0-2 meatball to fantasy-bust Delmon Young in the eighth inning last night, the stench of death was in the air.

Mike Mussina had rolled through seven innings and was in position for his 16th win, but Mo gave it all away with one pitch, allowing a three-run homer that left the closer visibly furious in the dugout. It was Rivera's first blown save of the season, a gaffe that couldn't have come at a worse time in his team's season.

At that point, the night took on the feeling of a funeral. Everything seemed so ... inevitable after Young's homer hooked around the fair screen in right. A walk-off win by the Twins would surely be the final nail in the Yankees' coffin. The Red Sox had already won a wild shootout over the Rangers at Fenway, and a fifth-consecutive loss would have dropped the Bombers six back in the Wild Card chase.

But then something weird happened. The Yankees finally became aware of the moment, a revelation for a team that has stumbled through the season in a perpetually aloof state. Rivera and Jose Veras held Minnesota at bay for the next three frames, opening the door for some A-Rod vindication in the top of the 12th.

There was no way around it heading into the at-bat, A-Rod had been a main culprit in the Yankees' nose dive in the past week. He stepped into the box against Matt Guerrier at 6-for-31 with six GIDPs and eight strikeouts during the team's road trip. Furthermore, A-Rod's outs were coming at key times on the trip, as a parade of groundouts to third came with runners in scoring position.

But A-Rod is a curious player. His history of choking is accented by the occasional clutch performance, and Tuesday featured the latter. Rodriguez crushed Guerrier's 1-0 fastball well over the center-field fence. The All-Star knew he got it on contact, flipping the bat to the turf and shooting a glance into the Yankees dugout. Revitalized, the offense responded as Pudge Rodriguez doubled before Xavier Nady (playing tremendously) roped a two-run shot over the baggy in right.

Edwar Ramirez put the demons of his Saturday nightmare to rest after that, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth to close out a monumental 9-6 win for the Yankees.

Well ... monumental if the Yanks can take care of business in today's finale at the Metrodome. New York must count on Darrell Rasner -- who is working on his 12th life in the rotation -- to secure the Yanks' first series win of August. Win today, and you stop the bleeding on a 4-6 road trip, get a day off and then try to take care of business in a three-game set against the Royals at the Stadium.

One colossal win down, one more to go. The Yankees' season is still very much in the balance. Today will be another huge moment.

Around The Horn: Derek Jeter was out of the lineup on Wednesday, a day after bruising his instep with a foul ball. He is expected back at shortstop on Friday against the Royals. ... A-Rod's 12th inning blast was his 200th career homer as a Yankee. He now has 27 dingers on the year. ... Johnny Damon, a day after his ridiculous Girardi-ordered off-day, picked up two more hits including a homer. He now has six consecutive multi-hit games. His .325 average leads the American League. ... Phil Hughes took another step closer in a rehab start with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday, allowing two runs on three hits over five-plus innings. He threw 84 pitches. He is expected to get at least one more rehab outing before potentially rejoining the Yanks rotation. He has thrown 16 2/3 innings in the Minors since recovering from a fractured rib, allowing nine hits and three runs while walking five and striking out 12. Carl Pavano also pitched, but this does not matter. ... As excellent as Nady has been some joining the Yankees, Damaso Marte has been equally as poor. In 7 1/3 innings over nine appearances, Marte has allowed nine hits, nine earned runs and five walks. Like Eric Gagne with the Red Sox last season, trading for anything less than a premier reliever is always a roll of the dice. These dudes are just too temperamental to ever bank on.

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