The New York Yankees know that clinching walk-off wins will be essential to launch their late barge into the Wild Cards and last night was a perfect example as they overcame Boston Red Sox 5-4 in the Bronx.
The game was advertised as captain Derek Jeter’s last at-bat at Yankee Stadium against their long-standing rivals, but it was his teammates who stole the show to keep their side in the hunt for the postseason.
Stole the Jeter show
Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley both smashed solo homers off closer Koji Uehara at the bottom of the ninth to turn the result on its head and pinch victory from the hapless Red Sox.
The Yankees (72-66) maintained their position four games back from Detroit Tigers for American League’s second Wild Card slot.
Red Sox on the verge
Defending World Series champions Boston (61-79) could see their season all but over mathematically this time next week. The Red Sox are seven games from Wild Card elimination and after losing the three-game series at the Bronx, they look in no shape to turn things around.
The Stadium erupted as Headley connected and sent the ball to right-centre field and the Yankees bench flooded on to the infield in celebration.
But Yankees manager Joe Girardi will know wins of this nature are vital if they want to stay in the hunt for the playoffs and give the retiring Jeter a perfect send off.
The manager is mixing things up at the right time and clearly has the playoffs at the forefront of his mind – Girardi used five relievers in the closing 4 and 2/3 innings to shutout the Red Sox offence.
The downside for the Yankees is the rest of the chasing pack; Toronto, Seattle and Detroit, all won last night and currently each have longer win streaks than the famous New York franchise.
Speaking to MLB.com, Girardi appeared satisfied with his team.
“When you have September baseball, you can mix and match more,” he said. “Each guy did his job and did it extremely well.”
Game-winner Headley, who was traded to the Yankees on July 22 from San Diego Padres, is still getting used to Yankee fans’ expectations.
The Yankees have only failed to reach the playoffs once in the past 19 years – in 2008.
Speaking to MLB.com, he said: “You just kind of learned to expect it. I’m sure people around here get spoiled with it a little bit.”
The rest of the American League will anticipate the usual barge from the Bronx franchise but we are yet to see if they can out-muscle their opponents and grab a Wild Card.
If they do, they’ll have to do it the hard way.
Girardi’s side welcome American League Central division leaders Kansas City Royals to Yankee Stadium this weekend which will prove a real test of their post-season credentials.
The Royals took a clean-sweep against the already-eliminated Texas Rangers during the week and head to the Bronx full of confidence.
The three-game series against the Royals is followed by another three against Tampa Bay who are struggling with Boston at the bottom of AL East.
The Yankees must look for a clean sweep against the Rays before they hit the road, starting with a four game trip to AL East leaders Baltimore.
Depending on how fruitful those series prove, Jeter could play his final MLB game at Fenway Park as the Yankees finish September with a three-game series against last year’s World Series champs.
But it’d take a brave person to bet against the Yankees powering up and getting Jeter into October.