Clawing Yanks find win in unexpected place
Bottom of lineup solves All-Star Nathan, providing a hint of momentum
ARLINGTON -- The Yankees had just rallied to beat a team that was 51-0 when leading after eight innings.
"Best one of the year," Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner said.
Down here in little old Texas?
"For sure," Gardner said.
The Yankees are past the point of saying that one game might be the spark that gets them going. They'll take Tuesday night's improbable 5-4, ninth-inning comeback victory over the Rangers and then try to figure something out on Wednesday.
In ways large and small, it was a remarkable game, even if it doesn't propel the Yankees to the playoffs and is forgotten by the weekend.
To let a three-run lead turn into a 4-3 deficit and then to come back in the ninth against All-Star closer Joe Nathan is not the usual script. The Yankees did it with contributions from the guys at the bottom of the order, from designated hitter Vernon Wells and third baseman Brent Lillibridge and shortstop Eduardo Nunez.
OK, this isn't the lineup we've come to expect from the Yankees. It included three players acquired since the beginning of Spring Training -- first baseman Lyle Overbay, Wells and Lillibridge -- and another, left fielder Melky Mesa, recently summoned to the big leagues.
Lillibridge, 29, is with his sixth organization after being acquired from the Cubs last month. He was pressed into service because Luis Cruz, who was signed by the Yankees after being released by the Dodgers, is likely headed for the disabled list with an injured left knee.
Way back in April, Kevin Youkilis was the Yankees' third baseman, but he's sidelined until at least September after undergoing back surgery. Remember, Youkilis was signed because of the uncertainty surrounding Alex Rodriguez.
Lillibridge, hitting .167 at the start of the day, was charged with a tough error to open Texas' four-run rally in the bottom of the sixth, and wouldn't you know it, he stepped up and got the game-winning single in the top of the ninth?
Yankees manager Joe Girardi normally would have pinch-hit Travis Hafner in that situation, but since Lillibridge was his only healthy third baseman, hey, grab a bat, son.
"You come here as a new guy and just want to make the plays and do your job," Lillibridge said. "I was excited to help."
This is life with the Yankees these days. With Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and A-Rod on the disabled list, general manager Brian Cashman has already used 45 players.
Girardi has started seven players at third, looking for someone to get hot and help a lineup that is near the bottom of the American League in almost every offensive category.
For the last three years, the Yankees have been first or second in runs every single season. Now, they're going to do it with pitching, or they're not going to do it.
And yet, they're a mere 3 1/2 games out in the AL Wild Card race. After all the injuries and all the frustration, they've still got a chance.
Are they better than the Red Sox, Rays and Orioles? That would be a tough one to argue.
But they're not dead just yet.
"These guys never give up," Girardi said. "We had a lead. We got down. They keep grinding out at-bats."
Girardi says this kind of thing a lot, praising his players for their effort and professionalism. He has been given a limited roster, but he might someday look back on this season as his finest hour as a manager.
Girardi's hope is that the Yankees will string enough victories together to stay competitive until Jeter and Granderson return.
Meanwhile, Cashman has had discussions with the Cubs about reacquiring one of the GM's favorites, left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano is 37 years old and a shadow of the player he was when he spent a productive five seasons with the Yankees at the beginning of his career. But he does have 17 home runs, and on a club starved for power, he'd make the Yankees better.
Until Soriano arrives, Girardi will continue to make do with what he has. All things considered, he has done very well.
And every day is an opportunity. As Wells said after Tuesday's game, "The way it turned out, it was a great win and something to build on."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.