After Victor Martinez’ mammoth homerun off Mariano Rivera brought the Tigers even with the Yankees in the ninth, the closer smiled bemusedly, as if to say, “you’ve gotta be kidding me.” An inning later, it was Brett Gardner smiling against the odds, and this time it felt good.
Gardner drilled a Jose Veras slider into the second deck in right field in the bottom of the 9th inning to pick up Mariano Rivera – who had blown his third consecutive save – and for the first time in over a month the New York Yankees won a series.
It was certainly a costly stretch for the Yanks, who fell from a half game out of the Wild Card on July 7 to a full seven games out today, August 11. A sparse nine wins in 25 games will do that to you.
But, as the players will say, the drought had to end at some point, and what better time than against the Detroit Tigers, the leaders of the A.L. Central and winners of 12 straight entering this weekend. If there was any way to chase the sour taste of being swept by the lowly White Sox last week, a resilient series win over the Tigers was it.
Given the manner in which they won, the nightmare in Chicago is now only a distant memory. Twice the Yankees overcame a blown save by Rivera, which, given his impeccable history, is a blindside blow to the psyche from which the team doesn’t usually recover. But conjuring up some mojo they might not have known they had, the Bronx Bunters picked themselves up off the mat and swung back harder.
It wasn’t textbook this weekend for the Yankees, but it was certainly inspiring. And perhaps that’s what this team needed most. They know they can win games behind their bullpen, after all, but have struggled to believe they can do so behind their bats. Walk-off wins on Friday and Sunday are proof to the Yankees that they can earn wins in more ways than one.
More importantly though, the wilting ballclub finally showed some life. They didn’t seem so resigned to their fate, so paralyzed by their own impotence. When their hold on the game grew slippery, they only tightened their grip. In the past month, a rickety wheel has resulted in a terrific crash, but this weekend the Yanks were able to guide a runaway train back on the tracks and bring it home safely. There’s mental fortitude in that, as much as physical.
Now they’re hoping it’s the spark to an August surge. They need to play better baseball if they wish to play in October, and to play better baseball they need to put some gusto into their game. If they can’t find it after a walk-off weekend, they won’t find it ever.
With some wind back in their sails, the coming week is a crucial one. It’s judgment time now for the Yankees, who must take the inspiration from this weekend and let it pour through their play this week. Inclusion in the postseason will necessitate a long run of winning baseball, and with their spirits high and their pluck resurging, the time is now.
It’s been a long month for the Yankees, but once again they have a pulse.