Commentary

Jam session ends road trip on high note

Yanks' arms work through heap of trouble, carry Bombers back to Bronx in first place

Updated: June 6, 2011, 7:34 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Yankees used four pitchers in Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Angels, and not one had anywhere near his best stuff.

From starter Bartolo Colon to closer Mariano Rivera, each had an issue to contend with and a problem to solve.

[+] EnlargeMariano Rivera
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonEven Mariano Rivera looked hittable Sunday in Anaheim -- but he, like his fellow Yankees pitchers, powered through to end the West Coast trip at 6-3.

Colon had little command of his breaking pitches and had to rely on fastballs. David Robertson, as usual, needed to load the bases before he buckled down to the task at hand, a little like a test pilot who must put his plane into a dive before bringing it safely home. Joba Chamberlain couldn't throw his fastball by anyone, and Rivera, unusually hittable, put the tying runs on base on a pair of ninth-inning singles.

And yet, on an afternoon when Mark Teixeira hit two home runs and Nick Swisher hit his third of the road trip, it was the pitchers who ultimately carried the day.

Colon did just enough to get through 5 1/3 innings. Robertson escaped from the handcuffs while hanging upside down from the skyscraper once again. Chamberlain, a natural assassin, had to finesse his way out of a jam.

And Rivera, who needed to throw just one pitch to save CC Sabathia's game Saturday night, found the one pitch he needed after 12 others to get Torii Hunter to ground into a game-ending double play with the tying run at first.

The Yankees' 5-3 win over the Angels ensured that their grueling nine-game, 10-day, three-city West Coast trip wound up a rousing success, far better than anyone had any right to expect when they started off losing the first two games of the series in Seattle.

It also guaranteed they will take their one-game lead in the American League East over the Red Sox into the three-game series between the rivals that begins Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

And it wiped out, at least for now, the memory of how poorly they had been playing just three weeks ago, when they dropped six in a row, including being swept by Boston the last time the Red Sox came to town.

"Our guys really played well on this road trip," Joe Girardi said. "This might have been the toughest of the wins that we've had. They had two runners every inning from the sixth, it seemed, maybe even from the fifth."

The manager is right; except for the eighth, when Chamberlain worked around a walk to Hank Conger, the Angels had at least two runners on in each of the last five innings.

The fifth-inning jam nearly wiped out the two-run lead the Yankees had taken the previous half-inning on Teixeira's 18th home run, a moon shot that landed deep in the right-field seats. Colon gave up a run but got Hunter to fly out to right with runners on first and second.

The sixth-inning jam chased Colon, however, and brought in Robertson, who, as usual, loaded the bases on two walks before snapping off a beauty of a curveball that struck out Maicer Izturis to keep the Angels off the board.

But the most dramatic came in the seventh when Chamberlain, who came on after Robertson got the first out of the inning, allowed two singles to put the tying run at second with two out and Howie Kendrick, inveterate Yankee Killer, at the plate.

Their battle ended on a gutsy call on a 3-2 pitch, when Chamberlain -- who Swisher said "comes in blowing flames" -- chose to go out by dropping a hook on Kendrick, who could do nothing but flail helplessly as the pitch dropped to his shoe-tops.

If Kendrick had laid off, the pitch undoubtedly would have been ball four, loading the bases for Mark Trumbo, who already had homered off Colon in the third inning.

But neither Francisco Cervelli, who called for the pitch, nor Chamberlain, who threw it, expressed any doubt afterward that they had made the right choice.

"I felt good about it," Chamberlain said. "I can't throw him a strike there. He's a powerful hitter and he's hitting over .300. You can't just throw it in there and let him swing. I just felt like if we started something in the middle of the zone and finished it down that we'd have a good shot he'd swing at it."

"I figured if we walk the guy, it's better to start with a new guy 0-0 than give this guy something to hit," Cervelli said. "I always got a plan. Sometimes it works, sometimes not."

Clearly, this one worked, and after Swisher rang the right-field foul pole to provide an insurance run in the eighth, Girardi even toyed with the idea of bringing in Hector Noesi to pitch the ninth if the Yankees added any more.

But when the score remained at 5-3, he brought in Rivera, who allowed a bloop single to Izturis and a solid liner by Bobby Abreu to put the tying runs on base.

However, Hunter grounded Rivera's second pitch right to Alex Rodriguez, who started an easy 5-4-3 double play to end the game, and the trip.

"Our relievers did a wonderful job today," Girardi said. "When they needed to get it, they got it."

Swisher, who hit one more home run on this trip -- three -- than he had in the 48 games that preceded it, was especially impressed with Robertson, whose ERA is 1.16 and who has stranded an astounding 88 percent of the runners he has inherited.

"That kid don't get nearly the credit that he deserves," Swisher said. "He's been doing it all year long. It boggles my mind."

Robertson made a joke about his reputation as a late-innings escape artist -- "I was sitting there thinking, 'I'll just put the winning run on base here'" -- but admitted that this escape was a lot tougher than it looked.

"I was struggling to find the strike zone, but I wasn't gonna give in," he said. "I couldn't just let [Izturis] hit it. If he gets a base hit there, two or three runs could score and we could be behind."

But like the Chamberlain curveball that Kendrick swung over, and the Swisher big fly that hugged the baseline and seemed drawn to the foul pole as if it were magnetized, the worst-case scenarios that easily could have happened did not.

Just about everything worked out for the Yankees, on this day and on this road trip.

"For us to start this road trip 0-2 and finish off the way that we did, that's tenacity," Swisher said. "That definitely shows the intestinal fortitude of this team."

• • •

NOTES: Derek Jeter singled in the third to pass Sam Rice for 28th on the all-time hit list and pull within 14 of the 3,000-hit plateau. ... Jorge Posada had two hits but got thrown out, rather embarrassingly, trying to stretch a double into a triple in the fourth. "I saw him hit the double, looked down, and when I looked up again, he was in a rundown," said an amused and exasperated Girardi. "I just said, 'What the heck happened?'" ... The win put the Yankees a season-high nine games over .500 (33-24). ... All three games here were sellouts, helped no doubt by what seemed to be an inordinate amount of Yankees fans in Angel Stadium. They even executed a pretty fair imitation of the Yankee Stadium roll call before Sunday's game. ... The Yankees got some good news when they learned they will avoid facing Boston RHP Clay Buchholz on Wednesday due to a sore back and some bad news when they found they would face knuckleballer Tim Wakefield instead. Said Teixeira: "Swing hard in case you hit it." ... The Yankees have an off day Monday, followed by the opener of the Boston series Tuesday night. Pitching matchups: Freddy Garcia (4-4, 3.34) vs. LHP Jon Lester (7-2, 3.94) on Tuesday; A.J. Burnett (6-3, 3.86) vs. RHP Wakefield (2-1, 4.40) on Wednesday; and CC Sabathia (7-3, 2.80) vs. RHP Josh Beckett (4-2, 2.01) on Thursday.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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