On Sunday, for the third time in a week, the Yankees reclaimed sole possession of first place in the AL East, this time by thumping the Orioles, 13-3, to close out their season series with the Birds.
After 18 mostly hard-fought games with the revitalized Orioles, the Yankees finished the season 9-9 against their once-again rivals and have a one-game lead over Baltimore and a two-game edge over the equally stubborn Tampa Bay Rays with 22 games to play.
On Sunday, some idiot here on Bleacher Report wrote that manager Joe Girardi would be well served to sit down All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson if the Yankees were to have a chance to hold off the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays to win the division. Full disclosure: Yes, I was that idiot.
Granderson was inserted in the top of the sixth inning to pinch-hit for Andruw Jones and delivered a solo home run to put the Yankees up 6-3, his 100th home run as a Yankee. In the seventh, Granderson slapped a two-run single to give New York an 8-3 lead. Just for good measure, Granderson capped his day by belting a double to deep right field in the eighth to score two more runs and cap the rout.
So for those of you paying attention (and based on the comments section on my last piece, many were), that would be a 3-for-3 day for Granderson, with five RBI.
If that’s a sign Granderson is breaking out of his two-month long slump, it would be welcome news for the Yankees, because he’s been almost nonexistent in the second half. In September, prior to Sunday, Granderson had been just 2-for-19 with one RBI and 10 strikeouts. Not exactly reminiscent of his predecessors in center field for the Pinstripers, guys like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
The win on Sunday was particularly important because it guarantees a split with the Orioles.
That means, instead of Baltimore hosting a playoff game if they finish tied atop the division or at the top of the wild-card chase should Tampa Bay wind up winning the East, division record would be the deciding factor for a playoff game, although at this point Baltimore (32-24) still holds an edge over the Yankees (29-27) in that category.
Another promising sign for New York heading down the final stretch was the performance of Joba Chamberlain in relief of starter Freddy Garcia on Sunday. Garcia was yanked following just 3.1 innings after allowing three runs on three hits, and Chamberlain delivered his best outing of 2012.
Activated from the disabled list on Aug. 1, Chamberlain has been almost uniformly awful but delivered five outs with just one walk blemishing the mark and was awarded the win in relief.
Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Derek Lowe finished the game, combining for four innings of one-hit shutout relief.
Sunday’s outing helped Chamberlain lower his ERA to a still-balloonish 7.50 in 12 appearances, covering 12 innings. Most importantly, Chamberlain seemed to have his “A” stuff on Sunday, striking out four of the six hitters he faced.
If he can re-emerge as even a decent semblance of the guy who burst onto the scene by allowing one earned run in his first 24 major league innings in 2007, it would give the Yankees another option late to get the game to Rafael Soriano—important, considering how inconsistently David Robertson has pitched of late.