One ugly loss on a glorious, sunny Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium won't spoil a possible season-defining homestand for the New York Yankees. Following several weeks of inconsistent play, the Bombers pieced together a seven-game win streak to remain atop the AL East.
Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova returned to the Yankees rotation and saw very positive results in their first starts since returning from injury. Nova followed up his brilliant September 15 start with a dud yesterday against Oakland and may lose his spot in the rotation again, this time due to performance.
The man taking his place may be David Phelps, who continued to dazzle in his rookie campaign by dominating the Toronto lineup in the nightcap of Wednesday's doubleheader. The Notre Dame product pitched 6.2 innings and struck out six to gut out a gritty 110-pitch performance to help keep the Bronx Bombers in the game.
So much of the Yankees fanbases' hopes are now with the 40-year old lefty, Pettitte, who will make his next start tomorrow night in Minnesota, as the Yankees kick off their final road trip of the regular season. Even after missing nearly three months, Pettitte was as crafty as ever on a 75-pitch limit on Wednesday afternoon.
The tall Texas native fired five scoreless innings, and his enthusiasm, spirit and output on the mound have clearly inspired his teammates. The Bombers' best stretches of the 2012 season have been with Pettitte active on the Yankee roster.
Ichiro would win the second game on Wednesday with an enormous single that plated Curtis Granderson in the eighth inning. In fact, Ichiro was the talk—and hero—of this homestand, propelling the Yankees with hits that came in all shapes and sizes.
The veteran and future Hall of Famer finished the nine games at Yankee Stadium hitting 16-for-30 with two homers, seven stolen bases and stellar defense, likely cementing his place in the Yankees lineup against both right- and left-handed pitchers over the final 10 games and the postseason.
Derek Jeter continued his hitting streak, pushing it forward to 17 games, and his OPS sits just over .800, with his batting average at .322. Robinson Cano, on the other hand, is not providing the pop in the middle of the lineup that New York needs. He has no home runs and only two RBI over his last 10 games.
Hiroki Kuroda faltered today and overall is having his worst month of the 2012 season. It's not hard to believe that Kuroda is fatigued, given his heavy workload the last several years in Los Angeles. After a dominating outing last Sunday against Tampa, Kuroda looked off all day against Oakland.
The Bombers were also betrayed today by two errors from Eduardo Nunez, the latter of which led to the game-winning run for the Athletics. If the Yankees hope to win the division, Nunez should not be anywhere near the Yankees infield unless he's on the basepaths attempting a stolen base.
With so many big developments over the past nine games, it would be remiss to not point out what may have been the most significant. CC Sabathia pitched his best game of the season on September 21, absolutely shutting down Oakland through eight dominant innings.
Sabathia will make two more starts over the final 10 games, looking to keep up his form from Friday night.
Sunday afternoon's loss was a disappointment. However, on Saturday, the Yankees did enjoy what was far and away their craziest win of the season, simultaneously doubling as one of their most memorable, improbable victories in recent memory.
New York choked away plenty of chances to score, yet against all odds, fought back in the bottom of the 13th inning after surrendering back-to-back-home runs and then another Oakland homer in the top half of the frame.
Raul Ibanez punctuated the Bombers' insane four-run 13th inning with a titanic shot into the second deck in left field after the Yankees started the inning with three straight hits. All in all, Cory Wade came on to hold Oakland scoreless in the 14th before the Yankees won on an error by Oakland first baseman Brandon Moss.
This wasn't before pinch-runner Melky Mesa—making his major-league debut—missed touching third base while rounding the bag on an Alex Rodriguez single to center field. Count on seeing this game run in perpetuity on the YES Network as one of the all-time Yankees classics.
And count on the Yankees to build on this crazy win and successful homestand by finishing strong over the season's final 10 games. The Yankees have finally captured the long-awaited momentum that had eluded them for much of the past two months.
Now, they just need to fend off Baltimore.