Eduardo Nunez' helmet comes flying off every time he runs the bases. Fortunately for the New York Yankees, he doesn't often lose his head. Nunez drove in the game-winning runs on a two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the eight inning to beat the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night.
The young shortstop's second double of the night capped a come-from-behind 6-4 victory and a five-run inning. The Yankees trailed 4-1 entering the eighth and had been shut down all night by a supreme performance by pitching ace Chris Sale.
But a classic Bronx rally tied the score and set the stage for Nunez to be the hero.
The former everyday shortstop and captain, Derek Jeter, started it off with a one-out single to center. Robinson Cano doubled to deep left, sending Jeter to third and finally knocking Sale out of the ballgame (7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 6 SO).
Right-hander Nate Jones came out of the Chicago bullpen to face Alfonso Soriano, the next batter. The latter continued his hot hitting, sending a scorching single up the middle that scored Jeter and Cano and cut the deficit to 4-3. After A-Rod singled and moved Soriano to third, Curtis Granderson approached the batter's box to pinch hit for Vernon Wells.
Chicago skipper Robin Ventura responded by bringing in lefty Donnie Veal, but Granderson roped a single through the box to send home the game-tying run.
The eighth inning was undoubtedly the most exciting for the Bombers in a long time.
Hiroki Kuroda pitched decently, allowing one run in the first inning, then cruising until the fifth, where he would give up two more. He went 6.1 innings and surrendered a total of four earned runs on seven hits.
The vintage win wouldn't have been complete without "Enter Sandman" blaring from the loudspeakers.
Mariano Rivera closed it out in one-two-three fashion in the top of the ninth. It was his 40th save of the season and 647th of his career.
In his post-game press conference, manager Joe Girardi announced that David Huff—the previous game's star out of the bullpen—will be Saturday afternoon's starter against the first-place Red Sox (per ESPN). The struggling Phil Hughes will make his way out to the bullpen in the meantime.
Huff has allowed just one earned run in his last 15 innings. The decision is proof that Girardi will reward great pitching at a pivotal moment in the playoff push, even if it means replacing the experience of a starter like Hughes.
The Yankees need all the help they can get as they look to earn a wild-card spot. As the first week of September continues, finding the perfect pieces to the pitching puzzle takes precedence over anything—especially since the newly acquired bats in the lineup have added a much-needed pop in New York.
With the Orioles' loss to the Indians and the Red Sox' victory over the Tigers, the Yankees overtake Baltimore for sole possession of third place in the AL East. The Rays beat the Angels to hold a two-and-a-half game lead over the Yankees for the second wild-card position.
Mariano Rivera was another story after Tuesday's win. According to ESPN, Joe Girardi will make an effort to persuade the closer to reconsider his impending retirement. It is highly unlikely he comes back after he announced his exit in March, though the manager had this to say when questioned about the Sandman's return:
I don't see any reason why he couldn't do it next year, I don't. He's made it pretty clear that he doesn't want to [return], but I always say, you know, January rolls around and sometimes you have a different feel about what you want to do...I'm sure I'll talk to him at some point in the offseason...and...I'll tell him when the season's over, "Take a month. Take a month and a half, two months, and make sure this is really what you want to do. Because once you do go, it's hard to come back."
After nearly two decades of one's existence devoted to one sport, one team and one job, it obviously is not only about the specter of a permanent life decision for Rivera, but also of the potential of that choice to haunt him the rest of his life, should he not be 100 percent certain of the move.
But a return might be peculiar after Mo has said goodbyes even to the stadium employees of visiting ballparks on his farewell tour.
Not that New York and MLB fans wouldn't love a Jordan-like move or anything, but it could be extremely awkward: The Yankees have a scheduled date—Sept. 22—on which they will honor Mo's career before a home game versus San Francisco.
We do know Mo wouldn't come back wearing No. 45, though.
The Yankees have the opportunity to sweep the White Sox Wednesday night, as CC Sabathia faces off against Erik Johnson, who is a 23-year-old making his MLB debut. The White Sox swept New York in Chicago back in the second week of August, so a win Wednesday would feel especially sweet.
It's currently after midnight in New York on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean you should sleep on the Yankees with plenty of baseball still left to play this month.