At this time last week, the Yankees were coming off losing two of three against the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees were heading into a grueling week of having to face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at their place for three games, then home to face the rival Boston Red Sox.
With Boston only five games back after last Sunday (and four in the loss column), many prognosticators said the upcoming schedule could be a problem for the Yankees winning the division. The Red Sox were coming off a three-game sweep at Baltimore, and had won 10 of 11. And to make it better, while the Yankees were at the AL West Division leading Angels, the Red Sox were heading to play four games against the AL Central cellar dwelling Kansas City Royals.
Hell, the Pythagorean win percentage after last Sunday was .588 for both the Yankees and the Red Sox!
Holy Pythagorean percentage, Batman! That is why they play the games, Robin!
What the prognosticators did not realize is that this Yankee team is a relentless bunch of winners who thrive under pressure.
Then the Yankees lost again as they dropped their first game of the three-game series to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It is amazing how quickly Yankee fans (actually all New York fans) can change their tune from game to game.
That loss dropped the Yankees to 6-18 in Anaheim Stadium over the last five years. Plus, the Bombers dropped two playoff series to the Mike Scioscia led Angels during his tenure at the helm. In those two series in 2002 and 2005, the Yankees were 1-4 out in Anaheim.
The Angels were also the only team to have a winning record against the Joe Torre-led Yankee teams.
But that has all changed now. The Yankees took the last two games at Anaheim to take the three-game series. They also did it the way the Angels usually beat the Yankees: key hits, speed on the bases, and the occasional home run.
The Yankees' deep lineup scored early in both of the wins, getting home runs from Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and a few big hits in Wednesday afternoon's contest from Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera.
The C and C boys were back at it again in the second victory over the Angels. For a fourth outfield type, Cabrera has had a pretty good season, and is starting pretty much every day. And Brett Gardner showed why the Yankees have always been high on him, utilizing his speed to steal a run (and the game) in Tuesday night's victory.
Gardner is a weapon that includes good defense, great speed, and the ability to disrupt a game for the opposition. Basically, he plays Angel baseball*. The more he plays at the major league level, the better he will get. Gardner has shown this throughout his professional career. He gets to a level, then adjusts and improves.
That is the deal with young players. They need to play consistently at this level in order to get better. That goes for position players like Gardner, Cabrera, and Cano, and pitchers like Joba, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy.
Also, it was a great move by Joe Girardi to get Kennedy some major league work. Looks like, though, IPK will not get a start down the stretch, but is scheduled to go out to the Arizona Fall League and possibly a Winter League stint like he did last season in Puerto Rico.
And when the Yankees came back home, they really only needed to win one game to essentially clinch the division. One victory over the Red Sox this past weekend would have reduced their magic number to three. And if the Yankees won even two more games the rest of the season, the Red Sox will need to win out even to tie.
But the Bombers made quick work of the Red Sox, beating them in several different ways. First, they bludgeoned them Friday night with a 14-hit attack, led by the red hot Alex Rodriguez three-for-three, four-RBI performance.
Most telling was Alex hitting a two-run jack off of Red Sox ace Jon Lester. Except for his first ever start against the Yankees, until Friday night, Lester had only given up more than two runs in one other start against the Yankees, a span of seven straight dominating starts against the Yankees.
The Yankees then won both tight games against the Sox, riding the CC Sabathia train to a Saturday win and using the effective Andy Pettitte to overcome a late deficit to beat the Sox on Sunday 4-2.
Sabathia has been the true ace of the Yankees the second half of the season, going 11-1 with a 2.36 ERA and a 1.040 WHIP in 14 second-half starts. The Yankees have won 13 of his last 14 starts, and CC has gone into the seventh inning in all but that one loss.
Sunday's 100th victory, division-clinching game was punctuated by Mark Teixeira's high drive home run off of fireballer Daniel Bard, owner of the 100 MPH fastball. What helped Teixeira in his at-bat against Bard on Sunday was seeing Bard Saturday afternoon. Although Teixeira grounded out against Bard Saturday, seeing that fastball a day earlier gives a hitter a better opportunity versus that heater the second time around.
Lately, all three of the Yankees big-money, free agent pickups have contributed to this stretch run. Sabathia could win 20 games, is a true ace, and has certainly lived up to his contract, and Teixeira leads the league in RBI (and scooped balls thrown in the dirt). Even AJ Burnett has appeared to turn the corner from his August/early September malaise.
Last week was the pivotal time for this team, with its stiffest test in several months.
They passed with flying colors, slaying their two archrival, red dragons along the way.