Small Ball, Big Win: Yankees Bunt Their Way to 40th World Series

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Small Ball, Big Win: Yankees Bunt Their Way to 40th World Series

For five games, the Yankees mostly sat back and waited for home runs. 

Sometimes they came, like Alex Rodriguez's game-tying shot in the 11th inning of Game Two.  And sometimes they didn't, like when the Bronx Bombers stranded 10 base runners in Game Five.

But in their 5-2 American League Championship Series-clinching win on Sunday night, New York took a page out of the Angels' book by playing small ball.

For years, Los Angeles has been the Yanks' nemesis, frustrating the Pinstripes with their aggressive base running and willingness to sacrifice at-bats for the betterment of the team.

But in Game Six, that's exactly what the Yankees did.

Down 1-0 in the fourth inning, the struggling Nick Swisher stepped to the plate with a runner on first and no one out.  On the first pitch, he squared around to bunt, but pulled it back and took a ball.  With the infield now slightly drawn in, he grounded a single through the left side.

That brought up Melky Cabrera, who laid down a perfect bunt to advance the runners to second and third, and put the pressure on Angels starter Joe Saunders, who walked Derek Jeter to load the bases.

Johnny Damon then picked up the biggest hit of the game, driving in two with a base hit to left center, and A-Rod later walked with the bases juiced to complete the three-run rally.

Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the eighth and needing to get an insurance run for Mariano Rivera, who was about to head out for his second inning of work, Robinson Cano led off with a walk.

This time Swisher did get down the bunt and everyone was safe when second baseman Howie Kendrick dropped the ball at first.

Cabrera followed with his second sacrifice of the night, and like often happens when a pitcher is forced to make a play in the field, Scott Kazmir threw the ball away, allowing Cano to score the Yankees' fourth run.

Mark Teixeira later hit a sac fly to ice the game at 5-2.

See, you don't always need the long ball to win.  Sometimes small ball works just as well.

Here are the grades from the pennant-clinching victory at Yankee Stadium.

 

Joe Girardi, Manager: (A) I didn't agree with all the moves Girardi made in Game Six, but for the most part, they worked out.  The first of which was starting Andy Pettitte, when, because of the rain out on Saturday, he could've given the ball to CC Sabathia on normal rest.  The risk paid off as Pettitte pitched well and the Yankees can now use Sabathia in Game One of the World Series against the Phillies on Wednesday.

Like in Game Three, I thought Pettitte could've stayed in the game a little longer, but when Juan Rivera reached on a bloop single to right with one out in the seventh, the manager pulled his starter in favor of Joba Chamberlain, who had not pitched particularly well of late.  He did on this night, however, inducing a pair of ground outs to end the frame.

Then, since Joba did such a good job, I thought the skipper could've hung with him a little longer until he let someone to reach in the eighth, thus sparing Rivera from having to pitch two full innings.  Girardi opted to have Mo start the eighth, and while he did bend, he did not break.

Finally, Girardi made me proud with those three sac bunts.

 

Derek Jeter, SS: (B+) The captain went 0-for-2, including a disappointing comebacker that failed to score a runner from third with no one out in the eighth, but he scored a run and walked three times in a postseason game for the first time in his Hall-of-Fame career.

 

Johnny Damon, LF: (A+) Damon was 2-for-4 with a walk and delivered the biggest hit in the game - a two-run single in the fourth.  After a poor Division Series, the left fielder bounced back nicely to hit .300 in the ALCS.

 

Mark Teixeira, 1B: (A) Teixeira went 2-for-4 with a sac fly and made a great diving stop to help out Rivera in the eighth.  Still, he's just 8-for-39 (.205) this postseason, and the Yankees will look for him to finally break out in the Fall Classic.

 

Alex Rodriguez, 3B: (A) A-Rod reached all five times with two singles and three walks, including one with the bases loaded.  He had a tremendous series, hitting .429 with six RBI, but I believe Sabathia deserved the MVP Award he won a little more for single-handedly winning two of the four games for the Yanks.

 

Jorge Posada, C: (D) Posada made it very easy for the Angels to pitch around A-Rod as he had a dreadful night at the plate, going 0-for-5 with a strikeout and two double plays.  I'll give him some credit for catching a good game, but someone needs to step up in the No. 5 hole to give Rodriguez some protection vs. Philadelphia.

 

Hideki Matsui, DH: (F) Godzilla went 0-for-4 on just nine pitches.

 

Robinson Cano, 2B: (A) Cano went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and runs scored and again played well in the field, making a heads-up play on Jeter's bobble in the seventh and snagging a hard-hit ball up the middle in the eighth.

 

Nick Swisher, RF: (A) I didn't think Swisher should've started this game given his poor postseason performance thus far, but as he has done many times this year, the former White Sox player twice put the team ahead of his individual statistics, showing bunt once before hitting a single and then laying one down to lead to a big inning in the eighth.  He also doubled off Vladimir Guerrero at first base in the second.

 

Melky Cabrera, CF-RF: (A) Cabrera quietly had a tremendous series, hitting .391, and he went 1-for-2 with two—count 'em two—sacrifice bunts in Game Six.  That never would've happened under Joe Torre's watch.

 

Brett Gardner, PR-CF: (INC) Gardner pinch ran for Swisher in the eighth and scored a run.  I still hope to see more of him in the next round.

 

Andy Pettitte, SP: (A) The southpaw was once again outstanding in a big playoff game for the Yankees, yielding just one run on seven hits and a walk, while striking out six over six and one-third.  His next start will come in Game Three on Friday in Philadelphia, where he will have to bat.

 

Joba Chamberlain, RP: (A) Did Chamberlain earn himself a Game 4 start with his solid outing or did he further convince the Yankees that they need him in the bullpen, especially with Phil Hughes not pitching well?

Some people have been talking about starting Sabathia on back-to-back three-days rest starts in Games One, Four, and Seven, but what they don't realize is that by going with a three-man rotation, A.J. Burnett and Pettitte would also have to go on short rest (because there's no off day between Games Four and Five like in the ALCS), which they are not as apt to do as CC.

I think New York has to go with a four-man rotation and I'd love to see what the future of the staff—Joba—could do, but I have a feeling the organization is leaning towards going with Chad Gaudin in Game Four of the World Series, which even seems strange to type.

 

Mariano Rivera, RP: (C+) Rivera gave up a run on two hits in two innings of work and was helped out by two outstanding defensive plays by Teixeira and Cano, but when most Yankees fans look back on this game in a few years, they'll remember Mo mowing down six in a row with cutters delivered like lightning bolts from his eyes.  Because that's how people like to treat Rivera.

 

Yankees Overall Grade: (A+) The Yanks showed their versatility in this one by scoring five runs with no extra-base hits and three sac bunts.  I'd love to see more of that when the Turnpike Tussle kicks off on Wednesday in the Bronx.

 

Follow me on Twitter at JordanHarrison .

Jordan Schwartz is Bleacher Report's New York Yankees Community Leader. His book "Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man" is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.

Jordan can be reached at jordanschwartz2003@yahoo.com

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