The New York Yankees have battled adversity all season. With a banged up roster that currently has Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte out of the lineup and rotation respectively, Yanks Manager Joe Girardi has turned to a trio of seasoned veterans to carry the load for the AL East leaders down the stretch.
Three players pushing 40 helped to catapult the Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in the series finale in the Bronx on Sunday. The newly acquired right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, 38, lifted a pair of solo homers in the fourth and the sixth, starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, 37, threw for eight innings allowing only four-hit balls and the Captain Derek Jeter, 38, added three hits, and scored twice, as New York took the rubber game against Boston to finish up its seven-game homestead at 5-2.
Kuroda and Suzuki, who grew up in cities two hours apart from each other in Japan, have each rejuvenated the latter half of their careers with their recent tenure in the Bronx. Kuroda, who pitched five solid seasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers and signed as a free agent with the Yanks –instead of the Red Sox– in the off-season, has evolved into Mr. Reliable, as the Bombers most consistent pitcher. The enigmatic Suzuki, who is one of the majors most heralded sluggers, follows the same pregame ritual that has made him so successful over the years, rice-ball dinner before every game and an intricate stretching routine. Together, the Japanese countrymen have made an impressive impact. Kuroda is 9-2 with a 2.21 earned run average (ERA) over his last 16 outings. Ichiro is hitting .322 in 26 games since being traded to the Yankees on July 23 from the Seattle Mariners.
It was another masterful night for Kuroda, who outpitched Boston starter Josh Beckett (5-11), as he went eight innings, scattered four hits, allowed one run and struck out four while inducing 12 ground balls with his slider and sinker to keep the Red Sox off balance. Kuroda won his sixth start in his last eleven, including throwing a two-hit shutout in his last start against the Texas Rangers, a performance Girardi called the best of the season.
Ichiro had one of the hallmark nights in his short Yankee tenure. He smacked two solo homers –both to right field– off Beckett in the fourth and sixth innings, to secure New York’s lead. In the fourth, Suzuki crushed a high fastball into the second deck in right for a bases empty home run to put the Yanks ahead, 3-0. He added another homer in the sixth, and the sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium serenaded Suzuki to a standing ovation for an entire minute, until he emerged from the dugout for a curtain call. “I just feel so good coming into this clubhouse after a win, just like any other day,” Suzuki stated afterwards. “That’s what I love about this Yankees clubhouse.”
At 38, Jeter continues to cut against the normal stereotypes about what happens to players as they approach their fourth decade. Two days after hitting career homer No. 250, Jeter smacked two doubles in his first two at-bats on Sunday. Then in the fifth inning, on a single that split Boston third baseman Nick Punto and shortstop Pedro Ciriaco, DJ moved one hit short of tying Nap Lajoie for 12th on baseball’s all-time hits list, to put the shortstop at 3,251 career hits. Last night was the 50th multi-hit game of the season for Jeter and the 14th game this year he’s amassed three-plus hits.
With Robinson Cano struggling –he singled in the fifth to snap skids of 0-for-16 and 1-for-25– the Yankees were playing without their leading run producer, Teixeira, who was held out of the lineup for a third straight game with a sore left wrist. A-Rod, who is rehabbing a broken left hand, and Pettitte, who is nursing a broken left ankle, are weeks away from a return to the lineup. Pettitte hopes to be cleared to throw off a mound during the Bombers next homestead. But still, with the way the “Big Three” are playing, the Yankees’ AL East lead is safely intact.
Image: WSOCTV/AP/Seth Wenig