June 2011

Good thing umps couldn’t use replays in ’96

With the aid of television cameras, Jorge Posada was credited with a home run instead of a single in the sixth inning Wednesday night of the Yankees’ 5-2 victory over the Brewers. Good thing, too, because Jorgie would have been out otherwise since he had stopped running between first and second base.

Posada obviously thought a ball he drove that hit off the top of the right field fence and appeared to strike a fan in the first row was a home run. Posada went into his home run trot as he rounded first base.

First base umpire Adrian Johnson did not make the home run signal, however, so when right fielder Corey Hart got the ball back to the infield, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt tagged out Posada, who was standing in the baseline wondering what happened.

Home run calls may be reviewed on video, which is what the umpires decided to do. As they jogged off the field, Posada ran around the bases, which was a breach of etiquette since a ruling was not yet official. After conferring with third base umpire Fieldin Culbreth, Yankees manager Joe Girardi brought Posada out of the dugout. The designated hitter chatted briefly with Culbreth and went back to first base where he awaited the umpires’ decision.

Replays clearly showed that Posada’s ball hit the top of the wall and against the hands of a fan and came back onto the field. Posada had seen all of this once before, that October night in 1996 when a New Jersey schoolboy helped Derek Jeter, then a rookie, get a home run in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Orioles.

That was before umps were allowed to watch replays of such calls. The umpires reversed the initial call and awarded Posada his ninth home run, which allowed him to circle the bases for real.

The situation marked the eighth time that a play was reviewed at Yankee Stadium and the second time a decision reversed. The other time was in Game 4 of the ALCS Oct. 19 last year when a call on apparent home run by Lance Berkman of the Yankees was changed to a foul ball.

‘Center’ of the action

There was some spectacular action in center field at Yankee Stadium early on Wednesday night with both plays going the Yankees’ way.

Curtis Granderson made one of the most outstanding defensive plays of the season for the Yanks in the second inning to choke a potential Brewers rally. After Corey Hart led off with a single to center, Mat Gamel hit a powerful drive to center that had Granderson on his horse. Running full speed, Granderson raced to the warning track, threw out his glove and caught the ball a foot in front of the wall.

Hart had rounded the bag at second thinking the ball would elude Granderson and had to high-tail back to first base. Granderson made a strong throw to second baseman Robinson Cano, who in turn made a perfect relay to first baseman Mark Teixeira that finished off an exciting double play, the second in two nights involving an outfield relay by the Yankees.

Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan wasn’t as fortunate in the fourth inning. Cano led off with a towering shot to straightaway center. Morgan went in hot pursuit, but the ball hit the wall beyond his outstretched reach. Morgan hit the wall next. Hard. He fell to the ground as the ball rebounded back toward the infield. By the time it was recovered, Cano had a triple.

Remarkably, Morgan, who ran directly into the wall, got up under his own power and did not need medical assistance. It is fair to say that the center field wall at the Stadium must be well-padded. Even so, Morgan took quite a hit in the line of duty.

Just as Granderson’s catch had snuffed one rally, Cano’s triple ignited a rally. He scored the tying run on a single to right by Nick Swisher, who seems to knock in a run every game these days. Jorge Posada singled off the wall in right, putting runners on first and third before Russell Martin tore into a 0-2 changeup from Shaun Marcum for a three-run home run for a 3-1 Yankees lead. It was Martin’s 10th home run and first extra-base hit in 69 at-bats since May 24.

No Jeter in Subway Series

Derek Jeter in the Subway Series?

Forget about it.

The Captain is eligible to come off the disabled list Wednesday, but he won’t be returning to the Yankees on schedule. Jeter is making progress while on injury rehabilitation in Tampa, Fla., but the Yankees want him to play in minor league games – at least two, probably – before he returns to the club, so he will not play in the three-game series against the Mets at Citi Field that starts Friday night.

Jeter has been taking batting and fielding practice and running the bases in the Tampa workouts while recovering from a strained right calf that landed him on the DL June 14. If all continues to go well, Jeter could be back with the Yankees by July 4, which is Monday when they begin a three-game series at Cleveland, or the club may decide to wait until they return from the road and play a four-game set at Yankee Stadium against the Rays leading up to the All-Star break.

But the Subway Series is out, which is tough news for Jeter because he has always seemed to be at his competing against the Mets.

A .323 career hitter in inter-league play with a record total of 326 hits, Jeter is off the charts vs. the Mets with a .381 batting average, a .435 on-base percentage and a .575 slugging percentage in 320 at-bats. DJ has totaled 19 doubles, 2 triples, 13 home runs and 43 RBI and is 18-for-19 in stolen bases against his Queens neighbors.

And that is just in the regular season. Remember, in the 2000 World Series, the only postseason matchup of the New York teams, Jeter batted .409 with 2 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs and 2 RBI and was selected the Most Valuable Player, becoming the first player to win MVP honors in the same season in both the World Series and the All-Star Game, which he won at Turner Field in Atlanta.

In the first Subway Series this year at the Stadium May 20-22 when the Yankees won two of three games, Jeter hit .417 with 3 runs, 2 RBI, 1 stolen base and one walk in 12 at-bats. He has found success crossing over the Triboro Bridge over the years as well. DJ was 5-for-16 (.313) with 2 doubles and 2 RBI the past two seasons at Citi Field. In 34 games over 12 seasons at old Shea Stadium, Jeter batted .321 with 6 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs and 18 RBI in 137 at-bats. In the 2000 World Series, Jeet had 5-for-13 (.385) with 1 double, 2 homers and 2 RBI at Shea.

It would have been somewhat ironic if Jeter had gotten to 3,000 hits in the home of the Mets. It definitely won’t happen there now.

Another Yankees player currently on the DL who may get back in harness this weekend will be Bartolo Colon, who just may start Saturday’s 4:10 p.m. game. Colon threw a 60-pitch simulated game Monday in Tampa and showed no signs of problems with his strained left hamstring. Phil Hughes, disabled for two months with right elbow inflammation, had a strong outing for Double A Trenton (6 1/3 innings, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts) averaging 92-94 mph on his fastball and may make a start for Triple A Scranton Monday.

You can mark your calendars for a couple of starting times that had been marked TBD (to be determined) on original schedules. ESPN has selected the Yankees-Red Sox game Aug. 7 at Fenway Park for a Sunday Night Baseball cablecast that will start at 8:10 p.m. The Aug. 14 game between the Yankees and Rays at the Stadium will begin at 1:05p.m. on the YES Network.

Yanks too much for sloppy Brew Crew

The Zack Greinke the Yankees faced Tuesday night was not the Zack Greinke who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2009. Now in the National League with the Brewers, Greinke went into the game with a good record – 7-2 – but a poor ERA – 4.77 – which only got worse – 5.63 – after his two dreadful innings.

The Yankees had success against Greinke in his years with Kansas City when he was 2-3 with a 5.27 ERA against them, but Tuesday night was simply ridiculous. They knocked him out with seven runs on five hits and three walks in two innings. Greinke also hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and gave up a well-struck home run to Nick Swisher, who has been on fire lately.

The first inning was truly bizarre. Greinke began it by hitting Brett Gardner with a pitch. Curtis Granderson followed with a fly ball that center fielder Nyjer Morgan misplayed into a triple. Morgan turned the wrong way and then tripped as the ball fell free without his touching it. The Brewers played the infield back conceding the second run as Granderson scored on a grounder to second by Mark Teixeira.

Milwaukee next applied a shift defense against Alex Rodriguez with the second baseman, Rickie Weeks, playing behind the bag. This didn’t make sense to me since A-Rod has been hitting the ball to the right side quite a bit lately. Sure enough, he hit a grounder to the right side for a gift single.

One out later, the Yankees had the bases loaded after a walk to Swisher and a weird fielder’s choice on a grounder inside third by Jorge Posada. Third baseman Casey McGehee made a diving, back-handed stop but instead of going straight to the bag for the third out on a force he tried to tag Rodriguez, who eluded him and arrived safely.

Greinke avoided further damage when Russell Martin flied out to end the inning, but the Yanks started up quickly again in the second. Eduardo Nunez led off with a single. Gardner won a nine-pitch at-bat and walked. The two pulled off a double steal. Teixeira got his second RBI grounder, which was the second out, but Greinke couldn’t finish the inning off. He walked A-Rod, gave up a run-scoring single to Robinson Cano and grooved a 2-0 fastball to Swisher, who connected for his 10th home run.

Swish hit .213 with three home runs and 20 RBI over the first two months of the season in 169 at-bats. His low point was May 27 when he was batting .204. In 29 games since then, Swish has batted .320 with 14 runs, 8 doubles, 8 home runs, 23 RBI and 23 walks in 97 at-bats. The switch-hitter had been atrocious from the left side, but he has gradually worked those stats up to where he is finally over .200 (.211) with 7 home runs and 29 RBI in 175 at-bats.

Swisher, who got a fourth RBI with a double in the eighth, was active on both sides of the field Tuesday night. He threw out Corey Hart trying to score to end the sixth and was part of another inning-ending play in which a Brewers runner, Mat Gamel, was thrown out on the bases in the fourth.

After getting two RBI on balls that did not leave the infield, Teixeira picked up two more RBI in the sixth on a ball that left the yard, for his 24th home run. That kept Tex in a tie for the home run lead with the Blue Jays’ Juan Bautista, who also slugged his 24th at Toronto.

The Yankees poured it on to the extent that by the seventh when he was trailing, 11-2, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke started emptying his bench. So did Yanks manager Joe Girardi. That same inning, Hector Noesi took over for Freddy Garcia and threw 34 pitches – 24 combined to only two batters. Jonathan Lucroy got a well-earned single in a 13-pitch at-bat, and Noesi struck out Weeks on the 11th pitch of that at-bat.

There was plenty of weird stuff to go around in this one, but it was a great night all around for the Yankees, who pushed their lead in the AL East to 1 ½ games over the Red Sox, who were shut out by Cliff Lee at Philadelphia, and moved to a season-high 15 games over .500.

YU members enjoy special event

More than 400 Yankees Universe members of the Champion and MVP levels attended a special event in the Great Hall at Yankee Stadium Tuesday and got a chance to meet general manager Brian Cashman and other Yankees celebrities.

Cashman was joined by former Yankees stars Jeff Nelson and Charlie Hayes, assistant general manager Jean Afterman, YES Network analyst John Flaherty and WCBS radio announcer Suzyn Waldman for the 90-minute autograph and photo session.

It was the first of four events scheduled for this season. The others will be Aug. 23, Aug. 24 and Sept. 6. Events are open to Yankees Universe members on the MVP and Champion levels.

VIP party to aid Robertson’s tornado relief fund

Yankees pitcher David Robertson will be the host of a VIP party to benefit the David and Erin Robertson Foundation, a charity dedicated to supporting tornado relief efforts in the reliever’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The event, which will also feature an appearance by right fielder Nick Swisher, will take place at the Hard Rock Café at Yankee Stadium 90 minutes after the end of Thursday’s Yankees-Brewers game, which has a 1:05 p.m. start.

Admission prices for those 21 and older are $500 for bar seating and $100 for standing room only. Bar seating features a 10-minute meet and greet with Robertson and Swisher, an autograph, unlimited soft drinks, appetizers and two drink tickets. Standing room only features unlimited soft drinks, appetizers and two drink tickets.

Proceeds from ticket sales and donations will directly benefit the Robertsons’ foundation. David has also pledged to donate $100 for each strikeout he records in the 2011 season. For additional information, log on to http://www.hardrock.com.

All-Star voting down to last 3 days

With three days remaining in the fans’ balloting for the Major League All-Star Game July 12 at Chase Field in Phoenix, the Yankees remain in first place in five of the nine positions for the American League squad. Make sure to get your vote in to ensure your favorite Yankees make the trip to Arizona.

Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are just about locks at second base and in the outfield, respectively. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have substantial leads at their respective positions of shortstop and third base, and Russell Martin is still the leader of the pack among catchers.

Cano’s vote total of 4,724,816 is second among all AL players to only Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, who has 5,263,840, and well ahead of second-place second baseman Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox at 2,979,181.

There is a race heating up in the outfield for the third spot alongside Bautista and Granderson (4,582,419). The Rangers’ Josh Hamilton has 3,173,000 votes, which is only 121,325 ahead of the Red Sox’ Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees’ Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, among outfielders.

The Yankees are trying to nail down three-quarters of the infield spots. Jeter has 3,392,128 votes and a 506,350-vote lead over second-place shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians. A-Rod’s total of 3,735,406 is 800,033 ahead of third base runner-up Adrian Beltre of the Rangers. At first base, unfortunately, the Red Sox’ Adrian Gonzalez with 4,014,722 has moved out to a 937,480-vote head over Mark Teixeira, who is tied with Bautista for the AL home run lead.

Martin, trying for his first All-Star starting assignment, has gotten a huge break with the injury to the Twins’ Joe Mauer and has a 434,527-vote edge over the Tigers’ Alex Avila. Boston’s David Ortiz is a runaway leader at designated hitter with 4,237,014, more than two million higher than his closest competitor, the Rangers’ Michael Young. The Yankees’ Jorge Posada is running third with 1,453,385.

Fans may cast votes for starters up to 25 times exclusively at MLB.com and all 30 club web sites, including Yankees.com, online or via their mobile devices with the 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint, which offers English- and Spanish-language versions of the online ballot as well as audio CAPTCHA functionality for the visually impaired. Voting runs until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, June 30.

Yanks win one for Geno

At the risk of sounding corny, the Yankees just could not lose Sunday. What a downer that would have been on one of the best Old Timers’ Day celebrations in the 65-year history of this classic event.

And yet for a while it looked like a loss was definitely possible. Rockies starting pitcher Juan Nicasio was perfect through 13 batters making a 3-0 lead seem insurmountable. Then two of the current Yankees who seemed to enjoy the Old Timers’ Day festivities more than most got the Yankees back into the game with back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning to tie the score.

“We couldn’t let Tino have the only homer of the day for us,” Nick Swisher said, referring to the two-run shot Martinez had off David Cone in the two-inning Old Timers’ exhibition.

Swisher followed a single by Robinson Cano drilling a 3-1 fastball to right field for his ninth home run and was still shaking hands in the dugout when Jorge Posada went yard for his eighth on a 1-2 heater. Suddenly, the game was tied.

“We didn’t want to let the Old Timers down,” Swish added.

The second of two home runs by Ty Wigginton returned the lead to Colorado in the sixth, but Alex Rodriguez singled in a run to extend his streak of RBI games to six in the bottom half to knot the score again.

As Derek Jeter, absent on his 37th birthday while rehabilitating his strained right calf in Tampa, Fla., likes to tell new Yankees, “Wait for the ghosts to come out around here.”

How else to explain that Troy Tulowitzki, at Jeter’s shortstop position and wearing DJ’s No. 2 for Colorado, misplayed a grounder by Russell Martin for an error (only his fourth in 75 games) that led directly to the go-ahead run in the seventh on a single by, yep, Jeter’s backup shortstop, Eduardo Nunez?

Swisher, Posada and Mariano Rivera, who struck out the side in the ninth for his 20th save, had been particularly active during the Old Timers’ Day celebration, which got especially emotional with the tribute to Gene Monahan, who is beloved by the players he has kept on the field for 49 years as the Yankees’ athletic trainer.

Geno, as he is known, is a shy man who is uncomfortable in the spotlight, but since announcing that this would be his last season the Yankees have endeavored to let their fans know just how important he has been over the years to the organization. And what better day to do so than the annual reunion of Yankees players from seasons past.

“It was a great day,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who put the perfect end to the afternoon by calling on the current squad’s old timer, Rivera.

“We were teasing Mo during the ceremony that he should come out there with us,” Girardi said.

The looks on the faces of the Yankees were precious as Monahan’s grown daughters and fiancée came on to the field to hug him during the ceremony.

“That was a big surprise,” Posada said. “He didn’t know they were coming. He lost it after that. Gene probably didn’t hear half the stuff that was presented to him.”

Monahan acknowledged that later, saying, “I’m just numb and quivering and can’t feel my feet, if you want to know the truth.”

Okay, Gene, so here’s the list of gifts you received:

• A letter of congratulations from commissioner Bud Selig.
• The Stadium frieze from your original Yankee Stadium locker, presented by assistant trainer Steve Donohue.
• Two seats from the original Stadium, presented by Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage.
• A Thomas Kinkhade painting of the original Stadium, presented by Yankees general partner/vice chairperson Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal.
• Toro TimeCutter lawn mower and a supply of Scotts products, presented by the Stadium grounds crew.
• Round-trip travel for two for a weekend in Las Vegas to see Garth Brooks and a personally autographed Stetson hat from Brooks, presented by Ron Guidry and Bernie Williams.
• Round-trip travel for two and VIP package to NASCAR Championship Weekend and an autographed NASCAR helmet from Kevin Harvick, presented by Martinez.
• Perillo Tours 15-day Alpine Wonders Tour for four, including airfare, presented by Posada and Rivera.
• 2012 Ford F-150 fully loaded Harley Davidson Edition pickup truck, presented by the 2011 Yankees team.

That was quite a haul.

Posada and Rivera also lent Geno a hand in his throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Old Timers’ Day game. Posada put on catcher’s gear for the first time this year and Rivera gave the trainer some tips on throwing the cutter. Monahan did not disappoint. He threw a strike.

Now how could the Yankees possibly lose on a day like that? So they didn’t.

First timers enjoy Old Timers’ Day

I have come full cycle with Old Timers Day, one of the great traditions at Yankee Stadium where it all began with a day to honor Babe Ruth in 1947. The first one I attended was in the late 1950s and getting to see Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Tommy Henrich, Red Ruffing and other stars of my parents’ generation’s youth. My father was actually a Giants fan when they still played in New York, but my mother’s family was all Yankees fans.

When I started covering the Yankees in the 1980’s, Old Timers’ Day was a favorite because I would not only get to see the Yankees stars of my youth such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer and Moose Skowron but also to talk to them. Bauer was one of the best interviews ever; blunt, outspoken, colorful.

One of my favorite stories came from Bauer’s old platoon partner, Gene Woodling. (Bauer, by the way, was not crazy about Casey Stengel, who platooned him early on in the outfield before he became the regular right fielder.)

Back to Woodling; he talked of a time when players were so worried about keeping their jobs that he played for about a week with a broken bone in his heel. It swelled so much, Woodling said, that he cut out the back of his cleat and spread black shoe polish on the heel so no one would notice and stayed in the lineup. Finally, Dickey, the Hall of Fame catcher who was then Casey’s first base coach, saw Woodling’s shoe with the big hole in it in his locker and told him that he needed treatment.

Think of something like that happened today when disabled lists are almost as big as rosters!

At Sunday’s Old Timers’ Day, I was reminded of the passage of time when I encountered so many players whom I covered when they broke into the majors – Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and David Cone in my years on the Mets and Bernie Williams, Pat Kelly and Kevin Maas during my time with the Yankees. I had them as rookies, and now they’re Old Timers, so what does that make me.

Don’t answer that.

This was Bernie’s first Old Timer’s Day, and he was one of the big hits of the afternoon. He got a rousing ovation from the crowd during the introduction ceremonies. Fans were on their feet again when he doubled to the warning track in left-center in the two-inning Old Timers’ game. Then the Stadium really exploded when Bernie’s old teammate, Tino Martinez, popped a two-run home run to right off Cone, another old teammate.

I teased Bernie around the batting cage before the game after he had told writers that he still did not consider himself retired. “But I think that’s closer now,” he said.

I told him that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America was in the process of putting together the 2012 Hall of Fame ballot that will go out to voters in December, and that he would be on it; in other words, like it or not, Bernie, you’re retired.

He was asked during the press conference what his favorite memory from his playing career was. Williams could not limit it to just one and gave a very thoughtful answer.

“I would say that three things stick out – winning our first World Series championship in 1996, winning the batting title in 1999 and being on the field before the last game at the old Stadium,” he said. “I got announced after Yogi, which was pretty cool.”

Bernie officially joined the pantheon of Yankees legends Sunday, and he sounded proud of it.

“It’s a really big thing for me,” he said. “If you take the word ‘old,’ I think I’d be a little uncomfortable with it. But when I was playing, I looked forward to these days. To me, it was a reminder of the fact that we’re part of a family that has been going on for 100 years, and thinking I was part of something that was bigger than myself. And now I’m on the other side, being in the same situation, so it’s good. It’s great. I’m just really proud of this organization. When I chose to stay and have my whole career as a Yankee, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Also back for the first Old Timers’ Day appearance were former managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre. “Sweet Lou,” who served the Yankees in nearly every category there is (players, coach, manager, general manager, broadcaster) put on the pinstripes for the first time since 1988. He had been busy elsewhere after that, winning a World Series with the Reds in 1990 and helping to build the Mariners into a viable franchise.

The pinstripes looked good on Torre, too, even while wearing a sling after recently undergoing right rotator cuff surgery. The man who won six American League pennants, four World Series and had the Yankee in post-season play all 12 of his seasons as manager had been invited before but was unable to attend because he was managing the Dodgers. Joe is now vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner’s office, but it is not really a desk job as he gets to spend a lot of time in ballparks.

With Jack McKeon (Marlins) and Davey Johnson (Nationals) back in big-league dugouts, I was curious if that gave either Lou or Joe the itch to return.

“There comes a time when you have to walk away, and I knew last year was that time for me,” Piniella said. “It was the same when I was a player. I was never one who wanted another at bat.”

“I was shopping with my wife recently,” Torre said, “and she told me how strange it was that here we were in the middle of a baseball season together and I wasn’t stressed out. I don’t miss all that stress.”

Both proudly wore rings linking them to their Yankees careers – Lou the World Series ring of 1977 and Joe of 1996. Those were the first championships for each.

“You never forget the first time,” Joe said on a day at Yankee Stadium that never gets old.

Winning pitcher still best way to describe CC

The question came to CC Sabathia, and he could have shattered the walls with a certain answer, if he cared to. But it is not his way to be angry or critical, so Sabathia responded in kind, without malice or disdain.

The question offered by a reporter was, “What does it mean to be the first pitcher this year to win 10 games?”

CC didn’t hesitate and said, “I’d like to say it’s a big deal, but it isn’t, really.”

Perfect. Sabathia seems to know that you can’t have it both ways. Last year, he led the American League in victories with 21, but come time to vote for the Cy Young Award Sabathia ended up losing out to the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez and his 13-12 record. Baseball writers defended the decision because Fernandez had scant run support yet ranked very high in some other statistical measures for pitchers.

There is even a segment of the baseball press, those who digest the gourmet stats, that believes pitching victories have no meaning whatsoever. If so, then why all the fuss about Sabathia getting to 10-4 Saturday at Yankee Stadium in the Yankees’ 8-3 victory over the Rockies? If winning games does not matter anymore, why bother even asking the question?

Truth be told, CC, there are some of us in the press box who still value the art of pitching your team to victory. As Roy Halladay, who owns two Cy Young Award trophies put it so well last winter, that is still part of the job description. Sabathia would prefer to stay neutral in the debate, and I don’t blame him.

Praise is due the big guy, but it won’t be long that you’ll be hearing from the stat geeks than any pitcher can win 10 games with the run support Sabathia gets. That’s coming next, you watch.

Oh, yes, the Yankees have scored runs in bunches behind Sabathia, whose support of 7.67 runs per game is tops in the majors. The Yankees have scored in double figures in six of his 17 starts with CC getting a ‘W’ each time out. It should be noted, however, that the Yankees have been shut out twice with Sabathia on the mound.

A year ago, Hernandez had the worst run support I have ever seen a quality pitcher have in all my years of covering big-league ball, which is more than I care to (and can’t always) remember. That King Felix put the record together than he did was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, but I am not prepared to let a freak season become the game’s standard.

It is clear by now that the Yankees enjoy playing behind Sabathia, who earned his 50th victory in a Yankees uniform, in his 85th start. That matches what Chien-Ming Wang once did and is the best since Ron Guidry got to 50 victories with the Yankees in 1979 in his 82nd start in pinstripes. Playing behind Sabathia often puts the Yankees in such a comfort zone that they slug their way to victory.

“When you play behind CC, you’re not on the field very long,” manager Joe Girardi said.

The Yankees spent most of their time on the field at bat and scored eight more runs behind their ace. Alex Rodriguez, playing despite a sore right knee that has troubled him for a week, drove in three runs and scored another on a somewhat daring, hands-first slide into the plate in the third inning. A-Rod saw that the left fielder, Ryan Spilborghs, was fading toward center to make the catch on Nick Swisher’s fly ball and gave it a try. He went in on his hands, “because I wanted to give the catcher the least possible amount of body to tag,” Alex said.

Not a bad answer, actually.

Jorge Posada had three hits and an RBI in raising his batting average to .232. Rodriguez, Swisher, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Francisco Cervelli had two hits apiece. Mark Teixeira knocked in two runs with his 22nd home run, taking over the team lead. The only 0-fer in the lineup, ironically, was by Robinson Cano, who made six outs in four at-bats and ended his consecutive game hitting streak in day games at 24 games. The Yankees remain lights out in the daytime at 21-4.

Sabathia, who lowered his ERA to 3.25, took a five-hit shutout into the eighth only to lose it that inning on a two-out, RBI single by Seth Smith, who was pinch hitting for Todd Helton. Sabathia was so dominating that Rockies manager Jim Tracy removed All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki after the seventh and pinch hit for Carlos Gonzalez and Helton in the eighth.

Talk about an early concession. But what else was there to do facing the daily double of the Yankees in broad daylight with CC Sabathia on the hill?