Earth to Yankees: These games are vital

Let it be known that the Yankees are aware they reside on planet Earth. They played Friday night’s game against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium with the fierce determination of a team aware of the obstacles facing them in their quest for a postseason berth.

“They would have to be on another planet not to know the importance of this stretch of games,” manager Joe Girardi said before the opener of a 10-game homestand.

Girardi did not hesitate to remind them anyway with the way he managed, which was akin to it being Game 7 of the World Series. The 8-5 victory before a boisterous Friday night crowd of 45,169 was an ideal way to get this pivotal period of the season started for the Yankees.

The skipper pulled CC Sabathia, who gave up five runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, after 86 pitches, then played mix and match with his bullpen in an effort to protect a lead that his starting pitcher failed to do once and threatened to do twice, which has been an unfortunate custom of his this season.

This was a weird one. Sabathia and Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez traded zeroes for three innings before balls started getting whacked all over the yard and over the fences. Home run leader Chris Davis singled in the first run of the game in the top of the fourth, but a two-run, opposite-field home run by Alfonso Soriano in the bottom half put the Yankees ahead.

Danny Valencia answered that with a two-run homer in the fifth to regain the lead for Baltimore. The Yankees went gangbusters in their turn at-bat that inning and retrieved the lead by putting up a five-spot and chasing Gonzalez. The Yanks began the inning with four consecutive extra-base hits – doubles by Curtis Granderson and Mark Reynolds for one run, Ichiro Suzuki’s first home run in 132 at-bats for two more runs and a double by Austin Romine. A single by Brett Gardner and a walk to Derek Jeter loaded the bases and hastened Gonzalez’s departure. Robinson Cano greeted left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland with a single to left to drive in two runs.

Sabathia gave a run back in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled and scored on a two-out single by Nick Markakis. That was it for Girardi, who made the move to Shawn Kelley. Valencia singled Markakis to third, but Kelley got out of the inning without further damage. With one out in the seventh, Girardi brought in lefthander Boone Logan to face lefty-hitting Nate McLouth, who flied out, and then righthander David Robertson against righty-swinging Manny Machado, who grounded out.

The Yankees added to their lead with a run in the seventh on an RBI single by Alex Rodriguez. They lost a shot at another run on poor base running by Alfonso Soriano. He and A-Rod pulled off a double steal of second and third with one out. Against an over-shift on Granderson that had the third baseman playing in the shortstop hole, Soriano could have walked home from third on Grandy’s push bunt toward third. Sori held up for some reason and motioned back to third, but Rodriguez was nearing that base. Pitcher Francisco Rodriguez had fielded the ball by that time and threw to catcher Taylor Teegarden for an easy tag-out of Soriano.

Girardi was hit with several questions after the game about why Granderson bunted in that spot as if it were a dumb play. I thought it was a terrific move on his part. The defense was giving him practically the entire left side of the infield. Why not drop one down and get a free run?

Robertson handled the eighth inning without fault and turned the ball over to Mariano Rivera in the ninth. Enough said.

Girardi had indicated the importance of this series with the announcement before the game that Phil Hughes would be pushed back to Monday night against the White Sox so that Andy Pettitte could start Sunday against the Orioles. The reason for that should be self-explanatory. Girardi had a hunch about Reynolds in starting him at first base against a right-handed pitcher instead of Lyle Overbay. Reynolds had three hits one an RBI. He was thrown out on the bases twice, but no one said he was Rickey Henderson.

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