Late rally propels Yanks to exhilarating victory

There was an impending disaster facing the Yankees for seven innings Tuesday night. They were actually in danger of losing to the White Sox at a time when the Yankees need to have the upper hand against the lower order of the American League if they intend to play in October.

Let’s be fair here. The White Sox are a different team with Chris Sale on the mound. He has pitched far better (2.97 ERA) than his 10-12 record would indicate. And against the Yankees, he is simply lights out (2-0, 1.05 ERA). Well, at least until the eighth inning Tuesday night. The Yanks finally put enough of a dent in his armor for White Sox manager Robin Ventura to turn to his bullpen.

Please send our old pal a thank you note.

After Derek Jeter singled and Robinson Cano doubled with one out against Sale, the Yankees jumped on three Chicago relief pitchers for a five-run rally that had even more impact than the eight-run inning they exhibited the day before. This late charge that turned a potential loss into an exhilarating, 6-4 victory and had the Yankee Stadium crowd of 33,215 sounding like the whole borough of the Bronx was in attendance.

Cano’s double off the left field auxiliary scoreboard came on a two-strike pitch from Sale. So did the single by Alfonso Soriano that got the Yankees to 4-3 and the single by Alex Rodriguez that kept the line moving, both off righthander Nate Jones (4-5).

Curtis Granderson greeted lefthander Donnie Veal with a single to center that tied the score. There was a temporary sigh when Mark Reynolds struck out, but another abrupt message to an incoming reliever was in store. Eduardo Nunez, who made one of the best defensive plays of the game, got the crowd roaring with a double down the left field line to break the tie and tack on an insurance run as well.

Mariano Rivera laced it up into a bow with his 40th save; a huge victory for the Yankees, who jumped back in front of the Orioles into third place in the AL East and climbed a half-game closer to the Rays, who took a five-game losing streak into their game against the Angels. This was a game that will resonate for the Yankees if they can complete their quest for a postseason berth that seemed in serious peril after their disappointing 2-4 trip through St. Petersburg, Fla., and Toronto a week ago.

The pitcher the Yankees have relied on the most this season is showing signs of wear, which is not unusual for someone his age. Hiroki Kuroda, 38, has clearly hit a wall. He was not terrible Tuesday night but not good enough to beat the beatable White Sox. His teammates got him off the hook to avoid what would have been his fourth straight loss, but they owed him as much.

For four innings, Kuroda matched Sale in a 1-1 game. The Chicago run in the first inning ended Kuroda’s 21 2/3 scoreless innings streak at the Stadium. The Yankees’ run in the second came on a double steal with Vernon Wells scoring from third base.

Then in the fifth, Kuroda began to crack. He gave up a leadoff single to Alejandro De Aza and walked Gordon Beckham in an 11-pitch at-bat. Alexi Ramirez somehow got around on a 94-mph sinker and hit a hard grounder down the left field line. Soriano, who has played well in left field since coming to the Yankees, couldn’t stop the ball before it got to the corner and rolled past him as Ramirez legged out a two-run triple.

Kuroda and his infielders kept the inning from being worse. Dunn couldn’t get the ball past a tight infield and grounded out to Cano, who checked Ramirez at third. Nunez at shortstop went one better by gloving a liner by Paul Konerko and firing to Rodriguez at third base to double-off Ramirez.

Okay, 3-1 in the fifth is not the end of the world, but the Yankees couldn’t fire back right away. They failed to capitalize on Nunez’s leadoff double in the bottom of the fifth and stranded him at second base. In the seventh came that rarity when a player hit a foul home run and in the same at-bat hits a fair home run. De Aza’s 15th jack of the year made it 4-1 and ended Kuroda’s outing.

But not the game; oh, no, far from it.

After the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced that Phil Hughes and his 4-13 record would go to the bullpen and that David Huff, who is 2-0 with an ERA of 0.60 over his past 15 innings, will go into the rotation and start during the upcoming four-game series with the Red Sox.

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