Girardi’s hunch to stay with Austin pays big dividend

The Yankees had to wait until two out in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night for one of the Baby Bombers to make a major contribution. It turned out to be a big one, an opposite-field home run to right by Tyler Austin that produced a 5-4 victory over the Rays.

Prior to that, the Yankees’ offense was powered by veterans. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury both singled in the first inning and scored on a out-single by Didi Gregorius and an errant pickoff attempt by Rays starter Alex Cobb.

Their other two runs were courtesy of two long home runs by Brian McCann, one into the second deck in the fourth inning and one into the suites section between the second and third decks in the second inning. McCann, who was 3-for-4, is enjoying a .455 homestand with three home runs and five RBI in 11 at-bats.

McCann lost his regular catching job to rookie sensation Gary Sanchez and has not made a peep about all the while contributing in his at-bats as a designated hitter. Mac was back behind the plate Thursday night and did his usual solid job, especially in the fifth when rookie Jonathan Holder nearly balked home the tying run. Mac claimed that Holder was merely requesting to go through the signs again in moving his glove, an argument continued by Girardi, who was able to get plate umpire Mike Everitt to confer with the other umps. The group decision upheld McCann’s point of view, and the Yankees caught a huge break.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had another veteran available in the dugout as a possible pinch hitter for Austin in the ninth after the Rays brought in righthander Erasmo Ramirez with two outs and none on. Mark Teixeira, with 405 career home runs, was on the bench, but Girardi stayed with Austin.

“I like the way he has been swinging the bat lately,” Girardi said of Austin, who has six hits in the past four games, four of them for extra bases. “With that splitter Ramirez has, right-handed hitters sometimes have an advantage over left-handed hitters.”

The switch-hitting Teixeira would have batted left-handed against Ramirez. Girardi played a hunch, and it paid off.

Girardi had a busy night navigating his pitching staff on a night when relievers Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances were virtually unavailable because of heavy recent use. Despite that, the skipper did not hesitate to lift an ineffective CC Sabathia with two on and none out in the fifth.

Sabathia had given up two home runs to Kevin Kiermaier and one to Steven Souza Jr. Holder was also victimized by Souza in the sixth that made the score 4-4, which is where it stayed until Austin came to bat in the ninth. The score remained that way because of the ensemble relief effort of Chasen Shreve, Blake Parker, Kirby Yates and Tommy Layne.

The Yanks’ fifth straight victory pushed their record to a season-high nine games over .500 at 74-65 as they leaped over another club, the Astros, in the sweepstakes for the second Wild Card slot. The Yankees had already sped by the Mariners and the Royals and now have their sights set on the Orioles (two games behind) and the Tigers (one game behind). Baltimore and Detroit were not scheduled Thursday night.

Neither was Boston, so the Yankees picked up a half-game on the American League East leader and are only four games out of first place in the division.

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