Yankees roll seven, shoot for sweep

Something old, something new.

It is this combination that has sustained the Yankees in their winning streak that reached seven games Saturday with a 5-1 victory over the Rays. Remember about two weeks ago I wrote that the Yankees needed to do more than just win series, taking two of three games here and two of three there. They need to go on a run the way the Royals worked themselves into contention with a nine-game winning streak.

Well, here it is, Yankees fans. This is the Yanks’ longest winning streak since a seven-gamer May 1-9 of last year. They are a season-best 11 games over .500, have won 13 of their past 14 games, 20 of their past 29 and are 24-13 since the non-waiver trading deadline of Aug. 1.

The Yankees got a strong start from Masahiro Tanaka (13-4, 3.04 ERA), who gave up one run and five hits with 10 strikeouts, and a combination of old (Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury) and new (Gary Sanchez and Rob Refsnyder) to remain on the heels of the Orioles and the Tigers in the race for the second Wild Card slot in the playoffs. With Baltimore and Detroit opposing each other Saturday night, the Yanks were guaranteed to be no more than one game behind.

But that is not all. With the Red Sox losing to the Blue Jays, the Yankees are only three games out of first place. Who could have imagined this happening back in that last weekend in July when the Yankees were stuck at .500 (52-52) after getting swept in a three-game series at Tropicana Field.

Sunday the Yankees have a chance to sweep those same Rays, this time in a four-game set. They have swept two others four-game series this year, against the Angels and the Athletics, and have already won their past eight four-game series.

Tanaka gave the Yankees something they have lacked from a starter lately — length. Manager Joe Girardi had used 35 pitchers over the previous six games in the winning streak, an average of nearly six pitchers per game. This is less taxing on the staff at this time of year when rosters have expanded. Girardi used to beef about September games with uneven roster numbers, but you do not hear him complaining now as his team is trying to pull off an epic comeback.

After giving up a home run to Bobby Wilson and hitting a batter in the eighth, Tanaka came out for Adam Warren, who also plunked a batter before getting a huge double-play grounder from Evan Longoria.

Rays starter Chris Archer, who has been tough on the Yankees (5-2 entering play), fell to 8-18 essentially because of the first three hitters in the lineup. Gardner singled leading off the sixth of what was then a scoreless game.

Ellsbury wears out Archer and did so again with his eighth home run of the season. Sanchez followed with another bomb, his 13th. The trio was at it again in the eighth, this time against lefthander Enny Romero. Gardner singled, Ellsbury doubled and Sanchez was able to reach the first pitch of what was supposed to be the start of an intentional walk for a sacrifice fly to the warning track. Didi Gregorius added another sac fly.

Refsnyder was 0-for-3 but made an important defensive play, a lunging catch in right field to keep the game scoreless in the sixth.

The something old-something new formula had worked in Friday night’s marathon with Sanchez hitting his 12th homer and Mark Teixeira crushing his 11th career grand slam.

Tanaka has won each of his past six decisions over a seven-start stretch since Aug. 7. He is 5-0 with a 2.42 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings seven starts against the Rays, with the Yankees winning each of those starts.

Sanchez is one of five players in major league history with 13 home runs in his first 35 games (also Wally Joyner, Mike Jacobs, Kevin Maas and Wally Berger). Ellsbury is a career .559 hitter against Archer in 34 at-bats. Gardner has multiple hits in each of his past three games with an at-bat (6-for-12). The Yankees are 11-1 when Gardner and Ellsbury each collect at least two hits in the same game.

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