Falling behind 3-0 to the pitcher with the second lowest ERA in the league probably wasn’t the best way to go about starting the season’s longest homestand on the right note, but that’s exactly what the Yankees did against the Oakland Athletics and Trevor Cahill.
Entering last night’s game, Cahill’s ERA of 2.43 trailed only Boston’s Clay Buchholz (2.21), and his August ERA of 0.92 led all starters in the month. So, when Dustin Moseley spotted the Athletics three first inning runs, it seemed like the Yankees were headed for another disappointing loss. The gloom and doom didn’t last for long, however, as the Yankees immediately tied the game in the bottom of the first before taking the lead in the third on back-to-back wall scrappers by Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano that just made into the first row of the right field short porch. By the time Cahill’s night was over, he had surrendered a career-high eight runs in only four innings, boosting his season ERA by almost one-half run to 2.82.
Despite being taken off the hook and then staked to a lead, Dustin Moseley could not muster enough command to make it through five innings. Throughout the game, Javier Vazquez had been warming as Moseley teetered on the edge, but after allowing a one-out single and a walk in the fifth, Joe Girardi could wait no longer. Vazquez pitched out of Moseley’s jam in the fifth, thanks in large part to a patented Derek Jeter jump throw from the hole to retire Kevin Kouzmanoff, and then polished off the final four innings of the game, yielding only two hits and one run while striking out six. Not only did the rejuvenated right hander, whose fastball averaged 89 mph and topped out at 92 mph, help preserve a much needed victory, but he also saved the bullpen in the process.
For the second time since being demoted to the bullpen, Vazquez was called upon to pick up the slack for a failed starter and once again pitched well enough to merit reconsideration for the rotation. Girardi did not announce any forthcoming changes after the game, but you can bet careful consideration is being given to replacing Moseley with Vazquez. Playing the hot hand may be the best way for Girardi to get the most out of his wobbly rotation, but even more pertinent, re-establishing Vazquez as a potential post season starter could prove significant if Andy Pettitte has any more setbacks (or AJ Burnett is unable to turn things around).
After Vazquez restored order on the mound, the Yankees put the game away with a five-run fifth that was capped off by a titanic three-run blast by Marcus Thames, who sent a 97 mph fastball from Henry Rodriguez into the second deck in left field. The home run was Thames sixth in his last six games, including at least one in each of his last five starts. By filling the power void left by Alex Rodriguez’ injury, Thames, who has six homers off righties and four off lefties, has made a convincing case for more playing time down the stretch. Complicating matters, however, is the impending return of Lance Berkman. With both players best suited for the role of DH, Girardi could find it difficult to get both playing time without compromising the defense. A strict lefty/righty platoon is likely in order, but with the way Thames has been hitting of late, it is going to be very difficult to take his bat out of the lineup.
The win last night was an important one because it helped the Yankees maintain their eight-day embrace with the Rays atop the American League East, a major league record for the longest consecutive first place tie after the month of July. Although both teams now enjoy a comfortable seven game cushion over the Red Sox, the battle for the division looks as if it could go down to the wire. The dog days of August are almost done, but now it’s down the stretch they come.
Most Consecutive Games Started With a HR by a Yankee, Since 1920