BRONX, NY – Robinson Cano had himself a lot of fun tonight at Yankee Stadium as he led the Yankees to a come from behind 5-3 win over the hapless Washington Nationals. Cano, who collected four hits and two runs batted in while making several sparkling plays in the field supported C.C. Sabathia’s solid 7 2/3 performance who gained his sixth win of the season.
It was the Yankees Major League-leading 22nd come-from-behind win.
“The guys did a nice job tonight,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “It was a big night for Robby Cano and C.C. had another good performance getting us into the eighth inning.”
Sabathia’s only mistake of the night was to the light-hitting Anderson Hernandez, the former Met infield prospect. Sabathia was cruising along with a 2-0 lead until the fifth inning when he gave up two singles to Alberto Gonzales and Will Nieves. The last thing anyone could have expected from the ninth-place hitting Anderson Hernandez was a big fly but that’s exactly what happened as he put a shock into Sabathia and Yankee fans when he pulled a slider that got too much of the plate into the second row of the left field stands. It was Hernandez’ first home run in the major leagues since September 9, 2006 and it put the Nats up, 3-2.
“C.C. is the type of guy that just pounds the zone,” said Girardi. “We know that not every pitch he makes is going to be perfect but he is going to be ahead of most hitters and he’s going to give you distance and shut teams down, and he did it again, tonight.”
Cano was feeling pretty good about himself and his team after the game.
“I would say so far this year, this is the best I’ve played, not because of the four hits but because of my defensive plays,” he said. “At bat, I was looking for something over the plate, in the middle, on those hits. He put the ball where I was looking.”
The Yankees continued their mysterious penchant for not being able to find their offensive skills against unfamiliar pitchers. Tonight’s starting pitcher, Shairon Martis, came into the game with a 1-3 record and an E.R.A. of 5.66. Yet, the 22 year old rookie shut the veteran Yankee lineup down, going six innings, allowing just four hits and only one earned run.
“Sometimes, we do struggle against pitchers we haven’t seen before,” Girardi said. “Bottom line is, we won the game and you just have to tip your hat to the other pitcher and say, he’s spotting his fast ball and spotting his changeup, keeping our hitters off-balance but our struggles against new pitchers is something that has been a history of this club, even when I played.”
Ron Villone, the former Yankee came in to start the seventh and immediately allowed Johnny Damon to reach on a hard single to right. Mark Teixera followed on the very next pitch with a long fly to the base of the left centerfield wall. Elijah Dukes ranged back for it but the ball hit the wall behind him, allowing the Yanks to tie the score as Damon scampered home.
Alex Rodriguez struck out, continuing his slump as boos rained down on him from the Yankee faithful. Cano, with three straight singles to bring his average up to .307, doubled over Dukes’ head in straightaway center, scoring Teixera with the go-ahead run. Cano commited a cardinal sin however, by trying to stretch his double into a triple with less than two outs. The second baseman was thrown out at third but he did have himself a 4-4 night.
Brian Bruney made his first appearance since May 19th against the Orioles and got the dangerous Ryan Zimmerman on a ground ball to Cano, who ranged far to his left to snag the grounder and toss him out with an across-the-body throw to Teixera to end the eighth inning. The better news about Bruney was his fastball reaching 96 mph on the stadium radar gun.
In the bottom of the eighth, Matsui led off with a walk and Gardner pinch ran for him. Gardner stole second and moved to third on a Posada groundout to third. Cabrera walked and Ramiro Pena, who came in to play shortstop for Jeter (stiff left ankle) in the seventh, singled on the first pitch from Nationals pitcher Mike MacDougal to score Gardner, giving the Yankees and Mariano Rivera a two-run cushion to work with.
Cano made another sparkling play on Dukes’ grounder up the middle, backhanding it and flipping sidearm to Teixera to get the speedy Dukes to open the ninth inning. Rivera struck out Dunn looking. That strikeout, the 967th of his career, tied the great Rivera with Allie Reynolds for 11th place on the Yankees’ all-time list for strikeouts.
Rivera completed the save with an Austin Kearns ground out, sending the Nationals home with their 46th loss, against 16 wins.
One ominous sign was the removal of Derek Jeter from the game in the seventh inning, with the Yankees leading by only one run at that point. Jeter is not a guy who accepts coming out of games.
“Derek’s got a sore left ankle,” said Girardi afterwards. “He’s not sure when he did it but he thinks it was on a double play against the Mets when Gary Sheffield slid in hard. He woke up a little sore yesterday and it was sore to run today. We noticed for the first time he was running tonight that he had a little hitch so we got him out of there. I don’t know if he’ll miss any time. I hope he wakes up and it’s all gone but my sense is that won’t be the case but we’ll check him out when he gets here.”