The New York Yankees were facing a must win game on Sunday afternoon, after three straight losses to the Boston Red Sox left the team finding themselves behind each the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card race. After heading into the top of the ninth leading 3-2, and with Mariano Rivera on the mound, it appeared as if they would be getting this win relatively simply.
But then Will Middlebrooks hit a home run that put both the Yankees’ hopes of winning the game, and of having any hopes to get a playoff spot, downhill.
A loss in this situation would leave the Yankees with the possibility of heading into Monday’s game against the Orioles three and a half games behind the Rays with only 19 games left to play, a daunting task. Furthermore, it would have the team going into this ultra important series after just losing four consecutive games to their arch-nemesis, including losing three games that their bullpen blew. For a Yankees team that has had one of the most consistent bullpens in the game of baseball all season, this would have effectively been a psychological death blow to a season that has issues both on and off the field.
But then, in the bottom of the ninth, Inchiro Suzuki kept the Yankees’ season alive in the unlikeliest of fashions. He did this by first getting a single to get on base before stealing second base to put himself into scoring position with one out. After Vernon Wells sent him to third base with a sacrifice fly and Alfonso Soriano having two outs in the ninth, one would expect either a base hit or a strikeout. What ensued instead was a wild pitch that got by Red Sox catcher Jared Saltalamacchia and allowed Suzuki to get home, and keep the Yankees’ season alive in the process.
This was the type of small-ball run scoring that wins games in the playoffs and brings to mind the memories of the Yankees in the late 90’s, a team that seemed to always create something out of nothing. While this Yankees are nowhere near the level of those clubs, they are a team that could go into Monday’s game one and a half games out of the AL Wild Card lead, a remarkable feat considering all that has gone on in the Bronx this season. They have Suzuki to thank for that.