Before we get to today’s game, I want to talk about what’s happened with the Yankees since May 30th, when Jason Giambi injured his foot and was put on the DL. The Yanks have gone 8–2, gained 4.5 games on the Sox, and completely changed the way they play baseball.
Why, you ask? All kidding aside, the reason is Melky Cabrera. I’m not usually one to say I told you so, but let’s just say I might’ve been on to something when I wrote this post. When Giambi went down, Joe committed to playing Melky in center every day. Since then, he’s relaxed at the plate (he’s hitting .378 with a .425 OBP, he’s scored 8 runs, stolen two bases and knocked in 4), and played a fantastic centerfield (minus the misplayed inside-the-park home run last night). When Melky’s on the field, his play energizes the entire team.
We shouldn’t be surprised by the way this team is playing since Giambi went down, the exact same thing happened last year when Matsui and Sheffield went down and Melky was inserted into the lineup. Having him in there seems to change the way Joe manages. Take a look at last night’s game, Melky’s sacrifice bunt set the Yanks up for the win. Or look at today’s game, the Yankees stole 5 bases against a catcher who was throwing out 43% of would-be base stealers coming into this series. They pulled off two double steals today, and were even running up 8–3 in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Melky’s influence can be seen in others also. When he’s batting ninth, he always sees a ton of pitches. This is key, because it sets up the top of the lineup. If Melky comes up in the second or third inning, forces a pitcher to throw him 6–8 pitches, then it’s already been a productive at bat because Damon, Jeter and Abreu get to see more pitches, and the pitcher has already had to work to get through the bottom of the order.
Today’s game was undoubtedly about Roger Clemens. The standing ovation he got when he took the mound was deafening. The stadium went nuts on all seven of his strike outs, but the day wasn’t his alone. In the top of the seventh, after Rocket had been lifted, and the game seemed to be well in hand, Bruney came in and gave up a long drive to the deep left-center. Melky ranged back to the wall and made a jumping catch, bringing the ball back into the park. The crowd erupted into a “Mel-ky, Mel-ky, Mel-ky…” chant. He followed that up with a nice running catch in right-center. The crowd paid him off with another Melky chant. I can’t help but think the Yanks wouldn’t have this huge hole to dig out of if Melky had been given an outfield spot from the get-go this year, but to be fair, he wasn’t playing like this early in the year. The stability of being an everyday player has allowed him to relax, he’s playing like the Melky we saw last year, and the ripple effect has the Yankees breathing down the necks of the Tigers and the Sox.
The Rocket: It’s unbelievable that it took me nearly 600 words to finally get to the Rocket, but Melky deserved the ink (and I doubt the papers are going to give it to him any time soon). Roger Clemens was good today. His fastball was between 89 MPH and 92 MPH consistently, his splitter was devastating. His command was almost there. Basically, he was exactly where he should be if he’s going to be dominant in the coming weeks and months. Barring injury, I expect the fastball to pick up 3–4 MPH as he gets his legs under him. The command should be there as well.
If Clemens can stay healthy, he’s going to win a lot of games for the Yanks this year. When the Yankees signed him the two concerns were his health (obviously, still a concern. He’s only a fatigued groin away from going on the shelf for an extended period of time) and the decay of his stuff. If today is any indication of what we’re going to see from him, the stuff is still there, and it should only get better. His final line: 6IP, 3 earned, 5 hits, 2 BB, 7 Ks.
One final note on Clemens. If he made this start for Houston last year, it would’ve probably been a loss. This team can score runs, and he knows how to pitch with a lead. That’s a purty good combo, if you ask me.
Player of the Game: Melky Cabrera. (Clemens will get one, but it isn’t automatic just because he made the start, today was Melky Day for me.)