The Detroit Tigers, who eliminated the Yankees from the Playoffs in 2006 and 2011, are not the kind of team you want to face when your pitching staff is full of question marks.
On Friday night, the Yankees began a 3-game home series against the Tigers. Ivan Nova, winner of his last 15 decisions, battled Justin Verlander, last season's American League Most Valuable Player. Neither pitched especially well, and neither made it into the 7th inning. Alex Rodriguez hit his 4th home run of the season off Verlander, and Russell Martin his 2nd. But the Yankees trailed 6-4 in the bottom of the 6th. They got a run in the 6th and another in the 8th to tie it.
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless 9th, and then Barayan Villareal, a Venezuelan righthander, came on to pitch the bottom of the 9th for Detroit. It was a weird inning. He got Martin, the leadoff man, to ground to 2nd. But he walked Derek Jeter. Then he walked Curtis Granderson. Neither was intentional, especially with Grandy and then A-Rod batting next. To make matters worse, the ball four to Grandy was a wild pitch, and now Derek was on 3rd as the winning run with only 1 out. All A-Rod had to do was get the ball out of the infield.
As it turned out, A-Rod didn't even have to do that: Villareal threw another bad pitch, and it was charitably called a passed ball on his catcher, Alex Avila. Jeter scored. Yankees 7, Tigers 6.
WP: Rivera (1-1). LP: Villareal (0-1).
The Saturday game was a Fox game, and a game in which the Yankees faced a pitcher they'd never faced before, a lefthander no less, Drew Smyly. And the struggling Freddy Garcia started. You could have taken all that information in, and guessed what happened.
Garcia didn't get out of the 2nd inning. Smyly did, the only run he gave up being a solo homer by Nick Swisher in the 1st. Swish later hit another, his 6th of the season, and Grandy hit his 7th, but it wasn't enough. Tigers 7, Yankees 5.
WP: Smyly (1-0). LP:Garcia (0-2).
So the Yankees really needed a good start in yesterday's game, to take the series and get momentum back. And they had the right guy on the mound, Carsten Charles Sabathia. The Tigers countered with the struggling Max Scherzer.
The Yankees made him struggle enough, knocking him out of the box in the 5th. Grandy, again hitting well against his former team, hit his 8th homer. Bad news: Swisher had to leave the game with a bad hamstring, and it hasn't yet been decided whether he'll have to go on the DL. Good news: Taking his place in the lineup, Andruw Jones homered, his 3rd of the season.
Yankees 6, Tigers 2. WP: Sabathia (3-0). LP: Scherzer (1-3).
So as the Baltimore Orioles come into Yankee Stadium for a 3-game series, they are tied for first place in the AL Eastern Division, with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees are a game and a half back, 1 in the loss column. The Toronto Blue Jays are 2 back, and the Boston Red Sox 3 and a half back, 3 in the loss column.
Garcia has been moved to the bullpen. David Phelps, who has impressed in relief, has been given Garcia's place in the rotation.
In addition, D.J. Mitchell has been called up from Scranton, and Cody Eppley was sent down in his place. Hopefully, Phelps can do the job that Garcia should have been doing, and, between them, Garcia and Mitchell can do the job that Eppley should have been doing.
A-Rod Tracker: Hits, 2,795, 205 away from 3,000; Home Runs, 633, 67 away from 700, 130 away from an all-time record 763.
A-Rod also got his 1,904th career RBI, to pass Willie Mays for 9th on the all-time list. The all-time leader is Hank Aaron with 2,297. Hank broke that record before he broke Babe Ruth's career home run record. Hank also still holds the records for most extra-base hits and most total bases, in each case surpassing Stan Musial, who in each case surpassed Ruth.