By Jon Lane
Mariano Rivera sealed the Yankees series-clinching win over the Angels, one that put a bug in the Halos’ heads – finally, not the other way around – if the teams are to meet again next month. Victory was attained when Ian Kennedy gutted out the eighth inning, his first Major League inning since last August when he was tattooed on the same field. Yes, he walked two batters and hit another, and his first out was a line drive right to Ramiro Pena at third base, but Joe Girardi looked him in the eye and told him it’s your day, your time, now get the job done. And he did.
Alfredo Aceves, Phil Hughes, Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin and Brian Bruney were unavailable – would you trust Bruney in that spot anyway? – so Girardi summoned Kennedy based on some strong Minor League rehab appearances and Dave Eiland’s vote of confidence. You can feel the consternation – John Sterling endlessly second-guessed the move while calling the game on the Yankees’ radio network – and negativity wondering if Girardi had gone mad at the most inopportune time. He had decided to rest a handful of starters, the AL East and home field advantage not yet secured, against their annual tormentors since 2002. Then he put the game in the right hand of one who underwent May surgery for an aneurysm and a year earlier was 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA in 10 games (nine starts).
It’s easy to complain, even when a team is 40 games (now 41) games over .500 and older players are banged up with a cross-country flight awaiting them. When Erick Aybar flied out to left to end the eighth with the bases loaded, you exhaled with satisfaction. Rivera would close and the Yankees would have one of their best wins in a season filled with many.
With guts comes glory, and win or lose, respect. Kennedy is back from a serious health issue a lot sooner than anyone expected. Whether he sneaks onto the postseason roster or not (probably not), he’ll pitch in the Arizona Fall League and receive a golden opportunity to start for the Yankees in 2010.
“Just to be pitching is an accomplishment,” Kennedy said. “And then to be pitching here, and in a big situation, there are no words to describe it. It got a little crazy, but I was glad it worked out barely. These are big, important wins for us.”
The magic number is five. The Red Sox are in town this weekend. The indeterminable Joba Chamberlain starts against Jon Lester tomorrow night. You want to see the Yankees enter the postseason healthy and winning, so the games remain important. For one day, Kennedy played his part while emerging victorious from not only a game, but the biggest battle of his young life.
Two things to keep an eye on today: David Robertson will throw a bullpen session and Jerry Hairston Jr. will undergo a second MRI on his left wrist. The Yankees need Robertson to be their seventh/late-inning fireballer and Hairston to fill multiple roles off the bench. If he’s forced to miss at least the ALDS, Pena can fill the void to a point. He’s yet to play in the outfield, which would make Eric Hinske’s presence more important.