A month from now, the Yankees will be preparing for the division series after winning the play-in game, lamenting what went wrong while losing that game or regretting the games they lost against inferior teams which kept them out of the playoffs for just the second time since 1993.
The Yankees are doing their best to reach at least the first two scenarios and avoid the third, which is why sweeping the White Sox was of the utmost importance. Not only for the present but also because three of their most regrettable losses occurred in Chicago nearly a month ago.
The Yankees completed a three-game sweep of the White Sox with Wednesday night’s 6-5 victory — a run perfectly timed with four games coming up against the Red Sox this weekend and three more in Boston next weekend.
“It’s extremely important,” manager Joe Girardi said of the upcoming series. “It’s a tough series. They’re playing well. They’re swinging the bats well and they’ve been a team that we’ve been chasing all year, so obviously it’s important to get to where we really want.”
Since that embarrassing sweep in Chicago against a team that had a 10-game losing streak, the Yankees have gone from one game over .500 (57-56) to 11 over at 75-64. During this run of 18 wins in 26 games, the Yankees have done most of the damage against teams they should beat at home by taking three of four from the Angels, sweeping four against the Blue Jays while taking two of three from Detroit and Baltimore.
The win Wednesday almost became something to add to the regrettable loss category in the eighth when CC Sabathia tired after going 7 1/3 innings. After Sabathia’s longest outing in nearly a month, David Robertson allowed a two-run, bases-loaded single to Josh Phegley followed by an RBI single to Marcus Semien.
“It was a tough inning,” Robertson said. “I couldn’t make anything work. It seemed like anything I threw either got put in play, found a hole or was hit hard. It was tough.”
“We brought in guys that have done the job all year and we eventually got it done but it probably got closer than all of us would have liked,” Girardi said.
Robertson’s struggles forced Mariano Rivera to come in for a four-out save, which is something the Yankees would have preferred to do against the Red Sox. But with two on and two out it was something the Yankees could not worry about.
Rivera made the Yankees and crowd of 36,082 exhale when Alejando De Aza stared at a 3-2 cutter on the outside corner of the plate. De Aza argued briefly with plate umpire Tim Welke but it did not matter and the Yankees were on their way once again.
“I always hate to leave in the middle of an inning, especially with runners on base and put D-Rob in a tough situation,” Sabathia said. “It’s just frustrating on my part.
“I really didn’t know how many pitches I had. At this point, I’m not at liberty to argue with [Girardi] with the way I pitched this year.”
He and the Yankees would have been mouthing some choice words had the lead totally evaporated, which is why Rivera came in with four outs remaining.
“As much as I need to and feel that he’s capable of doing it,” Girardi said of Rivera.
“We need to do whatever it takes,” Rivera said. “Two outs, three outs, whatever it takes.”
Before that minor scare in the eighth, the Yankees continued their theme of big innings in this series. They had an eight-run fourth Monday and a five-run eighth Tuesday. It was four-run fourth, when eight men came to the plate, that ultimately paved the way for the win on Wednesday.
The Yankees didn’t crush hits but they didn’t have to. They just had to place them in the right spots while taking advantage of a mistake.
The key mistake that aided the Yankees was rookie starter Erik Johnson fielding a broken bat comebacker by Ichiro Suzuki and making a bad throw to first base. Three pitches later, the Yankees had the lead on Lyle Overbay’s double to right field and a few minutes later, it was 4-1 on Brett Gardner’s triple that got wedged under the left field wall for a few seconds.
The Yankees made it 5-1 on a hard-hit single by Robinson Cano that deflected off Johnson toward third base. Cano raced out of the box and barely beat the throw as Gardner crossed the plate.
Alfonso Soriano added a sacrifice fly, which ultimately proved to be the winning run.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.