The new center fielder (Curtis Granderson) is testing out his injured groin, the new designated hitter (Nick Johnson) is headed for wrist surgery, the new starting pitcher (Javier Vazquez) is being skipped and making relief appearances.
As for the newest addition to the bench, Marcus Thames has none of those problems. The only issue he has is getting at-bats but last night nagging injuries to Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada brought Thames up with a chance to win it.
Thames delivered in a huge way, crushing a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth inning off Jonathan Papelbon to give the Yankees an 11-9 triumph over the Red Sox last night.
Thames second career walk-off home run continued a trend of productivity for a player who was signed to a minor league deal and struggled during spring training. When he hit a first-pitch fastball from Papelbon, it capped a four RBI night and marked the 10th of his 20 games that he has driven in a run.
“It was great. I was just happy to get a pitch and drive it,” Thames said. “I haven’t been hitting the ball that hard all season. I did some stuff in the cages today, and I didn’t chase anything that last at-bat. It paid off for me.”
The home run was not the only reward for the work in the cages. That came moments later during the postgame interview with the YES Network when pie-master A.J. Burnett hopped over the dugout railing and delivered the first whipped cream pie of the year.
“It’s great for him,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Marcus has had a great year for us so far and he’s just a great man. We’re happy to have him and he’s fitting in very well here.”
Thames would not even have had the opportunity if Rodriguez did not prolong the inning with a one-out two-run blast.
“I think that’s the feeling we had all of last year,” Rodriguez said. “No matter what, we feel like we have a chance to win every game at home. We like playing here, and until the last out is collected, we feel like we’re going to win the game.”
I think it’s what you go through a lot when you play the Red Sox,” manager Joe Girardi said. “These are the types of games that are played. Sometimes they can be high-scoring and very exciting, and sometimes they can be lower-scoring, tight games as well. These are the types of things you go through during the course of a game. You can never count yourself out.”
If it took beyond the ninth, Vazquez’s third career regular-season relief appearance would have been extended quite a while. Girardi said that he could have given the Yankees 100 pitches but instead he just needed four.
The last pitch by Vazquez was a slider that tailed off the plate and struck out Kevin Youkilis and when Thames homered, the struggling righty earned the win.
“I really don’t know what I’m doing out there as a reliever but I just tried to make good pitches” Vazquez said.
Two of the three relievers preceding Vazquez did not make good pitches, especially Chan Ho Park. In his first appearance off the DL, Park allowed a two-run homer to Youkilis and a solo shot to Victor Martinez that gave the Red Sox a 9-7 lead.
Those were two of five home runs allowed by Yankee pitching, which essentially was playing three men short. Girardi declared Joba Chamberlain unavailable not because he pitched consecutive days but because he warmed up twice Saturday. He also did not have David Robertson and Sergio Mitre at his disposal.
That is why when Phil Hughes could only get through five innings, Girardi was left scrambling.
Early it looked like an easy night for Hughes and the Yankees. After throwing 19 pitches in the first, Hughes watched as his teammates scored five off Daisuke Matsuzaka with four rapid-fire singles and a double.
Thames added an RBI double that knocked out Matsuzaka and then saved his final uppercut for Papelbon.
Thames said it was not the first time he was pied following a home run. He also had the pie treatment on June 10, 2002 when he homered off Randy Johnson in his Yankee debut at Yankee Stadium. That pie was delivered by backup catcher Alberto Castillo.
Vazquez is still on target to start Friday at CITI Field. Girardi said even if Vazquez would have thrown 45 to 50 pitches, he would not be skipped. He also reiterated that the Red Sox had nothing to do with Vazquez not starting last night.
“I want to make this clear,” Girardi said. “He was not skipped because of that situation. Our bullpen is a mess. We needed a long guy. We could not activate Chan Ho Park if you didn’t have a long man. You couldn’t call up some of the guys we sent down, you couldn’t recall them, and you did not have Nova. We wanted Chan Ho Park back in our bullpen, and that’s why Javy had to do it.”
In six career plate appearances against Papelbon, Brett Gardner is 4-for-4 with two walks. One of those hits was a game-winning single in the 10th inning on July 6, 2008 that capped his first week in the major leagues.