Yanks capitalize, regain three-game edge over O's
Bases-loaded walk, Baltimore error key in three-run rally in seventh
NEW YORK -- If the Yankees needed to prove what they insisted on the past two days -- that no, there is no panic in the veteran clubhouse as its American League East lead went from as many as 10 games down to only two -- they did so in the seventh inning Saturday.
With the bases loaded, two out, and a one-run deficit against the second-place Orioles, Derek Jeter stepped in against Pedro Strop, his 1.86 ERA and 98-mph fastball.
"You know Jete's not going to panic," said manager Joe Girardi.
Jeter drew a walk after falling behind, 0-2, forcing in the tying run as New York rallied to win, 4-3, and extend its lead against the Orioles back to three games atop the division.
The Yankees' captain fouled off one pitch, but he also took a pair of fastballs and two sliders out of the zone, an inning after he voiced displeasure with home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook as he returned to the dugout after a called third strike.
"I was behind, 0-2, right from the get-go, and able to lay off some tough pitches, especially the last one," Jeter said. "He's tough to face. He throws it 98, 99, and it's not straight. It's not like it's a comfortable at-bat. He threw a slider at me, 3-2, so he obviously is comfortable in all his pitches. Fortunately, it was inside a little bit."
Jeter's walk, which followed Ichiro Suzuki's against Strop, set up Swisher with the bases loaded, bringing a vocal crowd of 46,122 to its feet.
"In a situation like that," Swisher said, "I feel like the crowd gets the 'Derek Jeter' chant going and something good's going to happen for us."
Something good meant an error by J.J. Hardy, who entered the day with the best fielding percentage among all big league shortstops. Hardy booted Swisher's ground ball and allowed the go-ahead run to score, capping a three-run seventh and ending Strop's day after three batters and no outs, allowing each of his inherited runners from Wei-Yin Chen to score.
"Everything just happened quick," Strop said.
Baltimore spent the first six innings providing little doubt that it is a serious contender atop the AL East, appearing poised to cut New York's division lead to one with a chance to sweep and tie for the lead in Sunday's finale. Instead, the Yankees finally created offense against Chen, whose only prior miscue came on a Robinson Cano homer in the fourth.
The left-hander came out just like Miguel Gonzalez a night earlier -- and Girardi likened the two starters with their sneaky fastballs -- retiring the side in order for each of the first three innings. Although Cano homered in the fourth, and nearly did it again in the sixth, New York showed little signs of a prolonged threat with a lineup that included recently acquired Steve Pearce, reserve infielder Jayson Nix and September callup Eduardo Nunez.
But that trio started New York's rally and scored its seventh-inning runs, as Pearce -- inserted when Curtis Granderson left the game after two innings with a tight right hamstring -- singled, Nix walked, and Nunez hit an RBI single up the middle.
"Everyone had a great at-bat that inning," said Nunez, who appeared in 21 games for the Yankees earlier this season before a demotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and who returned to New York before the matinee Saturday. "Nobody tried to do too much."
The rally took a shaky David Phelps off the hook for the loss. Manager Joe Girardi altered his rotation for Saturday, moving the right-hander up a day, and Phelps turned in his shortest and most ineffective start since he stopped shuffling between the bullpen and the rotation to become a reliable fill-in for Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, or whichever Yankees pitcher was the most recent to find himself on the disabled list.
In six career starts, Phelps walked nine batters and struck out 33. Against the Orioles, he walked six, hit one and struck out three, departing after 4 2/3 innings, but also limiting the damage to only three runs.
"I'm obviously going to take positives from it, but they're not going to outweigh my frustration with the way I threw today," Phelps said. "Six walks and a hit batter, that's unacceptable. Regardless of what stuff you have out there, it has to be better. Throwing strikes, that should never be an issue for me."
Phelps acknowledged it was the biggest game of his young career, and he felt it early on, admitting it may have contributed to 98 pitches with only 50 for strikes. But once the bullpen took over, it kept the Orioles at three runs, setting up a rally and bases-loaded at-bat for a player with plenty more big-game experience than the rookie Phelps.
"I'm a firm believer that you don't look at the standings," Jeter said. "With the position we're in, if we win games, we'll be fine."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.