Yanks regroup to beat Rangers
Ponson offers relief for taxed bullpen with 6 1/3 sharp innings
ARLINGTON -- Lest the rest of the season speed on by them, the Yankees have no choice but to look ahead. There's no use in looking back at Joba Chamberlain, a pitcher who might not return to the team this season. No use in looking back at Chien-Ming Wang or Phil Hughes or Jorge Posada. Call it bad luck; call it baseball. The Yankees call it an excuse.
And they won't taint their season by relying on excuses.
So the Yankees made none on Wednesday, and wound up needing none. Their 5-3 win over the Rangers was complete and comprehensive, drawing from a patched-up rotation and a taxed bullpen and a cyclical offense. The Yankees showcased the finest traits of all three areas on Wednesday, and so they left Rangers Ballpark with a win.
They did not escape with a win, but they earned one instead.
"It was good to win," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "I don't really care who was pitching, to be honest with you."
But he knew it was Sidney Ponson, a former rotation stopgap who has bullied his way into a regular job with the Yankees. Despite allowing a two-run single to Chris Davis in the second inning Wednesday, and despite serving up a solo homer to Michael Young in the sixth, Ponson handled his former team as efficiently as the Yankees might have hoped.
His final line wasn't quite as sparkling as the one he produced against the Angels last week, but his process was perhaps even more impressive. Ponson recorded eight ground-ball outs and only five flyouts -- one-third the amount he had against the Angels. That's no small detail, considering how fly balls tend to rocket over walls in this Texas heat. Ponson knew that coming in, so he took extra care to throw a sharp sinker.
"I always try to keep the fly balls to a minimum," Ponson said. "When you're a sinkerball pitcher and they're hitting fly balls, that means it's not working."
But Ponson had another reason to keep the ball on the ground, as well.
"I never saw a ground ball leave the ballpark," he said.
Compared to days past, even fly balls on Wednesday had a tough time clearing the wall. Other than Young's hit, only Jason Giambi's home run in the fourth inning escaped the park. But that's not to say that there were no fireworks.
Perhaps the game's most significant -- and damaging -- play came in the second inning, when Ian Kinsler served a single into shallow right field. Charging the ball, Bobby Abreu fired home, where the ball, catcher Ivan Rodriguez and baserunner David Murphy all arrived at once.
Murphy was out. Rodriguez was on the ground. And both players left with injuries.
Yet that out also ended the inning, stunting the Rangers' most productive rally and keeping the Yankees well within striking distance.
Soon after, they struck. The Yankees plated one run on Wilson Betemit's double in the third, another on Johnny Damon's groundout and a third on Jeter's single. And the offense was more than enough to back Ponson, even giving him something of a cushion. Which was significant, because with the bullpen still taxed and uncertainty marring the rotation, the Yankees needed as much length from Ponson as they could possibly get.
"I like to go deep every game, but knowing that the bullpen was a little bit thin, I'm happy that I could give them 6 1/3 today," Ponson said.
Bullpens, of course, are supposed to shorten the game -- not lengthen it, as both 'pens did on Tuesday. Making that task easier on Wednesday was the presence of Mariano Rivera, who hadn't pitched in five days while battling back spasms.
On this night he did pitch, and did so quite effectively, allowing a single and nothing else.
"Definitely, I was ready for the opportunity," Rivera said. "I felt good."
So did the Yankees -- as much as they could, at least, after hearing the news that Chamberlain wouldn't touch a baseball for a week. Their young star was diagnosed with right rotator cuff tendinitis, an injury that manager Joe Girardi called "good news" but that Rivera called "serious." Beyond that, the Yankees know little else.
Chamberlain could be gone for three weeks. He could be gone for three months. Right now, it doesn't matter, because the Yankees must continue winning without him.
Ponson is not Chamberlain -- not even close -- but down the stretch, he may just prove more important to the team. The Yankees spent much of this week talking about their critical position in the standings, and what they must do to save their season.
Ponson might not be the answer, but he is a key. And Chamberlain, perhaps, isn't. He's an important part of their future, but now, he's just another injured pitcher. And the Yankees must proceed with the men they have in uniform, in Texas, in good health.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.