Yanks earn split of double dip
Nady's RBI single in seventh caps comeback victory
NEW YORK -- The Yankees knew they were settling in for a long day when they filed in early Saturday, brushing sleep sand from bleary eyes and clutching hot extra-tall lattes.
They took the orders with half-and-half. After dropping the opener of a day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, Xavier Nady's tiebreaking single in the seventh inning helped the Yankees to to a 6-5 victory and a twin-bill split.
Winning one and losing one may not mean a whole lot in the grander picture, as the Yankees (78-70) will be eliminated from Wild Card contention with any further combination of seven losses or Red Sox wins. But as they opened the final homestand in the Bronx, they are still playing for something else.
"Any time you take the field, you have a lot of pride," Nady said. "These days are tough, long days. But you've got to scratch and claw to get wins and build some positives."
Trailing after Sidney Ponson served up a fourth-inning grand slam, the Yankees came back with two runs in the seventh. The big break was a two-error play against J.P. Howell (6-1), as Bobby Abreu rolled a double-play grounder to shortstop that Ben Zobrist threw away.
Right fielder Gabe Gross had trouble picking up the ball as Derek Jeter raced around to score from first, and Nady greeted Grant Balfour with a solid hit up the middle, giving New York its first lead since the first inning.
With Phil Coke (2 2/3 innings) and Damaso Marte (one inning, win) hurling scoreless relief to keep the game close, Abreu added a run-scoring single off Chad Bradford in the eighth before Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth inning around an RBI single for his 34th save in 35 opportunities.
The victory came after the Rays (88-58) defeated Mike Mussina and the Yankees, 7-1, in the first game, as James Shields hurled eight scoreless innings to hold down New York's offense. Mussina was touched for five runs in five innings as his pursuit of a first 20-victory season remained stuck on 17.
"It's a long day for everyone involved," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You want to take two, and you don't. But after losing the first one, we did the best that we could -- we split, and we've got a chance to take a series. It's a day when we saw a lot of good things and we saw some bad things."
The Rays hit Ponson -- struggling to get pitches over for quality strikes -- hard through the first three innings, but were not able to come through with damage until the fourth. Ponson walked two in the frame and allowed a hit before Zobrist belted a grand slam over the right-field wall.
That was the final pitch thrown by Ponson, who allowed six hits over 3 1/3 innings and -- with the recall of rookie Phil Hughes earlier Saturday -- left his next start in doubt.
"I got whipped," Ponson said. "I fell behind, I couldn't throw strikes and that's what happened. I'm going to bounce back from it. I'm not going to throw in the towel. We have to play every game here, and it doesn't matter what the circumstances are."
Girardi said that a decision between Hughes and Ponson -- who would pitch on short rest if he goes on Wednesday vs. the White Sox -- had not yet been reached, though it was the third time in Ponson's past four starts that he was not able to crack five innings.
"Sidney had a hard time getting ahead in the count tonight," Girardi said. "He struggled with his control and he was in trouble almost every inning. There was the one grand slam, but it could have been a lot worse."
After Alex Rodriguez's first-inning sacrifice fly, the Yankees added two runs in the fourth off Rays starter Matt Garza, led by Wilson Betemit's sixth home run of the year, a solo shot to right.
Ivan Rodriguez singled, stole second and moved to third on an error before scoring on a Brett Gardner groundout to bring around New York's third run. Ponson's early departure did not deter the Yankees, who turned to the rookie Coke to keep the game close.
Coke hurled 2 2/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief as his impressive run of early success continues at the big league level. A converted starting pitcher, Coke has not allowed a run in his first five Major League outings, and he may be gaining confidence after admitting to nearly-overwhelming nerves in his debut on Sept. 1 at Detroit.
"I've been told by a couple of guys in here that they feel I belong here," Coke said. "I'm just Joe Schmoe coming in here and getting a chance to play with these guys. They can tell me to drop and do 500 push-ups and I'll try, if it's going to make me better."
On a statistical front, Jeter had a doubleheader to remember, stroking three hits in the first game and three more in the nightcap. That gave him 1,266 for his career at Yankee Stadium, closing within three hits of Lou Gehrig's all-time mark of 1,269 with eight regular-season games remaining in the Bronx.
"I'm not really thinking about it," Jeter said. "I get asked about it, but we're trying to win games. We've dug ourselves quite a hole, and the only way we can get out of it is to win."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.