Betemit lifts Yanks to third straight win
Seventh-inning double the difference; Aceves has quality start
NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter's every swing glinted on Monday, accompanied by hundreds of flash bulbs throughout Yankee Stadium. If the partisan crowd didn't know any better, they might have mistaken this night for October. Surely, it was not -- Jeter was simply chasing history. But those lights in the Bronx were still plenty bright.
"They made me swing at bad pitches," Jeter joked.
Which, he also reassured, was perfectly fine. Jeter's 0-for-4 performance proved to be one of the few dim spots in a game that saw Mariano Rivera move into second place on the all-time saves list, Alfredo Aceves further state his case for next season's rotation and the Yankees deal a forceful blow to the contending White Sox, beating them, 4-2, at Yankee Stadium.
"We played an outstanding game," manager Joe Girardi said.
Jeter's four moments in the spotlight came thanks to his current position, knotted with Lou Gehrig for first all-time on the Yankee Stadium hit list. But for the team's captain, this hitless night hardly proved to be a worry.
More vexing to Jeter and his Yankees (80-70) was the future, which may or may not include Aceves. Still in the midst of a season that has seen him rocket through the farm system and bully his way into contention for next year's rotation, Aceves fired six effective innings to give New York a chance to win.
And he did it in front of a sold-out crowd, against a team fighting for its postseason life. The White Sox (83-66) need wins as much as any team in baseball, turning this into a rather critical game. Thanks to that, and thanks to Jeter, fans and cameras were everywhere. Only the sticky September weather belied the fact that within the greater scope of this season, Monday's game likely meant little.
Aceves, if he cared about that information, chose to ignore it. Aside from the two-run homer he served up to Dewayne Wise in the fourth inning, the newest Yankees starter proved plenty capable, striking out three and allowing five hits.
"It's the same baseball, different level," said Aceves, only months removed from a roster spot with Class A Tampa.
"He has risen very quickly through the Minor Leagues," Girardi said. "He is mature. He has four pitches. He's able to throw them all at any time, and that's, obviously, a big plus."
Maturity proved to be a popular topic earlier in the afternoon as well, when Girardi explained his decision to bench Robinson Cano for misplaying a ground ball in Sunday's game against the Rays. It wasn't right, Girardi said. And Cano agreed.
And so when Girardi called upon his young second baseman to pinch-run in Monday's eighth inning and then play the field in the ninth, Cano did not disappoint. Aligned in short right field with the pull-hitting Jim Thome at the plate, Cano raced toward the infield dirt as soon as Thome hit a weak grounder toward the right side. Scooping the ball with his bare hand and firing a strike to first base, Cano recorded the out and went quietly back to his business.
Two batters later, the game was over, and Rivera had passed Lee Smith for sole possession of second place on the all-time saves list with 479.
"I'm so happy for Mo," Jeter said. "That's what people should be talking about, because his consistency throughout the years is second to none. He deserves everything he gets."
There were other bright spots, as well. Phil Coke (1-0) fired another scoreless inning, his eighth since joining the big club for his first Major League win -- perhaps making his own case for the 2009 rotation. Xavier Nady provided most of the necessary offense, drilling a two-run homer in the second inning and walking in the seventh to spark the game-winning rally. And Wilson Betemit converted that rally, hitting a tiebreaking pinch-hit double that nearly cleared the left-center-field wall.
At that moment, the sellout crowd of 53,236 cheered as if this game meant something. Which made sense, of course, because it did.
Even if the Yankees don't earn a playoff berth -- and it would take baseball's version of a miracle for them to make it -- they can still grow throughout these waning weeks. Aceves can audition. Cano can mature. Jeter and Rivera and others can lead.
"You see the real character of people this time of year -- when things are tough," Girardi said.
It's not where the Yankees want to be, sure, but it's where they are. No use sulking. And yes, had New York played more games like this one over the season's first five and a half months, it'd surely be in a better position. But perhaps that, too, can be a valuable lesson.
"I enjoy the moment," Girardi said. "I enjoy the game. And when the game's over, you can worry about the next day. We've done a lot of good things."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.