It was worth the wait. After the effects of Hurricane Hanna pushed back Game 4 on Saturday between the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Yankees came away with a walk-off win Sunday to move on to the Governor’s Cup finals. A two-run homer from Shelley Duncan in the 10th inning broke a scoreless game to help the Yankees advance. Duncan may have delivered the game-winner, but the performance of the game came from Phil Hughes, who pitched eight shutout innings and gave up just four hits. Hughes also struck out 11 without recording a single walk–he threw 94 pitches, 75 for strikes. But the right-hander left the game with the score tied and was forced to settle for a no-decision while reliever Scott Strickland picked up the win.
The team was without Melky Cabrera, who rejoined the big league club in Seattle on Friday as a precaution after Bobby Abreu jammed his left wrist. Cabrera had struggled in the Majors this season, batting .242 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs. But he became a consistent part of the Triple-A offense since being optioned Aug. 15. Cabrera hit .333 from the plate in 15 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He will serve as a reserve outfielder for the big league Yankees as they make an improbable push for the playoffs.
But another Yankees affiliate has already worked its way into a championship series. Double-A Trenton Thunder moved into the Eastern League finals with a three-game sweep of the Portland Sea Dogs. The difference-maker in the final game came when the Thunder loaded the bases and Colin Curtis used patience at the plate to draw a walk and force in the winning run.
That’s right. Time for September callups as the Major League rosters officially expand to 40 players Monday. While the big league club is still fighting for a chance to play in the postseason, two of the Yankees affiliates already clinched spots in the their respective playoffs. Manager Joe Girardi said earlier this week that the Bronx has always been the most important place in the organization, and he will not hesitate to bring up players from the Double-A or Triple-A squads if he thinks they can help the Major League club.
Even so, it appears the time for callups will pass relatively quietly for the Yankees. Girardi confirmed Sunday that catcher Chad Moeller will return to the club Monday, and left-hander Phil Coke will also join the team as a member of the bullpen as the Bombers head to Detroit to kick off a 10-game road trip.
Girardi said the bullpen is a focus for the Yankees right now, and it will get a big boost soon. Righty Joba Chamberlain is set to be activated Monday if all goes according to plan, and Dan Giese will likely join the team Tuesday in Tampa Bay. New York already called up one hurler from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when Alfredo Aceves joined the club Thursday after a rough couple of days for the Yankees relievers. To make room on the roster, the Bombers optioned Dave Robertson, but hope to recall him soon.
Other potential callups include outfielders Melky Cabrera and Justin Christian. Both have spent significant time with the Major League club this season, but with Xavier Nady, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu in the lineup every day, there may not be room for both Cabrera and Christian on the roster.
While the big league club is still trying to claw its way back up the standings for a spot in the postseason, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees clinched a spot in the playoffs with a wild win Friday night. They trailed 10-4 after six innings, rallied for a five-run seventh, then got the go-ahead two-run homer from Shelley Duncan in the eighth only to give up the lead in the ninth. But when the IronPigs left fielder dropped a routine fly ball, the Yankees came out on top and with a guaranteed playoff spot.
The win came despite a rocky outing from right-hander Phil Hughes, who exited early after 3 1/3 innings, giving up eight runs on 10 hits. The outing came shortly after the Major League club selected Carl Pavano to fill the spot in its starting rotation. Hughes had been a heavy contender for the role. One pitcher who was never considered for the spot instead is using it as motivation. Chase Wright improved to 2-0 on Saturday. He pitched seven scoreless innings, giving up just five hits and striking out three with no walks.
Meanwhile, Melky Cabrera is trying his best to prove to Joe Girardi and the Yankees that he’s working hard to improve his baserunning skills–one of the aspects Girardi felt Cabrera needed to get better at. But the center fielder has been tagged out three times attempting to steal in the span of a week, so while the effort is there, the payoff is not.
With pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Dan Giese on the disabled list, the Yankees have an open spot in the starting rotation. The most likely candidates? Phil Hughes and Carl Pavano. Both hurlers are working back from their own injuries, and the rehab process is almost complete. A day off Monday means the Bombers would not need a fifth starter until Saturday, and Hughes and Pavano both pitched Sunday, each making a separate case for a return to the big leagues.
And based on Sunday’s numbers, the job would go to Pavano. He threw 88 pitches in six innings to pick up the win in his third rehab start for the Trenton Thunder. He struck out six and scattered six hits with just one walk. Things didn’t go as well for Hughes with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After posting two shutout innings, he gave up five runs and left after 3 2/3 innings. His velocity also decreased. He had been throwing approximately 92-94 mph in earlier rehab starts, but averaged 90-92 on Sunday.
Melky Cabrera also made his first appearance for Scranton since being sent down Friday. He started in center field and went 1-for-1 at the plate with four walks. He scored two runs, but he was thrown out trying to score from second base in the first inning. Baserunning was one aspect Yankees manager Joe Girardi felt that Cabrera could work on in Triple-A.
Slugger Hideki Matsui made an immediate impact in his first rehab start for Class-A Tampa on Friday. He homered in the first game of a double-header to provide the difference in a 1-0 victory. The designated hitter played again Saturday and had 15 simulated at-bats Sunday. Matsui was placed on the disabled list with left knee inflammation, but no swelling has resulted from his activity during the rehab starts, and if all continues to go well, he could rejoin the Yankees as early as Tuesday for a three-game series in Toronto, adding a big bat to the middle of the lineup.