The word people usually use is momentum — that magical property that can will a team from one win to the next and can turn mediocre seasons into memorable ones. But it wasn’t momentum that laid down Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning or caused Chase Headley to break from third base on a two-out passed ball to score the winning run in a 2-1 victory over the Rangers on Thursday.
Nope. That was old-fashioned good baseball. And after their second walk-off win in a row — one wildly different from the other — it looks as if the Yankees far prefer that to any intangible property.
“Last night showed that we never give up,” Gregorius said. “We’re out there and play the game and we do things the right way . . . The confidence has always been there even when things weren’t going our way, so we pray that it does. Everyone is fighting.”
It shows. The day after the Yankees staged their biggest comeback of the season on the back of two big ninth-inning home runs — Brian McCann’s tying three-run blast and Gregorius’ walk-off two-run shot — they again used the bottom of the ninth to beat the Rangers.
This time the Yankees rode a stellar pitching performance by Michael Pineda and the bullpen and some very savvy small ball.
With the score tied at 1, Headley walked to lead off the ninth against Tony Barnette and, despite his home run the previous night and his tying solo homer in the fifth Thursday, Gregorius got the call to bunt.
“I’m not surprised to get the bunt sign,” he said, ever affable.
With Headley in scoring position, Aaron Hicks walked and Starlin Castro grounded out to first to put runners on second and third with two outs. Then Barnette’s 1-and-1 pitch to Jacoby Ellsbury, which was outside, got past catcher Robinson Chirinos, prompting Headley’s successful mad dash to the plate. He slid headfirst and beat the tag by inches, handing the Rangers their MLB-leading ninth walk-off loss of the season.
“It actually was a strange read because I was trying to get a good secondary lead knowing that [Barnette] throws a lot of balls in the dirt with the split-finger, but also knowing that they run a lot of back picks, so I was aware of them coming to get me,” Headley said. “You see the ball up in the zone and you don’t expect it to bounce and I almost took a half-step back and it went through. Once it got by, there’s no going back. You just hope that you make it.”
That sprint followed a phenomenal performance by Pineda, who allowed Shin-Soo Choo’s leadoff homer in the first, a single by Nomar Mazara two batters later and nothing else for the duration of his six-inning stint. He walked three and struck out a season-high 12.
Rangers starter A.J. Griffin was just as good, giving up two hits and striking out eight in five innings. But one of the hits was Gregorius’ eighth homer.
“We have the ability to bounce back and we’re resilient, and you have to be in this game,” Joe Girardi said. “You can’t make too much of one game and you’ve got to bounce back, and that’s what they did.”
The Yankees split the four-game series and got back to .500 before playing in San Diego on Friday night. They will be without the DH and, probably, Alex Rod riguez and Carlos Beltran, who’s nursing a sore hamstring.
But enough of that negative talk. After all, with these two walk-off wins, the Yankees have something very special in their back pocket. What is it again?
“I think there’s always confidence, momentum, good feeling,” Headley said. “I don’t know what the word is, but every time you win a walk-off, it’s a good game . . . [We] probably wouldn’t have drawn it up that way . . . but we’ll take it how we can get it.”