New York Yankees starter Phil Hughes was scratched today due to back spasms and manager Joe Girardi did a masterful job of piecing together a mosaic of pitchers to help the team beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2, and clinch a playoff berth this afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees trailed for seven innings until Eduardo Nunez smashed a solo home run into the left field seats to tie the game at two. Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter followed with singles and Robinson Cano doubled to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead they would hang on to.
Less than a work of art, Girardi created a sort of Frankenstein starter by using the arms of seven different pitchers through eight innings-- to make up for the loss of Hughes and not upset the rotation-- before Mariano Rivera came in to get the save in the ninth.
The managers' creation would go toe-to-toe with Rays starter James Shields who allowed one run and four hits through seven innings-- using one spare part after another.
The head of Girardi's monster was Hector Noesi who was making his first Major League start. Noesi lasted 2.2 innings and gave up four hits and allowed the only two runs Tampa Bay would score.
After that, the mad scientist Girardi would stitch in Raul Valdes for 1.1 innings. Valdes allowed one hit and stymied the Rays with three strikeouts.
Next, Girardi would utilize George Kontos, Aaron Laffey, Corey Wade and Boone Logan in small roles until the seventh. Each of those pitchers, except Wade, would go 0.2 innings and allow a single hit apiece. Wade would last 1.1 innings.
Luis Ayala (2-2) struck out two Rays batters for the final outs in the eighth and was the beneficiary of the Yankees three-run eighth.
Mariano Rivera came in and got the last three Rays hitters out for his 44th save of the season and No. 603 for his career.
The Yankees clinched a playoff berth today for the 16th time in the last 17 years. The come-from-behind victory put the team 6 1/2 games in front of the second place Boston Red Sox.
Shields (15-12) got the devastating loss; which dropped the Rays 2 1/2 games behind the Sox in the wild card race with only eight games left. The team has now lost 5-out-of-9 and looks like it is running out of steam.
The only bad news for the Yankees was the updated condition of Hughes back spasms. After the game, Girardi was asked if the scheduled starter's injury was serious.
"Hughes went for an MRI," he reluctantly told the YES network. "I think he went for an MRI."
Dr. Girardistein now has to hit the laboratory and put together a four-man playoff rotation. Where's Igor when you need him?