It's September 22nd and the Yankees finally have their full lineup at their disposal.
The Rays had to face Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Lance Berkman, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner on Tuesday night and it was their bad luck that they ran into the Yankees on the rare night this season that they had their full complement of weapons. The Rays paid the price. The Yankees rang up eight runs, with five of them coming in a first inning that buried Rays starter James Shields.
It was the second straight night that the Yankees were able to post eight runs. While it seems silly to read too much into one game, but it definitely felt like the Yankees were sending a message to the Rays over the first two nights in the Bronx. The message? We know when the games really start to matter and we're still capable of doing what's necessary.
Derek Jeter is one of the main men behind that message. The captain has struggled mightily this season, but he's 4-for-10 with two doubles and two RBIs in the first two games of this series. That makes a 10-game hitting streak for the shortstop and should bring at least a temporary end to questions about his future with the team. His swing, which looked so lost just a couple of weeks ago, is now back in shape and confidence in the chances of the Yankees has risen along with him.
He's not the only one who is back on track. Phil Hughes didn't pitch as well as he did in last week's loss to the Rays, but he pitched well enough to continue to quiet concerns about his ability to help the team come October. He was most impressive in the fourth when he loaded the bases with a 5-2 lead and then got out of the jam by getting Ben Zobrist to bounce out. It wasn't a perfect inning -- two walks helped create the trouble -- but Hughes escaped unscathed, something that wasn't happening for much of the second half.
After Hughes departed, the Yankees turned to Javier Vazquez and, predictably, Javy made a mess. Joba Chamberlain had to enter the game with two on and one out in the eighth and promptly loaded the bases. The Yankees had a 7-3 lead hanging in the balance, but the erstwhile phenom struck out Brad Hawpe with a 3-2 slider and got John Jaso to fly to center and end the final jam of the night. He's allowed just four runs over the last two months, which would make him an easy choice for the eighth inning spot if Kerry Wood wasn't pitching even better.
Wood has allowed only one run since joining the Yankees and when you throw David Robertson into the mix it becomes clear that the once-leaky Yankee bullpen is going to be a big strength in the postseason. Yet another reason to exhale after the issues that were plaguing the team for much of this month and start looking forward to what will be another memorable October in the Bronx.