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On Friday, these pages featured the opinion that CC Sabathia's return to the mound that night represented the biggest game of the year for the Yankees.
Their divisional lead was down to 2.5 games as the Rays streaked through August and the Yankees seemed to be spinning their wheels a bit instead of continuing to progress toward the postseason. It felt like a defining moment for the team, but, as it turns out, we were a couple of days early.
Joe Girardi managed Sunday afternoon's game in Cleveland as if there would be dire consequences if the team were to lose. He pulled Freddy Garcia with two outs and two on in the fifth inning, an aggressive move that could have come back to haunt him if his bullpen proved to be incapable of picking up 13 outs without allowing the Indians to pump up their scoreboard.
And he didn't mess around with middle relievers so that everyone remained in their prescribed relief roles. Girardi has been criticized on occasion for punting games rather than stretch his aging roster or key relievers, but he managed this thing like it was the seventh game of the World Series.
The bullpen pulled through for him. Boone Logan got them out of the fifth and then got four more outs before David Robertson and Rafael Soriano each picked up four outs of their own to close out the 4-2 victory.
Girardi took a risk by leaning so heavily on the three most capable pitchers in his bullpen, but he was rewarded for his faith in their abilities. The Rays were idle Sunday after losing two straight to the A's -- they cleared out of town ahead of the Republican convention, which is, of course, clearing out itself because of the storm heading toward the Gulf -- so the Yankees come back to New York with a four-game lead in the AL East.
They'd like it to be bigger, obviously, but the lead looks pretty good after all the hand-wringing of last week. The chances of the Rays playing at the same pace the rest of the way are pretty slim, which means even a modest bulge takes on a more imposing character at this point in the season.
When all is said and done, there's a decent chance that this Sunday doesn't register among the biggest moments of the Yankee season. It felt a lot different watching it unfold, however, and it has a good chance of making things a good bit easier the rest of the way.