The Yankees Reclaim First Place (For Now)

Nothing's fixed, but winning makes it feel a lot better

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Winning puts a very different spin on things.

    When the story of this season is written, Rays second baseman Elliot Johnson may find himself in a crucial role.

    Johnson made two huge blunders on balls hit by Derek Jeter on Wednesday night, leading to five of the six runs that the Yankees used to snap their losing streak with a 6-4 win over the Rays.

    The Orioles lost by the same count in Toronto, which means the Yankees are back in first by themselves as they head to Baltimore for the biggest series of baseball in that town since Cal Ripken's streak was still in business.

    Johnson flubbed a Jeter pop up to start the fourth inning, which got ruled a single by a scorer who apparently wants Jeter to get to 4,000 hits, and the Yankees capitalized with back-to-back doubles by Alex Rodriguez and Russell Martin to score three runs. The impetus might have been a Rays mistake, but the hitting with runners on base was everything that's been missing from the Yankee offense during this rough streak.

    Hiroki Kuroda would blow that lead as well as the one Martin gave him with a solo homer in the top of the sixth inning, continuing an unhappy trend of Yankee starters without the steel to protect leads. Kuroda has been the most reliable Yankee starter this year, so they should hope this was a temporary blip instead of a signal that he's taking his turn in the garbage pile.

    Kuroda wouldn't blow the last lead, although give him credit for trying. The Yankees took the lead for good when Johnson threw the ball away when trying to throw out Ichiro at the plate after a Jeter grounder with runners on second and third.

    Steve Pearce scored on the play as well and both men were in position to score because Jayson Nix's bunt had moved them along. Hitting coach Kevin Long proposed more bunting on Tuesday night, something that seemed like suggesting dropping your computer off a roof to get it working after trying all the traditional methods.

    The Yankees are never going to be the Whitey Herzog Cardinals. They don't have the speed to pull off that kind of approach and they play in a stadium that rewards power above all else, so it would be unwise to go all small.

    Having that idea in the head might do the trick, though. Thinking about building a run instead of getting it in one swing of the bat bore some fruit against a good lefty pitcher on Wednesday and boosted the confidence a bit heading into Baltimore.

    Not too much, hopefully, because one win doesn't change the realities of the situation. The Yankees could still walk out of Baltimore in second or third place if both teams play the way they've been playing for the last month and there's plenty of time left for the Yankees to put a bow on a collapse.

    But, as Wednesday reminded us, there's plenty of time for them to find their footing and win the division. The next four games will let us know which is likelier.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.