"I've been in here for like four hours," said a wired Phil Hughes, fully iced, dressed and showered long before the game's end. "I'll have a little more energy for tomorrow.
That makes one. The rest of the Yankees were utterly spent -- though it's not as if they cared. Their labors produced one very sweet fruit, when Melky Cabrera ended a five-hour game with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th to give the Yankees a 12-11 win.
For most of the night, that result seemed at times inevitable and at others impossible. Cabrera had, after all, opened the afternoon 0-for-4, plunging ever deeper into the slump that saw him amass just three hits in 44 at-bats -- an .068 average, as if such hollow numbers need further explanation.
But with 423 pitches in this game, Cabrera managed to find three he liked. In the seventh inning, he gave the Yankees a short-lived lead with a two-run single, and in the eighth, he tied the game back up with a shot that second baseman Aaron Hill misplayed into another two-run hit.
Then, two outs after Jorge Posada opened the 10th with a fly ball double down the left-field line, Cabrera sent everyone home with the most merciful line drive of the night. Combined with his other two hits, it more than vindicated manager Joe Torre, who has insisted on trotting out his 23-year-old center fielder nearly every day.
"The manager just trusted me too much," Cabrera said through an interpreter. "I felt like I was letting him down."
Before lifting him up. Turns out that trust was warranted -- especially after the Blue Jays almost escaped with their second straight win in extra innings. The scare came in the top of the inning, when Matt Stairs attempted to score from first on Hill's double. But Cabrera -- who else -- barehanded the ball off the wall and fired a strike to Robinson Cano, who relayed it home to beat a huffing Stairs by the tiniest of margins.
That play, along with Cabrera's third single, ultimately made Jeff Karstens a winner. No small feat, considering Karstens was the 10th Yankees pitcher of the night -- and few of the previous nine fared particularly well.
"I think we're happy with the way it turned out," Karstens said. "We wanted it to end quick."
Karstens couldn't have everything -- the five-hour game was compounded by a 92-minute rain delay, which brought the total time closer to seven hours -- but he certainly escaped with a wider smile than most of his bullpen brethren. The Yankees entered the game knowing they couldn't use Joba Chamberlain (see: the Joba Rules) and Jose Vizcaino (see: 24 pitches in Friday night's 14-inning affair). So, when Hughes needed 99 pitches to finish five lackluster innings, Torre was left with a host of second options.
Nine of them, to be exact. And while some worked out fine -- Ron Villone, Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Britton, Kei Igawa, Mariano Rivera and Karstens combined for 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief -- others didn't.
Jose Veras surrendered the first Blue Jays comeback, serving up four runs on two hits, two walks, a wild pitch and a passed ball. So Torre tried Edwar Ramirez, who coughed up his third run in two nights to deepen the hole. Torre then went to Kyle Farnsworth, who recorded just one out -- a rocket line drive to first.
All the while, the Yankees kept charging back, only to lose their footing every time they gained an edge. While Cabrera starred late in the game, credit healthy assists to Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, who chipped in with three RBIs apiece.
Whatever works, apparently.
"It's not always the right result," Torre said. "But today was."
Torre also called the game "no fun," and he meant it. For his bullpen to allow eight runs to a Blue Jays club missing its three top hitters -- Vernon Wells and Troy Glaus are out for the season, and Frank Thomas left this one long before the hit parade began -- he couldn't escape without some bit of concern. Granted, many of these pitchers won't even be on the postseason roster, let alone enter an October game. But the bullpen depth leaves something to be desired.
Then again, Melky Cabrera drinks from a glass half full. For every question the Blue Jays posed on Saturday, the Yankees had a quick and effective answer. And what they lacked in depth, they made up for in resiliency. There's really only one way the Yankees could feel good after allowing 11 runs in the height of a pennant race, and they found it.
Some might find that inspiring. Others, harrowing. But the result remains the same.
"We dodged a bullet tonight," Torre said.
Several, actually. But who's counting?