Having lost the first two games of a series deemed crucial to their chances, the Yankees badly needed to salvage the finale, putting their deficit at six games behind the Red Sox as they chase for the American League Wild Card with 29 left to play. It hasn't been the way they wanted to close out the Bronx ballpark, particularly of late.
"We've been stale," Giambi said. "We haven't been able to get the big hit, to make the big pitch. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. We could never really put anything together. Hopefully, this turns it around."
Handcuffed by a very tough Jon Lester through 6 2/3 innings, the Yankees came alive as one mighty Giambi swing erased a two-run Red Sox lead. Cody Ransom doubled on Lester's 119th and final pitch, and Giambi greeted left-hander Hideki Okajima by unloading on a long drive that reached the black backdrop beyond the center-field wall, taking away Lester's decision and tying the game.
"He came up huge," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's what we need. We need our players to come up big for us. There's no doubt about it. Guys that have done it in the past have a good history of being run producers."
Giambi was summoned for a curtain call, and less than 24 hours after the Yankees' bullpen turned a two-run game into a rout, the relief corps was also entitled to take a bow.
With Mike Mussina off the hook after pitching seven solid innings, three relievers combined to hold the Red Sox down, with Mariano Rivera recording four outs in a tie game. The ninth inning came, and right-hander Justin Masterson trudged back out in front of a crowd of 55,092 hardy supporters, a weekday afternoon crowd which was present from the first pitch but only really became vocal late.
Xavier Nady opened with a single up the middle, and Brett Gardner, pinch-running for Nady, stole second base to move the winning run into scoring position with one out. After an intentional walk, Ivan Rodriguez worked a full-count free pass to load the bases, and Giambi ripped a Jonathan Papelbon offering into center field, scoring Gardner as the ball fell through a half-hearted pursuit.
"I was hoping to get a chance to play a part in this ballgame. The battles that we've had
the last few years, things have gone on with the Red Sox. It ended like it should against the
Red Sox -- coming down to the last out."
-- Jason Giambi
Though he never owned a lead, the sharp Mussina pitched well enough to win, limiting the Red Sox to two runs. Boston cracked through in the fifth inning on RBIs from Jason Varitek and Jacoby Ellsbury, but otherwise, on the one-year anniversary of his being lifted from the rotation, Mussina represented his status as one of New York's season leaders.
"He's pitched so well for us all year long," Girardi said. "He's a big reason that we had a chance to come back and win that game, because he gave us seven really good innings."
Mussina scattered five hits, walked two and struck out six, moving past Frank Tanana for sole possession of 20th place on baseball's all-time list with 2,778 punchouts. The performance was one the Yankees -- holding a record of 71-62 and only four games over .500 since the All-Star break -- sorely needed.
"If we can go out and win one ballgame every day, then it doesn't matter what our chances look like here with 29 to go," Mussina said. "We have to go out and win that given day. You can't look at that we've got to win 10 out of 15 or 20 out of 25. You have to win one ballgame."
Lester continued his dominance at a facility he'll no doubt miss -- the left-hander, who shut the Yankees out on five hits here on July 3, struck out eight and walked none over 6 2/3 five-hit innings this time around. Giambi's home run off Okajima left Lester stunned in the visiting dugout, putting an end to a personal string of 15 scoreless innings in the Bronx.
"Lester has developed into one of the best pitchers around," Johnny Damon said. "He's given us fits all season long, and when 'G' hit that home run, we felt like we were going to win the game then."
There was frustration on the Yankees' part, particularly with Alex Rodriguez, who is quickly again becoming a target for Stadium jeers. The most prominent instance came in the sixth, when Damon was hit by a pitch and Derek Jeter singled to start the frame, part of a three-hit afternoon.
After a mound visit, Lester got Bobby Abreu to sky to center, putting runners at the corners, but Rodriguez popped out to Varitek, whacking the handle of his bat twice on the dirt before jamming the barrel of his bat into the bat rack repeatedly and shoving his helmet away. Nady then flew out to end the inning.
Girardi said that he did not believe Rodriguez was pressing, saying, "Alex, just like any other player, just wants to do well."
The game was the 773rd played between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium; New York won the all-time series, 484-285, with four ties. For what it's worth, the Yankees wanted to walk out on Thursday not thinking so much about their past, but more their future. If they are to make the postseason run a reality, it must start now.
"We'd have liked to win two out of three, but we've got to start from today," Giambi said. "We can't think about woulda, coulda, shoulda. We've got to go from today."