September 20, 2005
Bubba Bails Out Bombers
By Michael Morrissey
Bubba Crosby was inserted into the Yankees' starting lineup to tighten up the defense. Instead, he tightened up the AL East.
Crosby, who started in right because Gary Sheffield can't play the field, smashed a jaw-dropping walk-off homer off Baltimore lefty Eric DuBose into the right-field bleachers leading off the ninth.
With one electrifying swing, the Yankees' No. 9 hitter propelled his club to an enthralling 3-2 victory over Baltimore and moved his team within a half-game of Boston, which lost 8-7 to the Devil Rays.
The blast will resonate as one of the season's most unforgettable moments.
"The last thing you're thinking is home run," Alex Rodriguez said. "Nothing against Bubba, but you're really hoping for a walk, hit by pitch, base hit, bunt single.
"And he hits the ball like Darryl Strawberry. I mean, you're going, 'Holy [bleep]!' "
It was the seventh win in the last eight games for the Bombers (86-63), who moved within a half-game of the AL East lead for the first time since the morning of July 21. They remain 1-1/2 games behind red-hot Cleveland in the wild card.
Crosby - a well-liked, down-to-earth role player who has bounced between Triple-A Columbus and The Bronx the past few seasons - can appreciate the excitement of the playoff race.
"Don't get me wrong: We'd love to be 10 games up in first place," Crosby said. "But I definitely think this is great for the game and great for the fans."
Crosby's first homer of the year, on what he thought was a 1-and-0 breaking ball, released the tension from Yankee Stadium like the popping of a hot-air balloon. It turned a worried crowd of 51,521 delirious. "It's incredible for a team," Rodriguez said. "It energizes you.
"It really gives you a huge lift that it's not one of the main guys doing it every day. Gives you more of a great balance."
The Yankees fell behind 2-0 after three innings in a game played with the tension of a tightrope act.
"You don't like tension, but having the games be so tense isn't all bad," manager Joe Torre said. "I think you're testing yourself all the time. I've had clubs here who have felt that pressure but have been able to think straight during it."
Torre felt that Ruben Sierra's tentative play in right field on Sunday gave away too much to the opposition. Sheffield can DH but can't play defense because of a left thigh injury.
So Torre penciled in the left-handed hitting Crosby even though lefty Erik Bedard started, and even kept him in the lineup against the southpaw DuBose to start the ninth.
Usually, Crosby is the first player removed in those situations, if not the Yankee roster. Last year, he made five different stints with the team between trips to Columbus.
He's made four different stints this year, and Torre said he even worried on days when the team optioned somebody else.
"For you to get the chance to get out there and do something like that, you've gotta be up here," Crosby said. "And if you're down in the minors, it will never happen."
Mariano Rivera (7-4) worked a perfect ninth for Chien-Ming Wang, who was exceptional while allowing two runs over eight innings. Rivera didn't get to see the magical ending.
"It happened too quick," Rivera said.
For the ninth time this season, Wang surrendered at least one run in the first inning of a start. The Orioles took a 2-0 lead in the third, but the Yankees tied the game in the fifth with four singles and Sheffield's RBI groundout. Wang helped himself with nine assists, retiring the side on comebackers in the seventh.
"His ball moves," Torre said. "When he's down, his ball just dies."