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New York Daily News

 

September 20, 2005

Crosby pulls Yanks even in loss column

By Peter Botte

Bubba Crosby never expected this. Never in his baseball life had he crushed a walk-off home run, and the seldom- used outfielder certainly had no reason to believe he'd do so in one of the most important games this season for the Yankees.

But Crosby's game-winning blast leading off the bottom of the ninth inning last night was perhaps the biggest hit the $200 million Yanks have received to date. It lifted them to an exhilarating 3-2 victory over Baltimore - and, more importantly, within a half-game of first-place Boston in the AL East.

"To especially do it here in New York, you couldn't ask for a more picture-perfect moment," Crosby said several minutes after getting mobbed by his teammates at home plate and soaking in a curtain call from the packed Stadium crowd. "I've never hit a walk-off ever, in my whole life, even in Little League. To do it here at Yankee Stadium, at this time of the year, when it counts, is an unbelievable feeling. ... There's not much more I can say."

There wasn't much the Yanks could do about the Red Sox or Indians last night except to wait for the rotating out-of- town scoreboard to periodically flash updates from their respective games in St. Petersburg and Chicago. About 30 minutes after frolicking following Crosby's homer, several Yankees emerged from the lounge area in their clubhouse with broad smiles after nemesis Tampa Bay had downed the Red Sox, 8-7, to even the AL East rivals in the loss column at 63. The Indians later closed out the plummeting White Sox, 7-5, to maintain a 1-1/2-game lead over the Yanks in the wild-card race, although the Yanks hope to make the wild card a moot point.

"No question, when you're down to a couple of handfuls of games, certainly the percentage that one game takes on is much bigger than what you're dealing with over 162," Joe Torre said. "If you're going to eliminate games off the schedule, you have to make sure they're on the winning side. ... Tonight was very important, especially after losing (Sunday in Toronto)."

The Yanks (86-63) backed up Torre's pregame contention that "our record" and "our play" are more important than those of the teams they're chasing, coming back from an early 2-0 hole for their seventh win in eight games.

In danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation when Mike Mussina returns from a sore elbow, Chien-Ming Wang allowed two early runs before shutting down the Orioles through eight innings in his best performance in three starts since returning from the disabled list.

Mariano Rivera's 1-2-3 ninth in a 2-2 game then set up someone to be the hero in the bottom half. Torre decided against hitting for Crosby, a strong defensive outfielder who has played more lately with Gary Sheffield relegated to DH duty by a thigh injury, against lefty reliever Eric DuBose.

And Crosby, who'd legged out two infield singles earlier in the game, ripped Dubose's 1-0 breaking ball into the right-field bleachers for his lone homer in 72 at-bats this season to set off the raucous celebration.

"You're sitting there, trying to map out your strategy, and then it's over," said Torre, who atypically joined the dog pile at home plate. "I was just so elated, obviously for the team, but for this kid, who we've shuffled back and forth (to the minors) I don't know how many times the last few years."

As a marginal prospect in the Yanks' system, Crosby long ago mastered the art of "packing light" for his frequent short-haul trips between the Bronx and Columbus. He also joked that he's learned to avoid GM Brian Cashman whenever the Yanks make changes and need to clear space on their roster. Still, when veteran Matt Lawton was added late in the season, Crosby figured he'd even forfeit his scant playing time as a defensive outfield replacement.

"To be a role guy, you'd rather do it for the New York Yankees than anybody else," he said. "But this was like an out-of body experience. ... It's one of those things that every kid dreams of."

Even on a team filled with the game's biggest stars. "The last thing you're thinking there is a home run," Alex Rodriguez said. "Nothing against Bubba, but you're really hoping for a walk, a hit-by-pitch, base hit, bunt single. He hits the ball like Darryl Strawberry, and you're going, 'holy (crap).' That's pretty cool. ... I'm happy for Bubba and I'm happy for us."