And all he did was walk.
Dean Anna entered the fourth and final game of this April series in Tampa hitting just .136; clearly making his hold on a roster spot with the big league club a precarious one. To make matters worse, the Yankees were desperate to get the previous two games’ blowout losses behind them, and were locked in an extra-inning 1-1 affair with the Rays, when Anna (inserted after Ichiro Suzuki pinch-ran for Derek Jeter the inning before) botched a routine ground ball in the bottom of the 11th inning – putting the winning runner on first base for Tampa.
The Yankees escaped that inning and both teams entered the twelfth frame with little remaining on their benches.
With two outs in the top of the inning, the Yankees mounted a threat when Brian McCann singled Brett Gardner (who reached via a fielder’s choice) over to third base. Rays’ manager Joe Maddon, always the strategist, had Jacoby Ellsbury intentionally walked to load the bases for the light-hitting Anna.
If ever the old adage “A walk is as good as a hit” rung more true, this was it.
On the mound, the Rays had 24-year-old CJ Riefenhauser, a southpaw with a promising future ahead of him (don’t all of the Rays’ pitchers seem to fit that description?). Maddon couldn’t have hoped for a better match-up. After all, Anna was oh-for-the season (0/7) against lefties in 2014.
What ensued was a classic battle between two players desperate to hold onto roster spots.
After the first three pitches, Riefenhauser had a leg up in the count at 1-2, and I couldn’t help but think this game was going to go at least another inning. This war of attrition didn’t seem to want to end.
Only, Dean Anna came to fight.
He fouled off two of the next three pitches and the count stood at 2-2 when he let ball three go by; showing great plate discipline.
The runners would be moving on the next pitch and one could sense that this would be the Yankees make-or-break moment of the game.
Riefenhauser’s throw was low and away but close enough where Anna began to chase it, except the backup infielder was able to stop his attempt before it could be called a swing, and the Yanks had the go-ahead run across the plate.
You could almost feel the team release its collective breath, and when the camera panned the visitor’s dugout; our players could be seen celebrating. In particular, Mark Teixeira yelled repeatedly “GREAT AT-BAT!!!”
The unofficial at-bat (walks don’t count as at-bats) didn’t raise his average, but it clearly showed Anna can handle big league pitching and pressure with the best of them.
The walk “opened the flood gates” and the Yankees would go on to score three more times before the final out could be recorded.
The Yankees won the game 5-1 in no small part because of Anna’s walk.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, our “newbies” have given the Yankees new life, and Anna’s moment was a perfect example of that point.
Yangervis Solarte, in spite of going 0-for-4 at the plate, played a crisp third base. Vidal Nuno threw five scoreless innings while striking out six. JR Murphy was solid behind the plate – making key blocks on pitches in the dirt with runners on base, and the bullpen – which had been pummeled the previous two contests – threw seven shutout innings.
Who says this team doesn’t have depth?
The game marked a big moment early in this season for our team. As Kenny Singleton pointed out last night on the YES network, it was important that the team bounce back from the poundings it endured against the Rays.
Now, the Yankees enter the new week on a good note (having won 6 of 8), knowing that they can play with the best this division has to offer.
Whether or not Dean Anna is able to “stick” in the Bronx remains to be seen, but last night’s ballgame went a long way in helping his cause. Should the team be able to build upon the win, they can look back and thank the infielder for doing the simplest of things – drawing a walk.
--Steve Skinner, BYB Writer
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