For all their big contracts and star power, the New York Yankees are still a team that needs contributions from role players to win.
One day after Crosby had one of New York’s biggest hits of the season, Small will try to pitch the Yankees into the AL East lead when they continue their four-game series with the Baltimore Orioles.
Shuttled back and forth from Triple-A Columbus, Crosby served as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement most of the year. But he has begun to get semi-regular playing time recently because right fielder Gary Sheffield is nursing a strained left thigh muscle and has been relegated to DH duty.
“When you’re in my position, you don’t ask questions. You just take what comes,” Crosby said. “I felt a couple of times when I went down, I might never come back.”
Hitting .417 (10-for-24) over his last seven games, the diminutive Crosby stepped to the plate in the ninth on Monday for his 72nd major league at-bat this season and drove a 1-0 pitch from Eric DuBose over the right-center fence to give the Yankees a 3-2 win.
“I’ve never hit a walk-off homer ever, anywhere, even in Little League, in my life,” Crosby said. “And to hit one here at Yankee Stadium, this time of year, when it counts, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Coupled with Boston’s 8-7 loss at Tampa Bay, the Yankees moved within a half-game of the Red Sox, the closest they’ve been to first place since July 26. New York remained 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the wild card race.
Now the spotlight switches to Small, an unheralded 33-year-old who before this season last made a start in the majors in 1996.
By earning the victory in the Yankees’ 9-5 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday, Small became the first pitcher to win his first eight decisions with the Yankees since Doug Bird in 1980 and ’81.
The journeyman right-hander struggled at times, allowing five runs and seven hits over 6 2-3 innings, but kept the Yankees in the game. With the win, Small improved to 6-0 in seven starts as a fill-in in a rotation decimated by injuries.
“They picked me up,” Small said of his offense. “I didn’t have my best stuff—didn’t feel as good. I wanted to keep us in the game the best I could, and I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”
The Orioles, who have lost four of five following a four-game winning streak, still have seven games left with the Yankees and can win the season series for just the third time in the last 23 years.