With Yankee Stadium closing its doors for good at the end of the season, the New York Yankees know they’ll have to pick up their play in the second half in order for the hallowed venue to see its 14th consecutive—and final— postseason.
They’re off to an impressive start.
The Yankees will look to extend their longest home winning streak of the season to eight games on Monday when they play the first of three against the Minnesota Twins, baseball’s best team over the last month.
New York (53-45) spent more than two months hovering around .500, but some strong recent play at its historic stadium has it right in the thick of the AL East race.
The Yankees are still in third place, but they’re within 4 1/2 games of first-place Tampa Bay and three behind wild card-leading Boston. They moved a season-high eight games over .500 by sweeping Oakland at home this past weekend.
“This is what we expect,” manager Joe Girardi said of the team’s fourth three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium this season.
New York gave up five runs in the series, which it closed with a 2-1 win on Sunday behind eight innings and nine strikeouts from Andy Pettitte.
Jason Giambi hit his 20th homer, a solo shot in the sixth that proved to be the difference.
“There are going to be games when you are scored upon a lot, and there are going to be games where you score a lot of runs,” Giambi told the team’s official Web site. “(Low-scoring) ballgames make up your season, and those are the games you have to win to get yourself into the playoffs.”
The Twins (55-43) certainly seem comfortable playing low-scoring games at the moment. They limited Texas, baseball’s top offense, to a combined three runs and 11 hits in their three-game weekend set in Minneapolis.
But Minnesota only won two of three after a 1-0 loss on Sunday in which it could muster only three hits.
“We don’t quit until the last out,” rookie right fielder Denard Span told the Twins’ official Web site. “With how we’ve been playing lately, we always feel like we can come back whether we’re down one run or 10 runs.”
Minnesota has the best record in baseball since June 17. The Twins have won 21 of their last 28 games, and have won five of seven overall since a three-game sweep in Boston—their lone series loss since mid-June.
They’ll send Nick Blackburn to the mound to begin their final series in the Bronx. Blackburn (7-5, 3.65) lost for the first time since early June in his last outing, but still pitched relatively well. He went seven innings and allowed three runs—two earned—in a 4-2 loss at Detroit on July 13.
Blackburn’s lone major league memory against the Yankees isn’t a pleasant one. He had allowed just a run in 4 1-3 innings against them on June 1 at home, but took a line drove off the nose and had to leave the game, not qualifying for a 5-1 victory.
New York will counter with Sidney Ponson (5-1, 3.96). The hefty right-hander, who has made three starts for the Yankees after being released by Texas, didn’t get a decision in his last start, but pitched six innings and allowed one run in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay on July 9.
He pitched his first complete game in more than three years in his last start versus Minnesota. Ponson yielded six hits in the Rangers’ 10-1 road win on May 21 to improve to 10-2 with a 2.42 ERA in his career against the Twins.
The Twins have lost 16 of their last 19 games in the Bronx.