NEW YORK (AP)—Utilityman Enrique Wilson has one of baseball’s toughest jobs and he knows it. A bench player’s task is to be ready. Always be ready.
Wilson has started 21 games for the New York Yankees this season. The rest of the time, he studies—pitchers, situations, everything.
On Thursday, he was in the lineup at second base with regular Alfonso Soriano wearing a bandage on his sore right thumb. No problem. Wilson was ready.
With Texas starter Joaquin Benoit laboring despite a 3-0 lead provided by Rafael Palmeiro’s first-inning home run, Wilson came to bat with the bases loaded in the second inning. He worked the count to 3-2, fouled off ball four and then hit the next pitch into the right field seats for his third career grand slam, helping the Yankees recover for a 7-5 victory.
There was a curtain call for the .217 hitter, who had one other home run this season.
“It’s very hard coming from the bench to do the job,” Wilson said. “If you play every day, you get your timing. If you don’t play, it’s very hard.”
Wilson knew he had swung at ball four on the pitch before he hit the slam.
“It was a bad pitch, but you’ve got to be aggressive. A bench guy, you go up there and swing the bat,” he said.
But the Rangers are longball specialists. Alex Rodriguez hit his 30th homer in the next inning against Mike Mussina to tie the score. The two homers gave Texas 25 in the last 10 games and 17 in the last six.
After that, Mussina (12-6) settled down and a three-run Yankee rally in the seventh keyed by Jorge Posada’s bases-loaded single made him a winner.
“It was one of those days when it took a few innings to figure out what was working and what to do,” he said. “It took some time. I figured things out an inning or two later.”
Palmeiro’s 28th home run continued Mussina’s first-inning problems. It was the fifth time in the last six starts that he has allowed first-inning runs after not allowing a run in the first in 18 straight games.
The Yankees got it all back and more in the second against Benoit. Posada opened with a single and Hideki Matsui walked. After Aaron Boone struck out, Karim Garcia walked on a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases. Then Wilson connected, hitting his slam into the right field seats for a 4-3 Yankees lead.
“I saw a lot of pitches from Benoit,” Wilson said. “Garcia was battling and battling. I was watching. That was a key. I was reading him.”
Benoit knew he was struggling. “My fastball was all over the place,” he said. “I had too much movement on it. I had no control.”
Rodriguez’s homer was the 328th of his career and sixth in the last seven games. He has six straight 30-homer seasons and seven for his career.
In the seventh, Texas reliever Aaron Fultz (1-2) walked pinch-hitter Bernie Williams leading off. Derek Jeter also walked and Nick Johnson sacrificed the runners to second and third. Jason Giambi was walked intentionally, loading the bases.
Reliever Rosman Garcia came in to face Posada, who delivered a first-pitch single to right, scoring two runs. Matsui followed with a sacrifice fly for a 7-4 Yankees lead.
Mussina was lifted with one out in the eighth after Young singled for the third time. Jesse Orosco retired Blalock. Then newly acquired Jeff Nelson walked Rodriguez and an error by Giambi loaded the bases. But Mark Teixeira flied to center, ending the threat.
Nelson was grateful to get through the inning.
“It was very emotional,” he said.
Mariano Rivera struggled again in the ninth, allowing a run before finishing for his 22nd save. Rivera had blown two straight and three of four saveopportunities, including the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to Texas on Wednesday.
CF Williams (left knee) also was not in Yankees starting lineup. Williams is batting .231 since returning from surgery on the knee in May. “He doesn’t have full strength in the knee,” manager Joe Torre said. “He’s working out and doing extra running. He’s putting extra pressure to be what Bernie was and will be again.” … Rangers CF Donnie Sadler was forced to leave the game when he was struck on the middle finger of his right hand as he squared to bunt in second inning. X-rays revealed a bruise and he expects to play on Friday against Toronto. … Rodriguez and Jeter each extended hittingstreaks to 11 games.