Robert Sabo/NewsYankees shortstop Derek Jeter congratulates Jorge Posada after the Bombers' struggling DH comes through with a fifth inning grand slam to blow the game open at the Stadium.
Jorge Posada began last week by enduring a very public humiliation. He ended it with a very public redemption.
Six days after Joe Girardi removed the longtime Yankee star from the designated hitter rotation before a nationally televised showdown with the archrival Red Sox - essentially leaving the former catcher without a job - Posada got to start a nationally televised game against the Rays Saturday and played his best game of the season.
He went 3-for-5 with six RBI, including a grand slam that broke the game open, as the Yankees rolled to a 9-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 47,804 at the Stadium. Posada's two-run single in the second inning got the Bombers on the board. His 10th career slam capped a five-run fifth that made it 7-0 and sent him to the top step of the dugout for a curtain call. He last had six RBI in a game in 2006.
BOX SCORE: YANKEES 9, RAYS 2
Said Posada of his approach: "Be ready for the opportunity and today that was the case. The fans are a big reason I love playing the game and especially here. They deserve a lot of credit. They supported me all through my career and I think after the first hit they were a big part for me today, a big part."
Posada wasn't the only Yankee fighting Saturday to maintain a major role on the team. Phil Hughes looked destined to be the odd man out of the starting rotation, the sixth candidate for a group of five after GM Brian Cashman's staunch defense of struggling A.J. Burnett Friday, but Hughes, too, turned in a statement game.
The righthander allowed two runs over six innings and struck out six. Girardi said he would remain in the rotation, though it's unclear whether the stellar effort earned him his next start. Girardi said Freddy Garcia would miss Sunday's scheduled start after cutting a finger on his throwing hand with a knife in the kitchen this past week. The embattled Burnett will take the ball Sunday instead of Monday.
"Players shouldn't use knives," Girardi quipped.
Curtis Granderson led off the fifth inning with his 33rd home run, a blast to right that tied him for the major league lead with Toronto's Jose Bautista. Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano each had two hits and scored two runs as the Bombers pounded out 15 hits.
All eyes were on Hughes (3-4) when the game began due to the uncertainty surrounding his future in the rotation, but he glided through five scoreless innings before allowing a Desmond Jennings homer and Johnny Damon triple to start the sixth. He got the next three outs, though Damon scored. Girardi said Hughes "mixed his pitches today as well as I've ever seen him."
But in the end, Posada was the one people couldn't take their eyes off.
Girardi's decision last weekend relegated Posada to the role of pinch-hitter and occasional player - a decision he now is clearly reconsidering. Posasda was visibly hurt by the move and the ripple of it was felt throughout the clubhouse. Posada said he felt his teammates' support during the week.
"I am extremely happy for him," Derek Jeter said. "Jorge has a lot of pride. We're talking about someone who was used to playing every day for a long time and he's been working extremely hard and he had a huge day. That's not easy to do, when you haven't played for a while to come in and be productive."
"They have been in my corner, everybody in here. It's been a tough time," Posada said. "I got a chance to play and I was happy."
He wanted the chance to earn back his job as the starting DH, but tried not to put pressure on himself, especially the two times he came up with the bases loaded and one out. In the second inning, he lashed a single down the right-field line to score the Yanks' first two runs. In the fifth, Posada crushed a 2-0 fastball from reliever Brandon Gomes into the right-field seats. He enjoyed having the cheers wash over him.
"It was special," Posada said. "I got an opportunity to play. It's tough to sit around... I am grateful to put this uniform on and that I got a chance today."
He has more to be grateful for, too: Girardi told him after the game that he will be in the starting lineup again Sunday.