Pronk's pinch-hit homer turns CC into winner
NEW YORK -- Travis Hafner's experience as a designated hitter helped some as he prepared to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter, but the slugger still dug into the batter's box expecting to only take one decent swing.
Hafner made the most of the only pitch he saw, blasting a fastball from Arizona reliever David Hernandez into the right-field seats for a go-ahead blast as the Yankees came from behind late to defeat the D-backs, 4-3, on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
"I think you're looking to be aggressive and you're looking for a good pitch to hit, something you can drive," Hafner said. "I was able to put a good swing on the ball and fortunately got it out."
Hafner's fourth career pinch-hit homer made a winner out of CC Sabathia, who hung in long enough to see Brett Gardner's two-run, seventh-inning single tie the game as the Yankees got off the mat and knocked Arizona starter Wade Miley out after his early dominance.
"There was a real special year that we did that a lot, 2009," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We had a lot of these type of wins, where we came from behind and ended up getting a big hit late. Haf has the ability to make a ballpark look small, and it doesn't really matter what ballpark it is. That's why we like him."
Hafner's blast may have spurred Girardi's memories of '09, but his mighty swing also reminded of the run that another veteran, Raul Ibanez, had in pinstripes toward the end of last season. Hafner's time in New York is just beginning, and he isn't underestimating the importance of getting off to a good start.
"I think it's always important to get off to a good start," Hafner said. "I think it helps relax you a little bit. Most importantly, you want to contribute and help the team win."
As long as Hafner stays healthy, the Yanks believe that shouldn't be a problem.
"I've seen Haf when he was locked in," Sabathia said, with a laugh. "I expect him to do a lot more than what he's done. In this ballpark with his power, all it takes is the right pitch. He got that today."
The Yankees notched their seventh victory in eight games as Sabathia held Arizona to three runs and six hits over eight innings. Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his fourth save of the season and No. 612 of his career.
That outcome seemed unlikely, with Sabathia admitting that he had squeaked by with "smoke and mirrors" for the entirety of the night. Miley seemed to be in near-complete control until the seventh, when he issued a bases-loaded walk to Jayson Nix that forced home New York's first run.
"I think I got two pretty quick outs and then it just came unraveled," Miley said. "They did a good job seeing pitches, not getting overaggressive and I just kind of handed it to them."
Ben Francisco notched a one-out single, and Brennan Boesch connected for a two-out double in that pivotal frame against Miley, leaving the left-hander wringing a towel on the top step of the dugout as Arizona's fortunes turned with Gardner's opposite-field two-run single off reliever Tony Sipp.
"With two outs and the bases loaded, it's kind of all on you," Gardner said. "It feels good to be able to come through, and then obviously CC did a real good job of keeping us in the game."
Sabathia settled in after Paul Goldschmidt connected for a two-run homer in a 31-pitch first inning. Arizona extended its lead to 3-0 in the fifth inning, when Josh Wilson tripled to deep center field and scored on A.J. Pollock's sacrifice fly.
Still, while Sabathia's season statistics look fine thus far -- a 3-1 record with a 2.57 ERA in four starts, allowing just eight earned runs in 28 innings -- there has been extra attention being paid to the radar gun with each of his starts.
He sat mostly at 90 mph with his fastball on Wednesday, topping out at 91 mph. Girardi said that he believes Sabathia will show his usual pitch speeds of 92 and 93 mph later in the year, but Sabathia hasn't sounded quite so sure.
If the extra velocity doesn't return, Sabathia believes he can succeed right here.
"It's reality. You never know," Sabathia said. "I've never been through anything like this, so I don't know. I'm not going to lose sleep over it. I've been pitching for a long time. Eventually, it was going to happen."
Sabathia said that he can lean on Andy Pettitte for advice or support if that's needed, but so far, he has been able to utilize his stuff and pitch exactly the way he normally would -- with winning results.
"I'm hoping some more velocity comes back," Sabathia said. "If not, we'll work with this."
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 11-3 against Arizona all-time in the regular season, and Hafner and the rest of the reconstructed Bombers lineup have wiped clean any lingering memories of their 1-4 start.
"Every win is big, and getting a come-from-behind win is big," Hafner said. "You just want to kind of keep the momentum going."