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YORK -- No one could have asked for a better game than the Yankees and Angels played on Friday night in the Bronx.
It had a thrilling Yankees comeback, another homer from Mark Trumbo, two from Mark Teixeira, a game-saving catch above the Yankee Stadium right-field wall by Nick Swisher, and the winning single from a now .181-hitting catcher, who also happened to throw out three Los Angeles runners at second base.
And, oh yes, Derek Jeter now has 201 hits in the year since he reached the 3,000 mark on July 9, 2011, and his 1,817 runs moved him ahead of Carl Yastrzemski into 16th on the all-time list.
"It's a new start again," said Teixeira, whose homers accounted for five RBIs in the Yankees' 6-5 win. "The first half doesn't mean anything. We have to play well the second half. We're playing a lot of good teams. Nothing is going to be given to us. We have a bull's-eye on our back, and it was important to get off on the right foot."
The 53-33 Yankees are sitting pretty atop the American League East, leading the second-place Orioles by eight games. They have weathered the first-half losses to injury of Brett Gardner, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte.
Sabathia is expected back from his groin injury in time to start here against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. Pettitte, who had the fibula in his left leg cracked by a batted ball two weeks ago, was back at the stadium playing catch and is on the mend. Gardner is taking batting practice, and his injured right elbow might have healed well enough for him to return by the end of the month.
Without them all, they have found a way to win.
"This team is special," said Russell Martin, who was an All-Star catcher on the Dodgers team that lost the National League Championship Series to the Phillies in 2008 and again in '09. "In L.A., we had some good teams. But beyond getting the big hits and making the big plays, you can't say enough about the fundamentals of this team. The approach, nobody gives away at-bats. The work ethic is just incredible."
It all starts with Jeter, whose 111 hits are second in the AL, two behind Detroit's Miguel Cabrera. The Yankees' captain is the leader on and off the field, said Martin, who was hitting a paltry .177 going into the crucial eighth-inning at-bat against Angels left-hander Scott Downs.
"He'll call you out," Martin said about Jeter. "He's not mean about it. He has his way about him. If you're taking batting practice and you're joking around, he'll let you know right away. He'll get you in gear. He works so hard, if you're not doing it, you feel like an outcast."
With Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada retired, and Pettitte and Rivera on the disabled list, Jeter is the constant that binds together the multiple successful seasons that began with a World Series title in 1996. Inclusive of that season, Jeter's Yankees have won five World Series, seven AL pennants, and have been to the playoffs every year except one (2008). At 3,201 hits, he's 14th on that all-time list. This season, Nap Lajoie (3,242), Eddie Murray (3,255) and Willie Mays (3,283) are all within reach.
Jeter also has a chance this year to become the first player to ever lead his league in total hits the season after he reached and surpassed the 3,000-hits plateau.
"He's been a special player for a long time, from Day 1 I saw him," said Joe Girardi, a catcher and teammate of Jeter's in the 1990s and his manager now. "I know he came up in '95, but in '96 he made his presence [felt]. You could tell right away when you were in the clubhouse that this was going to be a special player."
That special guy opened the eighth, the Yankees trailing, 5-2, with a double that was the germ of a four-run rally, which included Teixeira's three-run homer and Martin's key single. It negated the fifth consecutive game that Trumbo has homered against the Yankees, and a five-hit, two-run, seven-inning starting performance from Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson.
It was a regular-season game for the ages at the nearly four-year-old stadium, but should be a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season. The new playoff format with the extra Wild Card berth in each league will take care of that.
As Commissioner Bud Selig was fond of pointing out during numerous appearances this week in Kansas City, at the All-Star break 11 of the 30 teams were within 2 1/2 games of the second Wild Card spots. As of Friday night, make that 13 teams, with eight of them in the AL. The Angels, at 48-39, are barely holding on to the top spot, with the Orioles and Indians in a dead heat for the second.
The Yankees may be at a comfortable place right now, but the Angels are going to have to battle all season just for the right to be involved in a one-game "win and in" playoff game on Oct. 5. They trail the two-time defending AL champion first-place Rangers by five games in the West.
"The AL is a deep league, and a lot of teams are close," Girardi said. "You expect to have these kind of games. Look at our whole division: everyone going into tonight was .500 or better. You look at the Central and everyone seems to be battling out there. Our schedule is not going to get any easier as we go on, so I expect all our games to be very competitive."
Round 2 of this series is on Saturday at the Stadium and game time is 1:05 p.m. ET. It should be worth the price of admission.