There were two areas of focus in the clubhouse after the Yankees' much-needed 3-0 win over the Astros Thursday afternoon:
A position-players' meeting in the late morning and Brandon McCarthy.
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One of them had far more impact on the game than the other.
That would be McCarthy, who pitched a four-hit shutout, a gem of an outing that furthered his status as staff ace and gave a taxed bullpen a breather.
"He has been really, really good, from his first start, all the way through," Joe Girardi said of McCarthy, who improved to 5-2 with a 1.90 ERA since the Yankees acquired him from Arizona July 6. "We knew that he was a better pitcher than his numbers indicated."
The victory allowed the Yankees (64-61), who came in having lost seven of their last nine, to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Astros (54-74).
Before coming to the Bombers, the 31-year-old McCarthy was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA. But the Yankees and their scouts believed he was pitching better than those numbers and were thrilled when Arizona asked for just Vidal Nuño in exchange.
McCarthy arrived the day before Masahiro Tanaka went down with an elbow injury and has more than picked up the slack.
"I think my pitch mix is better now," said McCarthy, who felt he was too "sinker happy" in Arizona. "The cutter and four-seam have become pitches that I can use as weapons again and in turn that just starts to build confidence."
McCarthy entered the day riding a two-game losing skid but had pitched well, allowing a four earned runs in the defeats, yet another Yankees pitcher victimized by the offense.
Yesterday, in a game that lasted just 2 hours, 7 minutes, he left little to chance. McCarthy commanded all of his pitches, walking none and striking out eight. He faced few jams, the biggest one a second-and-third, one-out situation in the seventh when he struck out Jon Singleton and got Carlos Corporan to fly out, protecting the 3-0 lead given to him in the second.
"In Arizona I [wasn't] getting out of jams," said McCarthy, who credited fiery catcher Francisco Cervelli for "yelling" at him in the middle innings when he started feeling fatigued. "Here, I feel confident again, I feel like I'm able to get through situations I wasn't there."
"He was phenomenal," said Chase Headley, whose two-run double highlighted the Yankees' three-run second inning.
It was Headley who disclosed the meeting, one in which he said the overriding message was "enough's enough" regarding an underperforming offense.
"We talked about it before the game, we need to come with a little bit more energy and hopefully some emotion and play the way we're capable of playing," Headley said. "We understand we're a lot better offensively than we've shown. That was kind of a point of emphasis to come out with a little bit of fire and hopefully put some runs on the board."
The Yankees, for whom scoring three runs has been a major chore lately, scored three runs, all in the second -- and had one runner in scoring position thereafter -- so the impact of the chat is debatable. Brett Gardner described it as "a little meeting," one in which they "talked about some things and kind of cleared the air."
"It was good," he added. "Hopefully a game like today kind of gets us going a little bit and we can carry that over into the weekend."