Just as the Yankees hoped: When their shortstop finally returned from the disabled list, he provided a welcome jolt. Sure enough, the pick-me-up came Saturday in the form of two runs batted in, the second a sixth-inning single for the deciding run in a 5-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
Not that shortstop, though. While Derek Jeter prepared for his first real game in nine months with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Saturday night, still working his way back from a fractured ankle, it was his early-season replacement, Eduardo Nuñez, who made a timely reappearance at Yankee Stadium.
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Out since May 5 with an oblique strain, Nuñez immediately justified his presence in the starting lineup with a second-inning sacrifice fly, a fifth-inning single that triggered a tying two-run rally and that ground single to break a 4-4 tie in the sixth.
"Couple of big RBIs. That's what we've been waiting for," said Lyle Overbay, who went 3-for-4 and scored the go-ahead run with a flying headfirst dive that actually overshot the plate as Taylor Teagarden tried to block it. Overbay unsuccessfully tried to take out Teagarden, who avoided most of the contact -- but, in doing so, did not catch Adam Jones' throw, which went to the backstop. If Overbay missed the plate the first time, he tapped it with his left hand as pitcher Chris Tillman retrieved the ball.
Nunez's production was a highlight among the Yankees' 10-hit afternoon and their season-high sixth straight win, which moved them a half-game ahead of Baltimore into second place in the American League East. "Good to be back," Nuñez said.
As recently as Friday, he was continuing his rehabilitation with the team's Double-A Trenton affiliate, not expecting to be called to the Bronx until next week. But with a roster spot opened by pitcher David Phelps' move to the disabled list with a forearm strain, and after only 16 minor-league at-bats, Nuñez found himself facing Tillman, who had won seven consecutive decisions and brought a 10-2 record into the game.
"Doesn't matter," Nuñez said. "I'm batting here; I'm batting in Trenton. It's the same game."
Andy Pettitte (6-6), after grinding through 62/3 innings, earned the win despite surrendering a two-out, two-run homer over the centerfield wall by Chris Davis in the first (No. 33 for Davis).
Pettitte was scuffed up by nine hits but walked none and struck out four. Mariano Rivera picked up his 29th save in 30 opportunities with a one-hit ninth inning, striking out former Yankee Chris Dickerson to end it.
"I felt pretty good early, to tell you the truth," Pettitte said. "It was kind of the same old story. Gave up runs early and the guys fought back and were able to take the lead. I'm thankful we were able to pull it out."
Alexi Casilla's RBI double in the second gave Baltimore a 3-0 lead, but a walk to Travis Hafner and consecutive singles by Zoilo Almonte, Overbay and Luis Cruz, plus Nunez's sacrifice fly, made it 3-2 a half-inning later.
Pettitte "kind of dialed it in after the third," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, though J.J. Hardy's leadoff double and Teagarden's two-out single nudged Baltimore's lead to 4-2 in the fourth. In the fifth, singles by Nuñez, Chris Stewart, Ichiro Suzuki and Robinson Cano brought the Yankees even.
Through the last five innings, Baltimore got one runner as far as second against Pettitte, Shawn Kelley, David Robertson and Rivera, leaving the Return of the Shortstop as the story of the day.
"Nunie's kind of a free spirit," Girardi said. "I don't think he thought much about not having a lot of at-bats ."
True enough. He might just as well have been in Trenton Saturday. "Not Scranton," he reminded. "Because Jeter is in Scranton. Can't be in the same place."