Yankees hope big win is first page of playoff story

The Yankees' Brian McCann, right, reacts after Brett

The Yankees' Brian McCann, right, reacts after Brett Gardner, left, pours a water bath over his head to celebrate his walk-off, 10th-inning three-run home run against the Chicago White Sox in a game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since

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If the Yankees want to call Sunday's 7-4 comeback win over the White Sox their best of the season, who are we to argue?

"I think so," Girardi said. "That's fair to say."

They eventually solved Chris Sale, rallied from a 3-0 deficit, survived David Robertson's first blown save in nearly three months. Then topped the whole thing off in the 10th inning with Brian McCann's pinch-hit homer into the rightfield seats. That's a heck of an afternoon.

But man oh man, are the White Sox bad.

If not for Dayan Viciedo's misadventures in left, which included dropping a fly ball, the Yankees don't score four unearned runs off Sale in the sixth. And, for whatever reason, Sale suddenly unraveled that same inning. He walked Francisco Cervelli to load the bases, then nailed the overmatched Zelous Wheeler on the knee with the very next pitch.

Cervelli and Wheeler each had struck out twice before that. But with the table set, Ichiro Suzuki -- the only lefthanded hitter in the lineup -- singled in a pair of runs, the first lefty bat with an RBI off Sale in almost a calendar year, since Joe Mauer did it Aug. 17 last season.

"Amazing," Ichiro said with a wide grin, needing no translation.

We couldn't have picked a better word ourselves. And if the Yankees are going to qualify for the postseason, which in this case would be the wild-card play-in, it's going to have to be an impressive final push.

After Sunday's raucous send-off to Kansas City, where the Yankees begin a seven-game trip that also includes visits to Detroit and Toronto, they have 34 games left to catch the Mariners, who have a 3 1/2-game lead for the second wild card. The schedule in September doesn't get any easier, with eight games against the AL East-leading Orioles, six against the Rays, four against the Blue Jays and three more with the Royals in the Bronx.

We'll consider the half-dozen games against the Red Sox (56-74) a chance for the Yankees to catch their breath during this punishing stretch -- and finish with a big closing weekend at Fenway.

Sunday with a bruised ankle. "But we've just got to ride the highs for as long as we can."

Given what was at stake -- and the embarrassing start to the home stand -- we can't overestimate the importance of that Ichiro single or McCann's walk-off blast. Even David Huff, who was called on to start the 10th, played a pivotal role. With Dellin Betances and Shawn Kelley unavailable, Huff allowed a pair of hits, but froze Jose Abreu to ice the threat.

By accident, we might add. With the runaway Rookie of the Year coming up, pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Huff that Abreu was not to get anything to hit. But Huff got ahead 0-and-2 with a first-pitch cutter and 93-mph fastball, then got lucky. He threw the next pitch outside, off the black, for a ball. When Huff followed with another heater, in what looked like the exact same spot, umpire Mike Winters rung up Abreu.

"I was just trying to throw balls there," Huff said.

He got the huge K anyway, which set up the Yankees' heroics in the bottom half. Sox reliever Jake Petricka whiffed Martin Prado and Mark Teixeira on breaking pitches for a pair of quick outs. But with two on, Petricka tried a 3-and-2 changeup to McCann, whose blast earned him two Gatorade baths in the postgame celebration.

"There's not a better feeling," McCann said.

We'll call it a significant upgrade from earlier in the week, when the backsliding Yankees appeared ready to go belly-up. Their sputtering offense will be tested in the coming days with James Shields, Rick Porcello, David Price and Justin Verlander lined up in a row to face them.

But if we've learned anything during this crazy season, it's not to make predictions on paper. The 2014 playoff picture remains a very fluid situation.

"You can change the mind-set on a daily basis," Girardi said. "You can change the script the next day."

The Yankees rewrote it Sunday in a matter of innings. And not a minute too soon.

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