John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
By the time the clubhouse opened to the media, some 20 minutes after the Yankees finished off a kick-em-while-they're-down sweep of the Red Sox, the place looked and smelled like the aftermath of a Fourth of July fireworks show.
Turns out it was the aftermath of a dance party instead, complete with a fog machine and strobe lights, which apparently has become the Yankees' standard post-win celebration in this young season.
Only extra-heavy on the fog for this one.
"I don't know who's in charge of the fog but I'm going to find out because it was impressive," Clint Frazier was saying at his locker. "I couldn't see anybody in here, and I couldn't hear anything because it was so loud."
At that point, Frazier noticed reporters looking quizzically at him.
"You guys didn't know we had a nightclub in here, did you?" he said. "It's the way to get it going after a win. Tonight was a little extra because it's huge to win these two games."
Well, why not?
The Yankees still may only be 8-9 on the season, but they're a galaxy apart from the catastrophe that is the Red Sox at the moment. There's plenty of time to worry about whether the Tampa Bay Rays are evolving into a legitimate force; more important was burying the rival Sox a little deeper in their own misery, at 6-13 and counting.
Yes, it might only be April but Brett Gardner's seventh-inning grand slam felt like a moment worth remembering on Wednesday night. It provided an early reminder the Sox are trying to repeat with a low-budget bullpen, and perhaps providing the spark to re-boot the Yankees' own sluggish season.
As Gardner said afterward, "We kind of need a kickstart. This felt big."
So there was plenty to celebrate, all right, starting with Gardner's milestone, the 100th home run of his gritty career, one that turned a seventh-inning deficit into a 5-3 win.
Gardner is beloved in his own clubhouse, which surely had something to do with the extra fog. He joked that his kids would be playing with the 100th-home run ball in the driveway on Thursday. But, in truth, the moment seemed to mean a lot to Gardner, and why not as a little guy who said he never thought he'd play this long -- now 11 seasons -- never mind hit 100 home runs at his size.
He's always been as team-oriented as anyone in the Yankee clubhouse, feeling it was his place in recent years to carry on the Derek Jeter mantra of championships or bust. Indeed, it was Gardner who openly lamented in spring training the 10-year drought since the last championship in 2009, saying "It's been too long."
Like everyone else in pinstripes, he expected the Yankees to come flying out of the gate, injuries and all, and the fact that it didn't happen put a little extra emphasis on this series with the Red Sox, no matter how poorly they were playing.
"It just felt big for the middle of April," Gardner said. "We needed a couple of wins like this."
Obviously they needed his home run, but even more than that, the Yankees needed to see their starting pitching perform. And while J.A. Happ didn't dominate in the manner of James Paxton on Tuesday night, the lefty showed a ton of resourcefulness in re-inventing himself on the fly after giving up two early home runs, finessing the Red Sox from that point to get into the seventh inning trailing only 3-1.
"He pitched," was the way Aaron Boone put it.
Rather than rely heavily on the deception of his four-seam fastball, which he usually throws over 60 percent of his pitches, Happ went to his two-seam sinker and his off-speed slider to keep the Sox off balance and shut them down through the middle innings.
Happ downplayed the transformation, saying he's had "plenty of games" where he's had to rely on his secondary stuff. But he also admitted, "Sometimes the hitters dictate what's working for you."
For a guy who has lived off the deception of his fastball, it remains to be seen whether Happ, at age 36, has to re-invent himself for the long haul, and whether that's a problem. On this night, however, it was that sort of gutty pitching which set the stage for the final innings, when, as advertised, the battle of the bullpens was no contest.
Deciding not to replace Joe Kelly or Craig Kimbrel, the Sox are trying to repeat with a largely untested, inexpensive bullpen. And in a first big test on Tuesday, Brandon Workman quickly loaded the bases in the seventh and Ryan Brasier surrendered the Gardner home run on an 0-2 mistake of a fastball.
Meanwhile, the Yankees and their ultra-expensive pen handled their business, and no sooner did Aroldis Chapman strike out Jackie Bradley Jr. to end the game than someone turned on the fog machine in the clubhouse.
April or not, it was time to party.