NEW YORK -- With the Yankees -- the heavy-handed Yankees, the stoically professional Yankees, the "win now" Yankees -- you always know what you will get, just as you know what you will not. And three things one simply does not expect to see in the Bronx are fuzzy-cheeked youngsters, mind-blowing defense and childlike exuberance. Well, as they say, dazzling things come in threes.
And all three were evidenced in one amazing instant of the Yankees' 2-1 victory over the Red Sox on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. A few minutes earlier, Jason Giambi had walked with the bases loaded to snap a 1-1 tie. Then, with two outs in the top of the eighth, Manny Ramirez leaned into a 1-0 fastball from Kyle Farnsworth, sending it high and deep to left-center. An improbable Yankees season, a season of fill-ins and feelings, was about to be emphatically defined. Melky Cabrera, understandably playing Ramirez deep and straightaway in left, took off to his left. From his position in center, Johnny Damon tore to his right. When Cabrera made his Major League debut last season at 20 in Fenway Park, he had such an erratic time in the field, some Red Sox fans were tempted to brand him the Butcher of Boston. Now he is the regular left fielder for the Yankees, who don't normally cast their lot with young men recently of voting age but who lost Hideki Matsui to a fractured wrist a month ago, and thus don't have much choice. On Tuesday, hours of work with outfield coach Lee Mazzilli in his memory bank, Cabrera feels the warning track under his spikes and soars toward and above the wall. Simultaneously reaching the same area, so does Damon, who only gets a close look at Cabrera. Cabrera gets the ball. He flies into the fence with such force, he caroms off it and back across the warning track, atop the grass, face first, his outstretched gloved hand in front of his prone body. Even before Cabrera lands, Damon is doing two-fisted jumping jacks in celebration. "You guys," Damon later tells reporters, "know I don't get carried away too much. But that was pretty amazing." Flat on his stomach, Cabrera slightly raises his glove to show third-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth the baseball still nestled within. Putting on the brakes between first and second, Manny casts an incredulous look toward his Dominican countryman. Ramirez's lips move, and a policeman reading them off a TV monitor says that he is calling Cabrera, well, something other than "splendid outfielder." Farnsworth has been watching this action unfold from his heels. He shakes his head in amazement, also mouths something. No, not "Golly gee." "It was a great play," the right-handed reliever says later. "Saved the game for us." Seconds later, robber and victim cross paths as the Red Sox take the field and the Yankees make their cheered and cheery way off it. "You gotta let that ball go out," says Ramirez, a multiple All-Star and hero to Dominican youth, at one time Cabrera doubtless among them. Melky shrugs sheepishly and says, "I'm out there trying to win." He does, they do. The Yankees are now 1 1/2 games up on the Red Sox. For the second consecutive night, Boston put forth its blueprinted lineup, and also got some unexpected splendid pitching from 22-year-old right-hander David Pauley. And for the second consecutive night, the Red Sox were broken by a New York lineup comprised of 15-watt bulbs in a 100-watt city. Heavens to Flushing ... the Amazin' Yanks. "Manny didn't get all of it," said New York manager Joe Torre, giving Farnsworth some props. "If he had, you can jump as high as you want, you're not gonna catch it." Farnsworth concurs. "I didn't think that ball had a chance to get out." But when it did, Cabrera brought it back in. "That's why when I hit them, I hit them 500 feet," said David Ortiz, who came pretty close to doing that off Chien-Ming Wang in the third inning for Boston's lone run. "So I don't have to deal with all that stuff." Cabrera trots off the field, through teammates' high-fives, into the fans' vocal embrace, down into the dugout. The continuing ovation brings him back out, to wave to the crowd. Imagine. A defensive curtain call. This act was not supposed to be in the Yankees play. Then again, Melky Cabrera was not supposed to be in their outfield. "But we knew in Spring Training what we had in him," Torre said. "If we needed some help, we knew he'd be the one. "He struggled in left field. Then we came to understand that he had to play left," added Torre, referring to how Matsui's injury altered any previous plans. "We had to say, 'OK, let's see how good he can do there.' " Getting better all the time. "I probably jumped higher than Melky did," Damon said. "I was just hoping he wouldn't collide against the wall, which could have jarred the ball loose." When he saw the ball stay in the webbing of the prone Cabrera's glove, Damon began leaping anew. This wasn't the first time Johnny D. had danced over a fallen Yankee, but his jig at the end of the 2004 American League Championship Series no longer counts.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.