MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Featuring new roster, Yankees are finding their mojo

Featuring new roster, Yankees are finding their mojo

NEW YORK -- OK, Brandon McCarthy didn't obsess over the other team's starting pitcher.

"I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about that," he said.

McCarthy also wasn't born yesterday.

"I know this is a big series for us, and I know what they're throwing at us," he said. "I took that as kind of a challenge for me."

It's interesting to see how competitive people respond to a challenge. In this case, the challenge was 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.

This is the thing the Detroit Tigers are going to face again and again. They're the first team to have their league's last three AL Cy Young Award winners, so they're going to get everyone's best punch.

The Yankees say games like this are a good chance to measure themselves against the best of the best. That's what they're getting in a series in which the Tigers will run out Scherzer, David Price (2012 Cy Young) and Justin Verlander (2011 Cy Young) in the first three games.

At the same time, the Yankees feel they've got a good thing going, too. General manager Brian Cashman has added new players up and down the lineup.

Four of Monday's starters, including McCarthy, arrived in the last month. In a season in which they've lost five starting pitchers to injury, the Yankees are still hanging around, a mere one game out of an American League Wild Card berth.

"We're digging in and trying to get going here," McCarthy said. "It's on me to do my part and kick in."

McCarthy did that on Monday night as the Yankees beat Scherzer and the Tigers 2-1. One Cy Young winner down, two to go. Next up is Price, who is making his Tigers debut Tuesday night.

You can watch a lot of big league baseball games and not see one as good as Monday's. McCarthy knew he had little margin for error with Scherzer penciled onto the other team's lineup card.

McCarthy pitched a hellacious game, spotting his fastball, challenging hitters with his curveball. He changed speeds and was crisp with his location. Perhaps most important of all -- and this may come from being traded from a poor team to one with the highest expectations in baseball -- he refused to give in.

McCarthy fought through a 34-pitch second inning, including a 10-pitch at-bat against J.D. Martinez. The Tigers loaded the bases with one out, but McCarthy struck out Alex Avila on a 94-mph fastball, then got Eugenio Suarez on a curveball to end the inning.

Afterward, McCarthy chided himself for not lasting longer than 5 2/3 innings, but he allowed only an unearned run and turned a 2-1 lead over to a bullpen that has evolved into one of the American League's best.

Four relievers protected that lead, and suddenly, the Yankees are starting to feel a little mojo themselves.

"They're a good team," closer David Robertson said. "They have a great lineup and a good pitching staff. But we're very capable of taking some things from 'em. If we've got to win by one run every time, we'll win by one run."

As a matter of fact, that's almost exactly what the Yankees are doing. They've played 15 straight games decided by two or one runs. They've won nine of them.

"The good thing is you have a chance to win every night," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You can look at it that way. You want to win all those close games. But you know your bullpen really gets taxed when that happens. As long as we win 'em, they're OK."

Girardi gave his All-Star rookie setup man, Dellin Betances, the night off and used Robertson for the third day in a row.

Two moments changed the game. One was McCarthy escaping the second-inning jam. In the bottom of the third, the Yankees loaded the bases with none out and seemed on their way to breaking the game open when Jacoby Ellsbury launched a drive to center.

In a play you'll see replayed again and again, Tigers center fielder Ezequiel Carrera laid flat out to grab the ball. Thus it became a long, impressive sacrifice fly. The Yankees scored their only two runs that inning, setting the tone for a close, tight contest.

"Every series is big at this point," Robertson said. "We're a few games back. It's time where you try and make a push. We've added some players to the lineup. I think it's really helped. We've got a good team now, and we're going to try to tear off some wins."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.