Sunday August 24th, 2014

Brian McCann hasn't lived up to the standard that enabled him to snare a five-year, $85 million free agent deal from the Yankees this past winter, but on Sunday, he delivered one of the team's biggest hits of the season. His three-run, walk-off homer sent the Yankees to a 7-4 win over the White Sox, a three-game sweep of their weekend series and their fourth straight win overall. That matches their longest streak of the season. 

After starting the Yankees' previous five games — his first five since returning from the seven-day concussion disabled list — McCann spent the first 9 1/2 innings of Sunday's game on the bench while Francisco Cervelli got the call against lefty Chris Sale. The White Sox built a 3-0 lead through the first 5 1/2 innings, as Chris Capuano surrendered a solo homer by leadoff man Alexei Ramirez in the first and then a two-run shot by Conor Gillaspie in the sixth. The Yankees clawed back via four unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth, keyed by leftfielder Dayan Viciedo's drop of a Martin Prado fly ball with one out. Sale exacerbated the situation with a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch.

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The Yankees carried a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning, but closer David Robertson's streak of 22 straight save opportunities converted came to an end when Avisail Garcia hit his first pitch into the right field corner for a game-tying home run. The Yankees had a golden opportunity to shake off the blown save when they put runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but JakePetrickainduced Derek Jeter to ground into an inning-ending double play. Likewise, the White Sox missed a very good shot at shot at plating a go-ahead run in the top of the 10th against David Huff, putting runners on first and second with two outs and American League RBI leader Jose Abreu at the plate, but Huff got ahead 0-2, then struck him out on the fourth pitch of the at-bat.

In the bottom of the inning, Petricka whiffed Prado and Mark Teixiera before yielding a double to Carlos Beltran after Sox manager Robin Ventura ordered an intentional walk of Chase Headley to set up the force and bring up Cervelli, Yankees manager Joe Girardi countered with McCann as a pinch hitter and he worked the count to 3-2 before depositing a changeup over the right field wall:

The home run was McCann's 15th of the year but even so, he's batting just .235/.288/.391 en route to a 91 OPS+ -- numbers closer to his career-worst 2012 showing than to his career line (.273/.344/.465, 115 OPS+). While he’s shown more power of late, with four August homers in 45 plate appearances, his line for the month is a lopsided .219/.289/.561. He missed six games earlier this month after a concussion caused by a Mike Aviles foul ball off his mask.

McCann's homer was the third pinch-hit home run of his career. His last one in that capacity came on May 17, 2011 off the Astros' Mark Melancon. It was also the third walk-off homer of his career. His most recent one came later in the aforementioned game against Houston, a two-run 11th-inning shot off Jeff Fulchino. Moreover, it was the majors’ fourth walk-off homer from a pinch hitter of 2014, following those of the Pirates' Ike Davis (April 5 against the Rockies), the Rockies' Charlie Culberson (May 5 against the Mets) and the Orioles' Chris Davis (June 23 against the White Sox).

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Most importantly, it was the fifth walk-off hit of the season for the Yankees, four of which have come since the All-Star break. Beltran hit the team's only other walk-off homer of the season and sole walk-off of the first half on June 20 against the Orioles. Since then, the team has awarded Gatorade showers for McCann's July 20 single against the Reds, Headley's July 22 single against the Rangers and Prado's single against the White Sox on Friday night.

Thanks to those walk-offs, the Yankees are now 20-14 since the break, compared to 47-47 prior. At 67-61, they're second in the AL East and six games behind the Orioles (73-55). Meanwhile, they're 3 1/2 games behind the Mariners (71-58) for the second wild card spot, with the Tigers (70-59) 2 1/2 games ahead of them as well. Coming into Sunday, the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds gave them just a 7.3 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

So much will need to go right for the Yankees to overcome those long odds, including the return of an effective Masahiro Tanaka and the awakening of an offense that has snoozed its way to a mere 3.95 runs per game thus far -- 0.28 below the league average. McCann will almost certainly need to be a factor in such a surge. At least on Sunday, he did his part.

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