ST. PETERSBURG — Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Robinson Cano hitting a winning, pinch-hit homer Monday on his scheduled day off "wasn't exactly how you draw the game up."
Then again, few parts of the Yankees season have gone according to plan.
Take the club's recent injury troubles, which stretch from strains to "strange" and certainly made for an interesting lineup card against the Rays. Although Derek Jeter (sprained left quad) returned after a six-game absence, two regulars, including Cano, were slated for a day off, and New York's top two catchers remained out, leaving Morgan Ensberg, Alberto Gonzalez and recently called-up Chad Moeller at the bottom of the order.
But in the eighth, Cano woke up in a big way. Cano, mired in a 4-for-26 slump and admittedly sleepy in the dugout (thanks to a 6 a.m. arrival in Tampa), belted the go-ahead homer off Al Reyes. More important to Cano than his 420-foot blast was that it lifted the Yankees to an 8-7 win in a game they led by as many as six runs.
"I was lucky on that one, especially coming from the bench watching the whole game," Cano said. "Thank God I got a home run at the right time."
Cano's blast was fitting, as it was the Yankees' staples — Jeter (2-for-5, two RBIs), Alex Rodriguez (4-for-5, HR) and Johnny Damon (2-for-5, HR, three RBIs) — who, for one day, cured their hitting ills and showed they can hold down the fort until the others return from the training table.
Pitcher Ian Kennedy left his start with a 7-2 lead in the seventh after getting struck near his right thigh with a liner by Jason Bartlett; Girardi doesn't expect it to affect his next start. But on the shelf is infielder Wilson Betemit, put on the DL on Monday with conjunctivitis. And there's catcher Jorge Posada's nagging shoulder injury, which prohibited him from throwing in Sunday's game when he filled in late after Jose Molina hurt his hamstring.
And setup man Joba Chamberlain is on bereavement leave to be with his ailing father, and Girardi told him to take as much time as he needs. "Family comes first," he said. Right-hander Jonathan Albaladejo was called up to bolster the bullpen.
Girardi said Molina and Posada will be evaluated daily, and Jason Giambi should be back today after a day off. A real day off, not like Cano's abbreviated version.
Said Girardi: "(Cano) came through big for us."