DETROIT -- For most of the 2014 season, the team formerly known as the Bronx Bombers has been anything but. Choose any offensive yardstick you like, and chances are the 2014 New York Yankees are at or near the bottom of the American League pack. Despite being shored up with an infusion of $283 million invested in three players -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran -- their lineup would have to improve simply to achieve mediocrity.
In fact, the 2014 Yankees offense pales even in comparison with its 2013 counterpart, which was cobbled together out of castoffs and has-beens trying to take the place of a solid handful of injured stars.
And yet, on any given night, even an offense as unremarkable as the Yankees' can have a remarkable night, and that was Wednesday night at Comerica Park, against one of the most formidable pitchers in the American League.
Facing Detroit Tigers left-hander David Price, winner of the 2012 AL Cy Young Award and expected to be one of the most sought-after commodities on this winter's free-agent market, nine Yankees came to bat in the third inning, and nine Yankees got a hit before Price was able to record a single out. In fact, he never did get one. After a single by Francisco Cervelli drove in the sixth run of the inning, manager Brad Ausmus came out to rescue Price, and the Yankees added two more runs on sacrifice flies before the inning finally came to an end on a groundout, nearly 45 minutes after it began.
"It’s fun, but you don’t see that very often," said Derek Jeter, playing the role of Captain Obvious for this night. "We had some good at-bats. That was the only inning we scored, but that was a big inning for us."
Biggest of the year, in fact, and the first time an American League team had gotten nine straight hits since -- wait for it! -- 1996, when the 40-year-old Jeter was a rookie. It was also the worst single inning in Price's seven-year career in terms of hits and runs allowed.
Not every one of them was a rope -- McCann's RBI single was a bloop that fell in front of center fielder Rajai Davis; Brett Gardner's was an infield single that shortstop Eugenio Suarez couldn't make a play on, and Cervelli's was a bouncer with eyes that found a sliver between short and third -- but, as Ellsbury pointed out, the Yankees had hit the ball hard plenty of other times in this game without getting a hit.
"It's tough to get that many hits, even if the guys hit the balls on the screws," he said. "We had a couple of line drives that got caught, so it all evens out."
He was probably referring to his own lineout to right off Blaine Hardy, who replaced Price, and Jeter's shot to center, although they, too, became the sacrifice flies that produced the Yankees' final two runs of the inning -- and the game. As it turned out, that one inning would be all they had, but it was more than enough to carry them to what may turn out to be a very important 8-4 victory.
Coming on the heels of a 5-2 defeat on Tuesday that snapped a five-game winning streak, the victory stalled off, at least for one day, the fear that once again the Yankees would follow a hot streak with a cold spell, a pattern they have repeated with frustrating regularity all season. It also shaved a crucial game off the Baltimore Orioles' lead in the AL East -- now down to six games -- and off the leads of the Tigers and the Seattle Mariners in the race for the second AL wild card, now down to two and 2½ games, respectively.
“It was very important," Gardner said. "Every game from here on out, we've got to fight hard to try and stay in until the end."
The win was important, but the inning was, in Gardner's word, "fun."
"We haven't done that too often this year," Gardner said. "I realized there was no outs when I was on second base, but I didn’t realize we had already hit around the order a full time. Definitely enjoyed it."
Ellsbury also did not realize the Yankees had batted around without making an out until he was told by hitting coach Kevin Long in the dugout after Cervelli's single.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "It builds confidence, you know? You want to be the next guy up, just keep the line moving. When you can string hits together like that, good things can happen."
Things like that have happened far too rarely for the Yankees this season. In 68 of their 131 games, they have scored three runs or less. They rank second to last in the AL in runs scored (516), 12th out of 15 in on-base percentage (.312), 11th in hits (1,124) and batting average (.250), 10th in slugging percentage (.383) and ninth in home runs (120) and OPS (.695).
For a team that lost four of its five starting pitchers to injury before the All-Star break, it has been the bats that have been the source of their downfall and the reason they are in a desperate fight to sneak into the last seat on the playoff train with 31 games to go.
"We don't think like that," Jeter said. "We just think we have to win a game. We had to win today, and now, regardless of what happened today, we need to win tomorrow. That's the approach you have to have. You can't think about winning streaks and losing streaks; we just have to play well."
And to play well, the Yankees need to hit well. And for a team that can't very well, they have now beaten former Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander this month and overcome James Shields, Chris Sale and Price over the past four days alone. That is part of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this team: the capability to occasionally beat the outstanding while far too regularly losing to the average.
On Thursday afternoon, the Yankees will face a rookie left-hander, Kyle Lobstein, who is making just his second major league start in the series finale.
"It's a guy we haven't seen before, so our guys are going to have to do their best to just prepare for him and just put on good swings," manager Joe Girardi said.
And hope they didn't use all of them up in one remarkable inning on Wednesday night.