An unforgettable Yankees win, for all the wrong reasons

NEW YORK -- This could have been a story about Stephen Drew, whose two home runs and three RBIs might have made some inroads to restoring him to the good graces of Yankees fans. Or it could have been about Alex Rodriguez, who leapfrogged two more big names, Barry Bonds and Stan Musial, on baseball's all-time lists for RBI and runs scored, and had his first four-hit game in more than four years. Or it could have been about a four-game winning streak that has washed away the memories of that horrible 1-3 start to the New York Yankees' just-completed West Coast road trip.

Instead, it turns out to be a story about a laugher that turned into a nail-biter, a strong bullpen that has one very weak link, and a team that seems destined to struggle all season even as it remains atop the AL East.

Several times during every season, we tend to rate one loss or another as "the worst loss of the year.'' Well, Friday night's 8-7 Yankees victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium is already the runaway winner for worst victory of the year. In fact, it's hard to imagine one that could possibly top this for lowlights.

To enter the ninth inning cruising along with an 8-1 lead only to stagger out clinging to a one-run victory is bad enough.

But to watch a pitcher like Esmil Rogers, who has one job -- to mop up -- come in and make a bigger mess provokes worries about exactly who on the Yankees' pitching staff is capable of performing this most menial of baseball labors. And to watch a usually lights-out performer like Dellin Betances not only allow three inherited runners to score, but also allow his first run of the season -- on a bases-loaded walk, no less -- was disquieting, to say the least.

And of all the head-scratching turns of events, the fact that this game was largely saved by a defensive gem by Didi Gregorius -- who had made an unsightly error, his eighth of the season, in the second inning -- only serves to demonstrate how bizarre a game this really was.

It was a game in which Angels manager Mike Scioscia waved the white flag after eight innings, pulling Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Erick Aybar with the Yankees holding a seven-run lead, only to see their positions in the batting order come up in key spots in the ninth. The fact that their replacements, Taylor Featherston, Grant Green and Efren Navarro, made key contributions mitigated that decision somewhat, that is until Carlos Perez, batting for Featherston, struck out to end the game with the tying run at third base.

You can spread some blame Yankees manager Joe Girardi's way, too, since his decision to "rest'' Mark Teixeira and Drew for the final half-inning resulted in a botched popup between rookie Jose Pirela at second base and third baseman Chase Headley, who was moved to first, that kept the ninth inning alive.

All in all, a win to hold onto in a game to forget.

Lost in the chaos of the ninth inning were Drew's two home runs off Angels starter, and loser, Jered Weaver, and A-Rod's four hits, one of which knocked in Brett Gardner for his 1,997th RBI, passing Bonds and giving him sole possession of second place on baseball's all-time list, and another of which, a seventh-inning double, put him in position to score and pass Musial with 1,950 runs, good for eighth place on that list.

Lost, also, was another effective but too brief appearance by Nathan Eovaldi, whose pitch count skyrocketed as his control faltered and could go no further than one out into the sixth inning. Leaving with a 5-0 lead, Eovaldi came away with the win when Betances, who got a save, was finally able to get the last out of the game.

Also lost was a key appearance by Chasen Shreve, who was brought into the bases-loaded, one-out jam Eovaldi left behind. Shreve allowed one run to score on an infield out, walked a batter to load the bases again, and then struck out Aybar to strand all three runners, which was only the biggest out of the game until Gregorius' diving stop on Chris Iannetta for the second out of the ninth inning. Rookie Jacob Lindgren also pitched well, striking out two of the four hitters he faced in the eighth.

But those are not the things you will remember about this game. What you will take away from it was the sight of a team slowly crumbling before your very eyes, like a ship gradually taking on water until it finally founders and slips beneath the surface.

Luckily for the Yankees, they plugged their leaks before things got completely out of hand.

And as they say, a win is a win is a win.

But this was a win that surely felt like a loss and game that left the victors almost embarrassed to claim ownership of it.

"Things got a little bit too dicey out there,'' Rodriguez said. "I still have a headache from it. But it was nice to get the win here at home.''

Nice, yes. But fun? Hardly.

And only encouraging if you had the good fortune, or good sense, to leave the ballpark at about the same time Mike Scioscia was raising the white flag.

NOTES: After losing 10 of 11 games between May 12-24, the Yankees have now won eight of their past 11. ... The Yankees' four-game winning streak matches their longest of the season, and they have now won four straight at home for the first time since last September. ... Rodriguez's two hits off Weaver gave him 11 hits in 29 career at-bats for a .379 batting average. ... Teixeira, whose third-inning home run gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead, now has 17 HRs in his first 55 games, matching the highest total of his career to this point in the season. He also did it in 2009, his first season as a Yankee, and also the last time the Yankees won a World Series. ... Drew's two HRs gave him three in five career at-bats off Weaver. ... Eovaldi's fifth win of the season leaves him one shy of his career high, set last year when he was 6-14 for the Miami Marlins.