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Vernon Wells handles grounder in debut at third base, homers to help Yankees get victory

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

To say the New York Yankees had a strange night on Wednesday would be an understatement.

It started with manager Joe Girardi penciling his pitcher, David Phelps, into the eighth spot in his batting order despite the fact that Phelps had never taken an at-bat in six professional seasons. Girardi would later explain that his reasoning behind the move was to break up his string of left-handed hitters in case he needed to use pinch-hitter Travis Hafner in the pitcher's spot ahead of Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano.

It makes sense, but as is often the case in baseball, things didn't go exactly as Girardi planned. Instead of hitting Hafner in the pitcher's spot, he ended using the left-handed slugger in place of third baseman Chris Nelson as a bases loaded situation presented itself in the ninth inning.

Hafner would strike out swinging on a 3-2 pitch, leaving it up to another pinch-hitter, Brennan Boesch, to drive home the go-ahead run. Boesch did just that, coming through with an infield single to score Wells. So the series of pinch-hitters ending up working out, but they also opened up a whole new can of worms for Girardi. With Nelson now out of the game and his bench exhausted of options, he needed to turn to an unlikely candidate to man the hot corner.

That man was Vernon Wells, who trotted out to the position for the very first time in his career while wearing his outfielder's glove.

Here's more from MLB.com's Jack Etkin:

"I don't have an extra infielder, really, because of the situation with Nuney," Girardi said. "My extra infielders are outfielders and catchers."

So left fielder Vernon Wells ended up playing third base in the bottom of the ninth and not just for the first time in his Major League career but for the first time in his life. Wells said once Travis Hafner, the first pinch-hitter Girardi used, batted for third baseman Chris Nelson, "I knew I was going to end up playing third."

View photo

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Vernon Wells also scored the winning run for New York. (AP)

Wells added:

''Once Boesch was called safe, I was like a little kid just jumping around,'' said Wells, who also added a two-run homer in the first. ''Then I quickly stopped when I realized, 'OK, I've got to go play third.' I've got to get my head together.''

No pressure though, it was only a one-run game at Coors Field with the heart of the Rockies order set to face off against Mariano Rivera. And besides, the odds have to be against a baseball finding him in with the untouchable Mo on the hill. Right?

Apparently not, because it was Carlos Gonzalez who promptly chopped one that forced Wells to range well to his left to cut if off. Wells did so successfully and impressively, and then he made a completely clean throw across the diamond for the second out of the inning.

''That was one of the cooler moments of my career,'' Wells said.

We believe it.

Rivera took it from there, retiring Wilin Rosario to wrap up the game and the Yankees 3-2 victory. A victory, by the way, that was also aided by Wells' two-run first inning homer off Juan Nicasio and his successful stolen base in the ninth to set up the winning tally.

A night to remember indeed, even for a veteran who has carved out a well above average career.

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