YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 5
Isn’t about time for New York Yankee fans to come up with a nickname for Marcus Thames?
Mar-T? The Marcsman? How about River Dog?
After Saturday’s dramatic tie-breaking two-run home run in the seventh inning that propelled the Yankees to a 7-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, you can call him anything you like.
Thames is taking vitamin approach to hitting home runs these days: One a day. And in his last 10 starts he has six of them, which has got Yankee fans thinking “Alex who?” Pressed into a more prominent role in the starting lineup because of the absence of a hobbling A-Rod, Thames is delivering in a A-Rod-like fashion and the Yankees now have won a season-high eight games in a row because of it.
The bullpen, which earlier this season was a mess, took care of the rest. For the second straight day they combined to pitch 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of a struggling starter to hand a victory to the guys in pinstripes.
The struggling starter du jour was Javier Vazquez, whose shaky command of his slider led to a solo home run to Lyle Overbay with one out in the second inning. With two down in the same frame, Vazquez served up another home run to weak-hitting John McDonald, a two-run shot that hit the left-field foul pole and made it 3-0 Jays.
Vazquez has the dubious distinction of being tied with James Shields of the Rays for serving up the most home runs this season at 29. Vazquez has now become the Baskin-Robbins of soft-serve homers. Give him a paper hat and all he would need to do ask the hitters if they would like whipped cream and nuts with it.
The Yankees did manage to come back to tie it up in the third inning off Jays starter Marc Rzepczynski.
With one out, Francisco Cervelli doubled, Brett Gardner walked (his ninth straight game with at least one walk) and Derek Jeter doubled in Cervelli. After Mark Teixeira walked to load the bases, Robinson Cano singled to center to score Gardner and Jeter to make 3-all.
The Yankees then took the lead in the fourth inning. With one out and Eduardo Nunez at first, Cervelli doubled again. Gardner followed with a soft infield liner that dropped just over Rzepczynski’s glove and McDonald was forced to retire Gardner at first as Nunez scored.
After a walk to Jeter, Rzepczynski uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Cervelli to score from third.
But Vazquez did not protect the 5-3 lead well enough to suit manager Joe Girardi. With two out in the fifth inning, Vazquez walked Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells followed with a line-drive single to left.
Girardi decided to end Vazquez’s day much to the displeasure of the 34-year-old right-hander, who was one out away from a potential victory.
It did not lighten Vazquez’s mood much when Dustin Moseley came out of the bullpen and gave up a two-run double to Overbay that tied the game again at 5. Vazquez’s line now read five runs on four hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera combined to pitch four scoreless innings beginning in the sixth. They gave up only two hits and no walks as the the bullpen has now racked up 8 2/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Blue Jays in two days.
Of course, the victory would not have been possible without Thames, whose first two outs of the day travelled about 750 feet before he stepped to the plate in the seventh inning.
With two out in the frame, Cano banged out his second single of day, this one off reliever Jason Frasor (3-4). Thames, who previously drove Rzepczynski sliders to deep center in the second and deep left in the third, caught up to the first pitch Frasor threw: A slider.
“They threw me sliders all day so I was looking for it,” Thames told reporters after the game.
He deposited his 11th home run of the season into the Blue Jays’ bullpen in left-center and the Yankees were handed a lead they would not give up again.
Wood (2-4), who has only allowed one earned run in the 16 innings he has pitched for the Yankees, was credited with the victory after pitching a perfect eighth inning.
Rivera gave up a scratch single but still pitched a scoreless ninth to record his 29th save in 31 tries.
The better news for the Yankees came many hours later when the Baltimore Orioles battered the Tampa Bay Rays 8-2. By virtue of running their season record to a season-high 36 games over .500, the Yankees have opened up a 2 1/2 game lead on the upstart second-place Rays in the American League East.
The Boston Red Sox, who lost a pair of 3-1 games to the Chicago White Sox in a day-night doubleheader, are a full 10 games back in third place. They are 7 1/2 games out of the wild-card standings.
It may not be quite time to stick a fork in the Red Sox for 2010 but it is certainly time to get the utensil out the the drawer.
Vazquez was visibly upset at being taken out of the game in the clubhouse afterward. Asked if he thought Girardi had lost confidence in him, Vazquez replied “You will have to ask him.” But Girardi said he took Vazquez out because he sensed he was struggling with his mechanics and Girardi said Moseley was summoned because “I wanted a fresh arm.” He also said he expects Vazquez to make his next scheduled start at Texas on Friday. . . . Andy Pettitte took part in the three-inning simulated game on Saturday prior to the regular game and he threw exactly 50 pitches. Tossing to Rodriguez, Greg Golson and Ramiro Pena with Reggie Jackson acting as the umpire, Pettitte looked sharp in throwing 31 strikes. Pettitte is scheduled to throw another bullpen session on Monday and, after that, the Yankees will have to decide if they want him to do a rehab stint during the minor-league playoffs. Pettitte is hoping for a return to the Yankees within the next 10 days. . . . Rodriguez had no setbacks in taking his swings and running during the simulated game. In six at-bats against Pettitte, Rodriguez got two hits, struck out once, grounded out twice and popped up. Rodriguez admits that he is not running at 100 percent but he said it unlikely he will run too hard at first when he returns to action with the Yankees. . . . Nick Swisher, who has been nursing a bruised left knee for a few days, was a late scratch from the lineup on Saturday. Swisher wanted to play but he was unable to run without pain. Girardi, who had already decided to give Austin Kearns a day off, penciled in Thames in right-field and moved Lance Berkman into the DH spot.
The Yankees have already won the three-game series with the Blue Jays and they will aim for a series sweep and an extension of their winning streak to nine games on Sunday.
Phil Hughes (16-6, 4.10 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Despite not having his best stuff, Hughes was able to battle through against the Athletics and he limited the A’s to two runs on four hits and five walks over five innings. He is 2-2 with a 4.35 ERA lifetime against the Blue Jays.
The Jays are counting on left-hander Brett Cecil (11-7, 3.74 ERA), who picked up a loss despite pitching well over 7 2/3, innings against the Rays. Cecil gave up five runs but only two were earned. He gave up only five hits and a walk and struck out four. He is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will broadcast by the YES Network.