YANKEES 9, BLUE JAYS 6
Through the course of a 162-game season, teams have to go through many difficult tests to prove their worthy of moving on to the playoffs. On Sunday, the Yankees were down 5-1 to Blue Jays after five innings in a game the Yankees desperately needed to win.
Somehow and someway they got off the mat and scored one of their most crucial victories of the season in front of a paid crowd of 31,418 at Rogers Centre.
The Yankees benefitted from a wild pitch to tally a run in the sixth, tied it with three runs in the eighth (the tying run scoring on another wild pitch) and Eduardo Nunez hit a sacrifice fly to deep left to score Curtis Granderson with the tie-breaking run in the eighth as New York came back from the brink of despair to down Toronto and clinch their 17th playoff spot over the past 18 seasons.
The victory also allowed the Yankees to maintain a first-place tie in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles, who completed a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.
The heroic comeback began in the sixth when Robinson Cano led off with a double and he advanced to third on Nick Swisher’s line-drive single to right off Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez. With Granderson at the plate, Alvarez tossed 1-2 pitch into the dirt past catcher J.P. Arencibia to allow Cano to score.
The Yankees opened the seventh against lefty reliever Brett Cecil with a lined single by Eric Chavez, who had accounted for the Yankees’ first run of the game in the third with a solo home run, his 16th of the season.
Manager John Farrell replaced Cecil with right-hander Steve Delabar and Derek Jeter greeted him with a ground-rule double down the right-field line to chase Chavez to third. Ichiro Suzuki scored Chavez with a sacrifice fly to center.
Alex Rodriguez then battled back from 0-2 count to draw a walk and Cano laced a double into deep right to score Jeter and advance Rodriguez to third.
Farrell replaced Delabar with left-hander Aaron Loup and, with Swisher at the plate, Loup tossed a slider into the dirt past Arencibia to allow Rodriguez to tack on the tying run.
The Yankees hoped the rally would continue with Cano on third and one out, but Swisher laced a bullet line-drive that Yunel Escobar caught with a dive to his right and he threw to Brett Lawrie at third to double up Cano.
But the Yankees were not through by any stretch.
In the eighth, Granderson drew a leadoff walk from veteran left-hander Darren Oliver (3-4) and Raul Ibanez followed it by lashing a single into right, forcing Farrell to replace Oliver with right-hander Brandon Lyon.
Russell Martin slapped a sacrifice bunt to Lawrie at third to advance Granderson and pinch-runner Brett Gardner and Nunez hit the very next pitch to deep right and right-fielder Moises Sierra made a spectacular grab of the ball before it reached the wall. However, it was plenty deep enough to score Granderson and give the Yankees their first lead in the game.
Jeter provided insurance by dropping a sinking liner into right to score Gardner.
The Yankees even added a pair of runs in the ninth by loading the bases with no outs against veteran right-hander Jason Frasor and Granderson laced a two-run single into right to give the Yankees a seemingly “comfortable” 9-5 lead. The RBIs for Granderson gave him exactly 100 on the season.
While the Yankees did not receive much in the way of pitching from 16-game winner Phil Hughes, the bullpen pitched well enough to allow the Yankees to make their comeback.
Hughes was tagged for five runs on eight hits and two walks while he struck out four batters in 4 2/3 innings.
Veteran sinker specialist Derek Lowe relieved Hughes in the fifth after Hughes gave up three runs on five hits and left the game with runners on first and third and two out. But Lowe ended the inning by getting Arencibia on a flyout.
Lowe then retired the next four batters he faced on groundouts before Boone Logan (7-2) came with one out in the seventh and he retired the side despite issuing a two-out walk to Escobar.
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth, which set up the Yankees hoped would be a routine ninth with Rafael Soriano on to close it out.
However, anyone who has followed this tortuous and trying season with the Yankees knows there is no such thing as routine when it comes to the Yankees and their victories.
Lawrie opened the frame with a single and Rajai Davis added his ninth hit of the series with a single to center. Soriano then walked Colby Rasmus to load the bases.
But Soriano was able to induce Escobar to hit into a double-play, which scored Lawrie but left the Yankees with just one out to get. Soriano then retired Adam Lind on a groundout from Cano to Swisher to end the game.
The Yankees collected on the field to celebrate but it was a subdued one. They are waiting to really celebrate when they win the division.
The Yankees are 92-67 – as are the Orioles. But they also are one game behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. The Blue Jays, who seemed to play this series to a tie as if their lives were on the line, fell to just 70-89, 21 games back in fourth place in the division.
- Nunez’s sacrifice fly was huge and it could not have happened to a more deserving player. Nunez battled his way back from a demotion to Triple-A and a thumb injury to come back with vengeance since his Sept. 1 recall. He has driven in runs in three of his last four games and there is a good possibility that the Yankees might use him as a right-handed designated hitter in the playoffs over outfielder Andruw Jones.
- After slumping much of September, it appears Cano is getting back on track at the plate. He was 3-for-5 with two doubles, one RBI and two runs scored. He now has a six-game hitting streak in which he is 15-for-24 (.625) with five RBIs. With Mark Teixeira out of the lineup and Alex Rodriguez scuffling all month, Cano pretty much has had to produce for the Yankees to have a chance to win.
- Lowe stopped the bleeding in the fifth and retired all five batters he faced. Though Lowe got cuffed around pretty good in his first eight appearances (0-1 with a 5.79 ERA), he has pitched much better over his last eight appearances (0-0 with a 1.46 ERA). There is a good chance Lowe could make the postseason roster over Freddy Garcia because he has more value out of the bullpen.
- Hughes did not pitch very well at all. But the Blue Jays are a bad matchup for a flyball pitcher like Hughes. The Blue Jays scored two off Hughes in the first, keyed by a one-out double by Escobar. Lawrie tagged him for a two-run homer in the fifth, the 28th Hughes has given up this season. Sierra chased him with an RBI single later in the fifth. Hughes is 1-1 with a 7.16 ERA in his last three starts. This is not how Hughes wanted to enter the playoffs.
- Soriano’s shaky ninth was a bit of a concern. But you have to chalk that up to the fact that he has only pitched one-third of an inning overt the past week because he has not gotten save opportunities in the games the Yankees have won in that stretch. His last save was on Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays.
- Lost in the excitement over the victory is the fact the Yankees did not take full advantage of their situation in the sixth after Alvarez uncorked a wild pitch to allow Cano to score. Granderson was up with Swisher at second but he grounded out to Alvarez, which was an unproductive out. Ibanez grounded out weakly to Lind at first and Martin struck out swinging. This is a microcosm of the Yankees’ season. They blow a lot of chances to score runs by not delivering with runners in scoring position.
Girardi said Teixeira will start at first base on Monday for the Yankees in his first action since he reinjured his left calf on Sept. 8. Teixiera worked out in Tampa, FL, on Sunday after playing the previous day in an Instructional League game and he reported no issues with his injured calf. Teixeira will see the team physician in New York on Monday and he is expected to be cleared to play. . . . Nunez will make the postseason roster because reserve infielder Jayson Nix is expected to miss the next 10 to 14 days with a strained left hip flexor. Nix sustained the injury during Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays. . . . The Yankees continue to have Ivan Nova penciled in as the starter for Tuesday’s game but no definite word has been issued. Nova is 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA in his three starts since coming off the disabled list.
The division title is on the line and the Yankees will have to beat the “Dead” Sox to win it over the last three games.
Ace lefty CC Sabathia (14-6, 3.42 ERA) will open the series. Sabathia is coming off an impressive outing in which he gave up two runs on six hits and struck out 10 in eight dominant innings against the Minnesota Twins. He is 7-9 with a 4.35 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox.
Clay Buchholz (11-7, 4.22 ERA) will start for the last-place Red Sox. Buchholz gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks over six innings in loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in his last start. He is 2-4 with 5.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 2
Since June 27, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been dreaming about the return of all five of his starters, including 40-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte. On Wednesday afternoon he got his wish and what he got had to exceed even his expectations.
Pettitte threw five scoreless frames, giving up four hits and two walks in a workmanlike 75-pitch outing, as New York put up three runs in the first inning and made them hold up to defeat Toronto in the opener of a day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.
Pettitte (4-3) was making a comeback from a broken left fibula he suffered on a hard-hit comebacker by Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians on June 27. Held to a pitch count of about 70 pitches, Pettitte stranded six Blue Jays by inducing ground ball outs to escape any damage. He also struck out three batters.
His most impressive inning was his last in which he retired Rajai Davis, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie in order using only seven pitches.
The Yankees’ offense got busy early off Blue Jays right-hander Henderson Alvarez (9-13).
Ichiro Suzuki opened the frame with a solid single to right. Nick Swisher followed with a lined single up the middle and Robinson Cano scored Suzuki with line-drive double that Rasmus misjudged in center-field and allowed to bounce off the wall.
Alex Rodriguez scored Swisher and advanced Cano to third with an RBI grounder and Curtis Granderson drove in Cano with a sacrifice fly to center.
The 3-0 margin held up until the eighth inning when David Robertson again got smacked around by the Blue Jays.
Lawrie greeted him with a double off the wall in left-center and he advanced to third on a seeing-eye single by pinch-hitter J.P. Arencibia that got past Jayson Nix at shortstop and rolled into left-field.
Pinch-hitter Kelly Johson then slapped a single into left to score Lawrie.
Robertson fanned Moises Sierra looking but veteran Omar Vizquel doubled into the corner in right to score Arencibia and advance Johnson to third.
Robertson fanned Adeiny Hechavarria looking and Girardi chose to bring in closer Rafael Soriano for what would be his sixth four-out save of the season.
Soriano walked rookie Anthony Gose to load the bases but Davis was retired on a sharp sinking line drive to left that Suzuki made a sliding grab on and barely held onto as the ball rolled up his right arm.
The Yankees added a crucial insurance run with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning off Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver.
Suzuki started it by slapping a bloop ground-rule double just inside the line in shallow left-field that was just out of the reach of a diving Gose.
Swisher followed with a hot smash that snuck under the glove of Lawrie at third base and rolled into left to plate Suzuki.
Soriano retired the Blue Jays in order in the ninth, striking out two batters, to record his 41st save in 44 opportunities this season. What was left probably one-third of the paid crowd of 39,859 from last night’s rainout stood and cheered the clutch victory.
The Yankees, for the moment, pulled back ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East by a half game. Their season record is 83-63. The Blue Jays fell to 66-80.
- The Yankees got rolling in May when Pettitte joined CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova and that quartet was 30-5 over a stretch of a month and half before Pettitte was injured. Since then the Yankees have also lost Nova and Sabathia in certain stretches and their 10-game lead on June 18 shrunk to zero. But Pettitte showed he could still compete and he has two more starts to build up his stamina for the playoffs. I think the Yankees are breathing a lot easier than they were a few weeks ago.
- Suzuki was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored to raise his season batting average to .272. His catch on Davis’ sinking liner in the eighth inning preserved the victory for Pettitte and Yankees. With Derek Jeter out of the lineup, Suzuki fulfilled his role as a the consummate table-setter at the top of the lineup and he threw in a game-saving catch to boot. The trade the Yankees made to obtain from the Mariners is starting to pay major dividends.
- Swisher was 2-for-4 with a huge RBI single in the eighth that made the ninth inning more comfortable for Soriano and the Yankees. Swisher entered the contest in an 0-for-10 slide but he got a big hit when it counted.
- The way Robertson is pitching lately has to concern the Yankees some. He was tagged for two runs on four hits two-thirds of inning and he is now 0-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his last 10 appearances. Although his overall ERA is still a respectable 2.98, Robertson has been far more hittable lately and the Yankees need him to shut down teams in the eighth to go anywhere in the postseason.
- Swisher has played marvelous defense at first base for the most part but he actually made two errors on one play in the third inning. With Davis on first and one out, Lawrie hit a ball well off the bag at first. Swisher should have held the ball but attempted an awkward toss to Pettitte covering first and it rolled to the dugout screen to allow Davis to reach third. Pettitte bailed out Swisher by retiring Adam Lind on an inning-ending double-play ball.
- The top three Yankee hitters in the lineup – Suzuki, Swisher and Cano – collected all seven of the Yankees’ hits in the game. The rest of the batting order was a combined 0-for-17. That is a big reason why Alvarez stayed in the game for seven innings despite giving up three runs in the first frame.
NOTE: The BOMBER BANTER and ON DECK features will appear in the post from the second game of the doubleheader.
YANKEES 4, INDIANS 2
Lately it seems the Yankees are having a tough enough time scoring runs as it would be for them to toss manhole covers. Fortunately, on Sunday they managed to use the “Goldilocks” approach to scoring by putting up a number on the scoreboard that was “just right.”
Curtis Granderson homered in the sixth inning and Nick Swisher contributed three hits and an RBI as New York held down punchless Cleveland at Progressive Field to win the three-game series two games to one.
The Yankees did most of their damage in the second inning off Cleveland right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (9-13).
Eric Chavez started the uprising with a leadoff opposite-field single to left. Raul Ibanez followed by drawing a walk and Ichiro Suzuki lashed a line drive that caromed off Jimenez’s glove and rolled into center-field to score Chavez easily with the game’s first score.
Chris Stewart then advanced Ibanez and Suzuki one base with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt.
Derek Jeter ended the day hitless but he still contributed with a infield bouncer to third that scored Chavez. Swisher then laced an opposite-field single to left to score Suzuki, staking Yankees right-hander Freddy Garcia with an early 3-0 lead.
The Indians, however, got to Garcia with two out in the fifth inning with an Indian uprising of their own.
Jason Kipnis sliced a double to the wall in the right-field corner and Garcia, trying to pitch Asdrubal Cabrera inside, hit him with a breaking pitch. Garcia then walked the base loaded by missing on a 3-2 pitch to Shinn-Soo Choo.
In the third inning, the Indians loaded the bases with two out when Garcia missed on a similar 3-1 pitch to Choo. However, Garcia escaped by getting Carlos Santana on a routine fly to right.
The fifth inning was a different story. Santana lined the first pitch up the middle into center-field to score Kipnis and Cabrera.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulled Garcia in favor of Boone Logan, who ended the threat by retiring Michael Brantley on a routine groundout.
Garcia pitched 4 2/3 innings and gave up two runs on four hits and two walks and he struck out six batters.
Jimenez gave up three runs on eight hits and a walk and he fanned four.
Granderson greeted left-hander Tony Sipp with his 33rd home run of the season and the 200th home run of his career to lead off the sixth inning. He smacked a 1-2 slider just over the wall and into the first row of seats in the right-field bleachers.
Granderson becomes the eighth current Yankee to have 200 or more home runs, joining Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones, Mark Teixeira, Ibanez, Chavez, Jeter and Swisher.
Logan (5-2) then combined with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano to pitch 4 1/3 scoreless innings the rest of the way to earn his fifth victory in relief this season.
Soriano pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless ball to earn his 33rd save in 35 chances this season.
Soriano actually also literally saved face. With Ezequiel Carrera on first and one out in the ninth, Soriano used his glove to deflect a line drive off the bat of Kipnis that was headed for his face and threw Kipnis out at first to help preserve the victory for the Yankees.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 74-53. They also picked up a half-game on the idle second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. They now lead the Rays by four games. The Indians, meanwhile, have now dropped 10 of their last 11 games and are 55-72.
- Swisher was easily the Most Valuable Player of the series. Back in his native Ohio, Swisher was 7-for-11 (.636) with a home run and four RBIs against the Indians. Since Aug. 7, Swisher is 28-for-74 (.378) with five home runs and 19 RBIs. The hot streak nearly exactly corresponds with his shift to the No. 2 spot in the batting order, which came on Aug. 8.
- Soriano has now converted his last nine save chances dating back to July 23 in Seattle. Over that span Soriano has given up just two runs on nine hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts over 12 2/3 innings of work. That is an ERA of 1.42 and a WHIP of 0.87. Soriano is 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 33 saves on the season. Mariano who?
- Granderson’s home run was his 33rd of the season, which is fourth-best in the American League. It also was his first round-tripper since an Aug. 18 game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. It was also his 12th home run this season off a left-handed pitcher.
This was a big victory considering the Rays and the Baltimore Orioles did not play and the Yankees were able to salvage the final road series before returning home for six games at Yankee Stadium. Garcia could have pitched a little longer and the Yankees should have scored more runs in the series but the bottom line is they won a game they needed to win.
The Yankees return to the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium on Monday to begin a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Rookie right-hander David Phelps (3.4, 2.69 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees starting in place of Ivan Nova, who is on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Phelps lost his last start on Aug. 18 against the Boston Red Sox despite giving up three runs in 6 2/3 innings of work. Phelps has never faced the Blue jays.
The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Henderson Alvarez (7-11, 4.84 ERA). Alvarez surrendered a career-high eight runs and 12 hits in his 4 1/3 innings in his last start against the Texas Rangers. he has not won a game since July 28. He has no record and 5.25 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 3
With the bases loaded and two out in the eighth inning, the Yankees had Raul Ibanez striding to the plate carrying an 0-for-11 mark this season with the bases loaded. Well, after Monday’s game he is now 1-for-12 with a grand slam home run.
Ibanez’s dramatic blast off Jason Frasor broke a 2-2 tie and gave New York a hard-fought victory over Toronto to win their seventh of their last nine games in front a paid crowd of 42,819 at Yankee Stadium.
David Robertson (1-3) pitched a scoreless eighth inning to pick up his first victory of the season. Rafael Soriano came in the ninth to get the last two outs to notch his 23rd save in 24 chances this season.
With the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Rodriguez stroked a one-out single to left off reliever Aaron Loup (0-1) and advanced to second a passed ball by J.P. Arencibia. Robinson Cano then hit a single up the middle that second baseman Kelly Johnson was able to keep in the infield for a single.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell removed Loup in favor of Frasor, who hit Mark Teixeira in the right foot on a 2-2 pitch to load the bases.
Nick Swisher, who struck out looking with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning, did the same thing in the eighth, leaving it all up to Ibanez.
Frasor got behind in the count 3-1 before serving up a room-service fastball that Ibanez was able to drive deep into the second deck in right-field for his 12th home run of the season. It was also his 10th career grand slam but his first for the Yankees.
The Yankees broke out to an early 2-0 lead on the Jays on the strength of an opposite field solo home run with two out in the second inning by Russell Martin and Rodriguez and Cano hit to back-to-back one out doubles in the third inning off Jays starter Henderson Alvarez.
However, the Jays were able to claw back against Yankees starter Phil Hughes on a two-out solo home run by Adam Lind in the fourth and Edwin Encarnacion blasted a one-out double to the wall to score Jose Bautista from first to tie the game up in the sixth inning.
Hughes gave up two runs on four hits and three walks and struck out four over seven innings.
Alvarez coughed up two runs on five hits and four walks and struck out a career-high six batters in his six innings of work.
With the victory the Yankees improved their major-league-best record to 55-34. They also hold a commanding nine-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 45-45 in last place in the division and trailing the Yankees by 10 1/2 games.
- After slumping through June, when he hit only .162 with two home runs and seven RBIs, Ibanez has started off July going 8-for-25 (.320) with a home run and five RBIs. Ibanez is hitting .242 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs on the season and he is playing more games in left-field than he was expected to play.
- Cano’s RBI double in the third inning extended his hitting streak to a career-high 19 games. During that span, Cano is 31-for-75 (.413) with six home runs and 20 RBIs. Cano is hitting .321 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs this season. Cano also made a spectacular play on a hard-hit ball off the bat of Colby Rasmus to lead off the seventh inning. The ball caromed off the glove of Teixeira but Cano was able to grab the carom and throw to Robertson covering first to nip Rasmus.
- Rodriguez popped up to first with the bases loaded and two out in a 10-8 loss to the Angels on Sunday but he was 2-for-4 on Monday and scored two runs. Rodriguez has actually collected hits in seven of the last eight games in which he has started and is 11-for-35 (.314) during that span. He may not be hitting for much power but he has raised his season average to .273.
- Swisher was 1-for-4 and left a total of seven runners on base in the game. After hitting a robust .321 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in June, Swisher is slumping badly in July. He is 7-for-37 (.189) with one home runs and five RBIs. He also has struck 14 times in his 37 at-bats.
- Derek Jeter had an unusual 0-for-4 night and only got one ball out of the infield. Jeter entered the game with a modest four-game hitting streak but he is still hitting .364 in his last 10 games and .340 in July.
- Dewayne Wise was inserted into the game in the ninth for Ibanez in left-field as a defensive replacement. However, Wise kicked away the ball on a bloop single off the bat of Arencibia in the ninth that allowed Johnson to score a run and force Soriano to get the last two outs while those batters represented the potential tying run.
The ongoing Brett Gardner right elbow rehab saga has taken another ugly turn for the worse. Gardner took four at-bats in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Sunday and felt soreness in his elbow. Gardner has been on the disabled since April 17 after he injured his right elbow making a diving catch. He has come close to completing two rehab stints before feeling pain in his elbow and having to shut the process down. It is now unclear how long Gardner will be out. . . . Rodriguez was scheduled to play third on Monday but complained a slightly stiff neck and he was shifted to designated hitter. Eric Chavez played third base for the Yankees and was 0-for-3 with a walk. . . . Mariano Rivera said on Monday that it could be possible he may not be out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Rivera told Michael Kay on ESPN Radio that his rehab is going so well that he possibly could return in September.
The Yankees will continue their three-game series with Blue Jays on Tuesday.
CC Sabathia (9-3, 3.45 ERA) will make his first start since he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin. As a result, Sabathia was unable to pitch in the 2012 All-Star Game, though he was selected to the team. In his 16 career starts against the Blue Jays, Sabathia is 12-3 with a 3.16 ERA.
Opposing Sabathia will be left-hander Brett Cecil (2-1, 6.75 ERA). Cecil surrendered seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in his last start against the Chicago White Sox. He is 4-3 with a 3.96 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast locally by MY9.
BLUE JAYS 7, YANKEES 5
Edwin Encarnacion hit two home runs and drove in four runs and J.P. Arencibia added a two-run shot of his own as Toronto laid out the heavy lumber to defeat New York in a Grapefruit League game on Wednesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Veteran right-hander Carlos Villanueva (1-0) pitched two innings of scoreless relief to get credit for the victory. Freddy Garcia (1-1), who left the game with a hand injury in the fourth inning, took the loss. Jim Hoey pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
Arencibia’s home run in the fourth inning off reliever Corey Wade broke a 1-1 tie and the Blue Jays tacked on four more runs in the fifth off rookie left-hander Manny Banuelos, keyed by a three-run home run by Encarnacion. The Yankees mounted a four-run rally in the seventh inning but fell short to lose their fourth straight exhibition game.
The Yankees’ spring ledger is now 5-8. The Jays have now won eight straight games and are 10-2.
- Curtis Granderson was 2-for-3 in the game and stroked a two-out RBI double in the third inning off starter Henderson Alvarez to score Derek Jeter to tie the score at 1-1. Granderson is hitting .316 on the spring and is one of the few Yankee regulars who is producing offense of late.
- After looking absolutely outmatched by Boston pitching Tuesday night, Doug Bernier stroked a two-run double off Blue Jays reliever Anthony Carreno in the seventh inning. Dewayne Wise then followed with a two-run single to bring the Yankees to within 7-5 before the rally fizzled. Bernier, 31, and Wise, 33, are the longest of longshots to make the Yankee roster this spring.
- D.J. Mitchell, another one of the “Fabulous Five” ticketed to make up the starting rotation at Triple A turned in three spectacular innings of relief. Mitchell did not give up a run, a hit or a walk and fanned four batters. Mitchell, 24, pitched at Clemson and is considered to be a great ground-ball pitcher with excellent control. His future with the Yankees could involve a move to the bullpen at the major-league level.
- Garcia’s outing was cut short by a hand injury but he did not pitch as effectively in this start. He was nicked for a solo home run by Encarnacion in the second inning and he gave up four hits and a walk in his three-plus innings of work. Of course, Wade entered the game and gave the two-run home run to Arencibia after Garcia was struck by Encarnacion’s hard grounder up the middle on the fingers of his right hand ended up skewing Garcia’s ERA higher.
- Banuelos, who turned 21 on Tuesday, just had one of those days he could not throw a strike. Of the eight batters he faced, Banuelos threw a first-pitch strike only to the last hitter he faced. He also fell behind every hitter he faced until the final batter (Arencibia) to end the inning. It is not easy to pitch effectively when you are behind in the count to every hitter and the Blue Jays made him pay. Banuelos was ticketed for Triple A anyway so he can just chalk up this outing as a learning experience. Banuelos must learn to command his secondary pitches.
- I hate to beat a dead horse but Raul Ibanez was 0-for-3 and he is hitting .083 this spring. After dealing with the struggles of Jorge Posada at designated hitter last season the Yankees might not be worried yet. But they better have a plausible Plan B if Ibanez does not shake his batting woes when the bell rings to open the season.
As usual with the Yankees on the road, the Blue Jays welcomed 5,509 fans to the game on Wednesday, their largest crowd of the spring. . . . X-rays taken on Garcia’s right hand indicated no broken bones. Garcia’s right thumb and the tip of his index finger were swollen and it is unclear of Garcia will miss his next spring start. . . . Meanwhile, All-Star reliever David Robertson was able to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes and he will resume pitching off a mound this weekend. Robertson suffered a bone bruise on his right foot while slipping on a step at his home last week. . . . Veteran outfielder Nick Swisher left Wednesday’s game in the fifth inning with tightness in his left groin. The injury does not appear to be serious and Swisher is listed as day-to-day.
For the next two days the Yankees will embark on a home-and-away set with the Washington Nationals starting Viera, FL.
The Yankees are scheduled to pitch 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, who has been plagued by a lack of velocity on his fastball this spring. He will be making his third start. Pineda will be opposed by an old friend, Chien-Ming Wang. The 31-year-old right-hander and former Yankee star will be making his second start of the spring and he is 1-0 with 9.00 ERA.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 2 – TORONTO BLUE JAYS
When you think of the Blue Jays these days, just one name comes to mind: Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays basically rode Bautista to an 81-81 record last season, the first season for manager John Farrell.
Though Bautista was able to slug his way to 43 home runs and 103 RBIs and a .302 average despite being pitched around and walked 132 times, the Blue Jays offense could not cover up problems in the Jays’ starting rotation and bullpen.
This season Bautista figures to have a lot more help with the offense but the Jays were unable to bid successfully for Japanese League star right-hander Yu Darvish. As a result, their pitching remains a big question mark heading into 2012. If they get some good pitching from their starters they could actually be much better than they were in 2011.
Left-hander Ricky Romero begins the 2012 season as the unquestioned ace of this team after compiling a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 225 innings. Romero’s deadly change-up is his best pitch and he keeps hitters off-balance working off his low 90s fastball. At age 27, he has made great strides in just two major-league seasons.
Once again, right-hander Brandon Morrow will be the No. 2 starter, though he actually would be more valuable as a closer. Morrow, 27, throws high-octane gas but has a habit of missing the strike zone and getting bogged down in deep counts. That raises his pitch count and Morrow tends to tire quickly. Hence, he was 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA despite striking out 203 batters in 179 1/3 innings.
The big disappointment was left-hander Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 2010 but was 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts last season. Cecil, 25, regressed so badly he was sent back to the minors for a part of the season. Because the Jays have few options for their rotation, Cecil likely will be given another shot to stick in 2012. If he succeeds, as he did in 2010, the Jays will have a solid top three pitchers.
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up in the middle of the season and finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.53 ERA in only 10 starts. Alvarez, only 21, is an excellent control pitcher and he could end up making a huge leap forward if he can secure the No. 4 spot this season.
The Blue Jays are also counting on old friend to be their No. 5 starter in Dustin McGowan, who pitched briefly last season for the first time since the 2008 season. Shoulder problems derailed what looked to be a promising pitcher in 2007 when he was 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. The Jays are counting on him bouncing back this season.
The pressure is on McGowan, too. There is little depth behind him.
In short, this Blue Jays rotation looks to be a bit suspect but it has the potential to exceed expectations.
The most signifcant moves the Jays made was the signing 36-year-old right-hander Francisco Cordero as a free agent and acquiring 28-year-old right-hander Sergio Santos from the White Sox.
Leaky middle relief and the lack of a consistent closer cost the Jays dearly last season.
Cordero likely was signed to be a setup man for Santos despite the fact Cordero nailed down 36 saves in 43 chances with the Reds last season. Cordero was 5-3 with 2.45 ERA with the Reds but he still will to defer to Santos.
Santos came out of nowhere last season to become the White Sox closer with 30 saves in 36 tries and a 4-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. Should Santos falter for any reason, Cordero could easily slide into that role by virtue of his 327 career saves.
The Blue Jays also bolstered their bullpen by adding seemingly ageless left-hander Darren Oliver (who is 41) to a bullpen that already includes steady right-handers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen. Former starter Jesse Litsch and long man Carlos Villanueva add depth to what now looks to be a strong group in 2012.
Bautista will not be shuttling from right-field to third base as he has in the past. The reason is the Jays think they have their third baseman for the forseeable future in Brett Lawrie.
Lawrie came up late in 2011 and showed he was ready for prime time by hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs with a .293 batting average in only 150 at bats. Projected over a full season, Lawrie’s numbers would approach Bautista’s. So Lawrie bears watching as a star of the future if he isn’t already.
Adam Lind also helped the Jays by slugging 26 home runs and driving in 87 runs hitting behind Bautiista. Though Lind could stand to hit better than the .251 mark he posted, the Jays have to be encouraged that he hit .243 against left-handers last season.
The Jays gave up on second baseman Aaron Hill and acquired Kelly Johnson from the Diamondbacks in a trade of Hill. However, Johnson and Hill are virtually alike in they are both mid-average power hitters. Johnson hit 21 home runs in 2011 after hitting 26 in 2010. Johnson also can steal bases. He swiped 16 last season.
The Jays also traded for troubled Cardinals outfielder Colby Ramus, who rejected hitting advice from coaches in St. Louis while posting a .225 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Because the Jays have failed in developing prospect Travis Snider into a major-league hitter the team has moved on hoping Ramus fulfills his early promise.
Rounding out the outfield is left-fielder Eric Thames, who hit .282 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in just over half a season.
The Jays did seem to strike gold by prying shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves. Escobar, 29, hit .290 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs as a leadoff hitter for most of the 2011 season.
The DH spot likely will go mostly to Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 134 games last season.
This Blue Jay offense is laden with power but Farrell introduced the concept of the stolen base to the formerly station-to-station Jays. However, the team leader, Rajai Davis, stole 34 bases but is now cast in a bench role so I am not sure how much stealing this team will do in 2012.
The Jays also developed a young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in a his rookie season. But even with all that production, Arencibia hit just .219. He needs some work on defense too but the Jays are hopeful because he is only 26.
Davis, a speedster who had hit .284 with 50 steals for the A’s in 2010 fell off to hit .238 for the Jays in 2011. So he is locked in a battle with former Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco for a backup spot.
Though Snider has been a disappointment for the third straight season, the left-handed slugger just turned 24 and the Jays remain hopeful he someday will put it together. He may land back in Triple-A for the 2012 season, however.
Mike McCoy will be the primary infield reserve. He lacks range but is solid at second, short and third.
Jays backup catcher and defensive wizard Jose Molina left as a free agent for the rival Rays so the Jays acquired former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia.
The Jays figure to hit more home runs and still fewer bases in 2012. It is team that you can shut down if you have good stuff. But it also is a team that can destroy a pitcher who continually falls behind in the count and does not have good stuff.
The biggest weakness on the team looks to be in the thin starting rotation. Romero is the only real quality pitcher because Morrow has yet to take the next step in his development into a starter, Cecil is a biq question mark, Alvarez needs to prove he belongs and McGowan is pitching after three mostly inactive seasons rehabbing after major shoulder surgery.
The bullpen should be improved and both Santos and Cordero have experience closing. The Blue Jays have some good relievers besides them in Oliver, Frasor and Janssen.
With some real improvement the Jays could contend for the division this season. But in this division, their starting pitching could prevent them from staying competitive as the season unfolds.
I see the Jays perhaps creeping over the .500 mark but still finishing fourth.
ON WEDNESDAY – PART 3 TAMPA BAY RAYS
YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 6
Mariano Rivera not only reached a personal milestone for himself by recording his 601st save, he rescued a Yankee team that was just happy to get out of Rogers Centre in Toronto with a victory.
Rivera managed to tie Trevor Hoffman for the all-time saves lead and the Yankees got a pair of huge home runs from a returning Alex Rodriguez and a slumping Curtis Granderson to overcome a 6-1 deficit and rebound to beat the Blue Jays on Saturday.
The victory by the Yankees, combined with the 4-3 defeat of the Boston Red Sox by the Tampa Bay Rays, has reduced the team’s magic number to clinch a payoff spot to four and their magic number to clinch the American League East is now eight.
As the early innings unfolded, it looked as if starter Bartolo Colon and the Yankees were going to get crushed by the Blue Jays. Colon was tagged for four runs in the second inning, keyed by RBI doubles by Colby Rasmus and Jose Molina.
The Blue Jays added two more runs and chased Colon in the fourth on a two-run double of the right-field wall by Mike McCoy.
Colon gave up six runs on seven hits and a walk and struck out three in four innings.
Meanwhile, the Yankees could not get a rally going against 21-year-old Blue Jays right-hander Henderson Alvarez.
They did have a promising comeback going in the fourth inning when Granderson opened the frame with a walk and Mark Teixeira doubled to the gap in left-center to advance Granderson to third. Granderson then scored when Robinson Cano lofted a sacrifice fly to left-field, which was dropped for an error by Adam Loewen. Teixiera advanced to third and Cano reached second.
Then the Yankees, who have had all sorts of problems scoring runs on this road trip, short-circuited the rally with a colossal base-running blunder.
Nick Swisher smacked a drive into center that was caught by Rasmus. For some reason, Cano ran around third base and passed Teixeira as he was tagging up to score what would have the second run of the inning. Cano was declared out and the Blue Jays escaped the the threat only giving up the one run.
But the Yankees long-slumbering bats awoke in a big way in the sixth. Granderson, who entered the game hitting .176 for the month, blasted a ground-rule double to right. Teixeira followed with a single to center in which Rasmus bobbled to allow Granderson to score and Teixeira to reach second.
Cano was then hit in the right hip with a pitch to put two runners on with no outs.
Rodriguez, who had missed the team’s previous eight games resting a sore left thumb, rocketed a first-pitch fastball into the left-field bleachers for a three-run home run that brought the Yankees to within a single run. For Rodriguez it was his 16th home run of the season and his first using a unique ring on his bat to protect the thumb and a new batting grip separating his top hand from his left thumb.
Alvarez was removed after the sixth inning having given up five runs on nine hits and a one walk and he struck out one batter.
The Yankees bullpen, who have been victimized four times in four different cities by walkoff losses, took over and shut down the Blue Jays for the rest of the game. Scott Proctor, Aaron Laffey, Hector Noesi, Rafael Soriano and Rivera each pitched a scoreless inning. Combined they gave up no hits and one walk and fanned six batters to hold the Blue Jays at bay long enough for the Yankees offense to grab the lead.
They did that in the seventh inning when Derek Jeter led off against right-handed reliever Carlos Villanueva with an infield single to deep short. Granderson then battled Villanueva into an extended 2-2 count in which he fouled off seven straight pitches. On the Villanueva’s 12th offering, Granderson punched a fastball over the center-field wall for his 40th home run and gave the Yankees their first lead of the game.
Laffey (3-2) was credited with the victory. Villanueva (6-4) took the loss. Rivera posted his 42nd save of the season in 47 chances.
The Yankees’ season ledger is at 91-59 and they now lead the Red Flops, uh, Sox, by 4 1/2 games with just 12 games left to play. The Blue Jays are 76-75 and are 15 1/2 games out of first in fourth place in the A.L. East.
- Granderson had a perfect afternoon at the plate. He was 3-for-3 with a bunt single, a double, a home run and he drew two walks. Despite his recent struggles at the plate this month, Granderson is two home runs behind the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista (42) in the major leagues in home runs. His two RBIs drew him into a tie with the Phillies’ Ryan Howard for the major-league lead at 113. He leads Ian Kinsler of Texas for major-league lead in runs scored 131 to 112. So if Granderson can make a big push over the last 12 games, he could still advance his MVP credentials.
- Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with a single, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs in his first game back. The thumb was not an issue and Rodriguez said his surgically repaired knee is not hurting him. Obviously, he felt comfortable at the plate. Rodriguez batted fifth for the first time since the 2006 season and it is unclear whether manager Joe Girardi will keep him that spot for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
- Teixeira also entered Saturday’s game in a slump. He was 6-for-35 (.171) in his last nine games. But he showed signs of life with a 2-for-5 game with a single and a double. Barring an extremely hot finish to the season, Teixeira will easily set a season-low batting mark this season. He is hitting just .246.
- Colon is becoming hard to figure out. On July 30, he was 8-6 with a 3.82 ERA. He is winless in his last eight starts and yet his ERA is just a tick lower at 3.81. He also has been good one start and not so good in the next. If the Yankees are to progress in the postseason the Yankees need more consistent pitching from Colon.
- Cano is easily the most gifted hitter and all-around player on the team. However, along with it comes some pretty bad rockhead plays. Twice on this current road trip, Cano has made serious base-running blunders that have cost the Yankees dearly. This one on Saturday was incredibly stupid. Even if he mistakenly thought the ball was in for a hit, he should have looked to see where Teixeira was on the bases before he ran past him. If the Yankees play this way in the playoffs they can forget winning their 28th world championship.
- During this road trip the Yankees have also been hitting into a lot of double plays. Besides the Cano mistake that was scored as a double play, the Yankees hit into two double plays in the first two innings. One by Teixeira and another by Swisher. It is easy to understand that they are not deliberately hitting into double plays but they are killing the offense when they are not careful on hitting over the ball instead of getting under the ball. It has to stop.
Phil Hughes felt back spasms after he completed his bullpen session on Friday and he will not pitch on Monday as scheduled. A.J. Burnett will pitch against the Minnesota Twins on that day instead. Girardi said the spasms were minor and Hughes likely will pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday or in one of the doubleheader games scheduled for Wednesday.
The Yankees will look to win the three-game series against the Blue Jays on Sunday.
The Yankees will start 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia (11-7, 3.71 ERA). Garcia was not sharp in his last start on Sept. 11 against the Angels. He gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings of a no-decision game in which the Yankees rallied to win 6-5. He is 7-7 with a 6.10 ERA in the lat 10 seasons against the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays will start right-hander Brandon Morrow (9-11, 5.23 ERA). Morrow allowed seven runs on seven hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings against Boston. Morrow has allowed five or more runs in four of his last five starts. He is 3-2 with a 4.66 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be at 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.