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 11, BLUE JAYS 4
The 2012 season has mostly been a house of horrors for Russell Martin, but the veteran backstop has caught fire in September – just in time for the Yankees’ stretch run for the American League East title. On Friday, Martin keyed another crucial victory with a big hit at just the right time.
Martin launched a three-run home run off Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor with two out in the sixth inning to turn what was a 3-1 lead into a comfortable 6-1 cushion as New York outscored Toronto to maintain their slim one-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the division.
With five games left to play the Yankees lowered their magic number to five to clinch their 13th A.L. East crown over the past 15 seasons.
The home run was the 20th of the season for Martin and it is a career high for him. Martin has also punctuated the month of September with six homers and 16 RBIs after driving in just 36 runs before the month started.
Martin’s blast handed a victory to Hiroki Kuruda (15-11), who held the Blue Jays to just two runs but he struggled over 5 1/3 innings, giving up 10 hits and two walks while striking out four batters. In winning his 15th game, Kuroda has established a new career high in victories in the majors, surpassing his high of 13 set in 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Yankee’ offense made Kuroda’s night somewhat easier by providing him with some early support against Blue Jays rookie right-hander Brad Jenkins (0-3).
With two out in the first inning Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano each stroked singles and Nick Swisher scored both with a booming double off the wall in center-field.
An inning later, Raul Ibanez opened the inning with a single and Jenkins then issued back-to-back walks to Martin and Eric Chavez. Derek Jeter then killed the bases-loaded, no-out rally by grounding into a double play, but Ibanez scored on the play and the Yankees held a 3-0 lead.
Meanwhile, base-running blunders by the Blue Jays cost them some runs early.
In the first inning, Brett Lawrie doubled to lead of the inning but he was cut down at second base when he strayed to far off the bag on a hard-hit grounder by Colby Rasmus to Swisher at first base. Swisher threw to Jeter to get Lawrie. One out later, a single by J.P. Arencibia likely would have scored Lawrie.
In the second inning, Yunel Escobar led off with a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Kuroda. But he also got caught too far off the bag when Kelly Johnson struck out and Martin nailed Escobar with a throw to Rodriguez. Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose followed with a single and double, respectively. Kuroda then walked Lawrie to load the bases but Kuroda escaped when he struck out Rasmus looking.
The Jays finally did cut the Yankees’ lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Rasmus got a measure of revenge against Kuroda by blasting a leadoff home run.
The Yankees, meanwhile, went to work to extend their lead off left-hander Brett Cecil in the sixth.
Cecil hit Cano in the left hand with his first offering of the frame and Swisher followed with a opposite-field single to left.
It then appeared Cecil might wriggle out of the inning when he registered consecutive strikeouts against Curtis Granderson and Ibanez.
However, Blue Jays manager John Farrell opted to bring the right-hander Frasor to face the right-handed-hitting Martin.
Martin battled all the way back from an 0-2 count to 3-2 by laying off some close breaking pitches before he belted a slider about a dozen rows into the left-field bleachers.
The Yankees then added another run in the inning off Frasor when Chavez drew a walk, Jeter singled and Suzuki drove in Chavez with an opposite-field single to left.
The Blue Jays drew a run closer and chased Kuroda in the sixth when Johnson slapped a one-out double down into the right-field corner and Davis advanced him to third with a bloop single to right. David Phelps came on for Kuroda to retire Gose on a fielder’s choice grounder as Johnson scored.
But the Yankees, already aware the Orioles had defeated the Boston Red Sox 9-1, then added single runs in the seventh and eighth before Chavez connected for his 15th home run of the season in the ninth inning off rookie right-hander Bobby Korecky.
The Blue Jays added to their run total when Adam Lind hit a two-run, opposite-field home run off Phelps in the seventh inning but it was much too little and much too late for the Blue Jays and their home crowd of 25,785 at Rogers Centre.
The Yankees improved their season record to 91-66, which is one game behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. The Blue Jays fell to 69-88 and they are tied with Red Sox for last place in the division, 22 games behind the Yankees.
- After the Yankees were shut out on Thursday, it was nice to see Martin come through with a clutch two-out home run that knocked the Blue Jays out of the game. Martin very quietly turned around his game after the All-Star break. At the break he was hitting .179 with eight home runs and 20 RBIs. Since then he is hitting a more respectable .241 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. Martin is not signed beyond this season and he would like to at least have a chance to stay with the Yankees. If he finishes strong he just may get that chance.
- Swisher’s two-out, two-run double in the first inning gives him 92 RBIs on the season and puts him within striking distance of bettering his career-high 95 RBIs he set in 2006 in his second full season in the majors with the Oakland Athletics. Swisher also could be a free agent this winter, but the Yankees might be forced to let him go because Cano will become a free agent after the 2013 season and the Yankees want to re-sign him to a lucrative long-term deal while cutting payroll before the 2014 season.
- Very quietly Chavez is turning in a great season as a role player for the team. He was 1-for-3 with a homer, two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored batting ninth as the team’s designated hitter. Chavez is 4-for-10 with two home runs and three RBIs in his last three starts. He is hitting .283 with 15 home runs and 36 RBIs coming off the bench this season.
- Kuroda won the contest but there has to be some concern about the way he has pitched in September. Kuroda entered the final month with a 12-10 record and an excellent 3.04 ERA. However, Kuroda is 3-1 with a 5.22 ERA in his five starts this month. He has pitched 212 2/3 innings, which is the most he has pitched since he threw 202 innings last season with the Dodgers. There is a question about him possibly wearing down before the postseason begins.
- The Yankees might be considering using Phelps on Tuesday in a start against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium instead of struggling right-hander Ivan Nova. But Phelps was tagged for a two-run homer by Lind and he threw 24 pitches to get through the seventh inning. Phelps has to have sharp command in order to keep his pitch count down. Manager Joe Girardi will have a tough decision to make on Tuesday.
- Jeter is showing signs of slowing down with the bat of late. He was 1-for-6 in the game and is 1-for 13 since his 19-game hitting streak was halted on Wednesday. He possibly could a use a day off to rest his bruised left ankle but with the division title on the line that seems unlikely.
Cano left Rogers Centre with his left hand wrapped in ice and he was headed to a Toronto hospital to have the hand X-rayed. Cano was struck by a pitch from Cecil as he led off the sixth. He remained in the game and came through with an RBI single in the eighth inning. It is unclear if Cano will miss any time due to the injury. . . . Mark Teixeira took six at-bats in the batting cage in Tampa, FL, on Friday and will play five innings in an Instructional League game on Saturday. Teixeira, who is rehabbing from a strained left calf, hopes to be able to return to the Yankees on Monday when the team opens its final series of the season against the Red Sox.
The Yankees will continue their final road series of the season on Saturday against the Blue Jays.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-3, 2.71 ERA) will make his third start since his return from the disabled list with a fractured left fibula. Pettitte is 2-0 and has been unscored upon in his 11 innings over his first two starts. He also is 13-9 with a 4.70 ERA in the last 10 seasons against the Jays.
Left-hander Ricky Romero (9-14, 5.76 ERA) will start for Toronto. Though Romero allowed four runs in his five-plus innings against the Orioles in his last start, he snapped a 13-game losing streak with a victory. He is 3-7 with a 4.76 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES 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 6, WHITE SOX 0 (7 Innings, Rain)
Phil Hughes knew going into his start on Tuesday that he would have to pitch well to remain a starter with the Yankees. As the night the unfolded, Hughes answered all the doubters by pitching his best game of the season.
Only the rain in the bottom of the seventh inning at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago could stop him.
Hughes (2-3) shut out Chicago on just three hits over six innings as New York blanked the White Sox for their fifth victory in a row and their ninth in their last 12 contests in a game shortened to seven innings due to rain.
Coming into the game with a bloated 8.24 ERA and rookie right-hander Ivan Nova breathing down his neck after his great performance against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, Hughes needed to show some sign he could regain the form that made him 18-8 with 4.19 ERA last season. Hughes did that and more.
He allowed no White Sox runner reach second base, he walked none and he needed only 65 pitches in six innings for his first shutout (albeit an abbreviated one) since May 12, 2010. Of more comfort to manager Joe Girardi was that Hughes reached up to 95 miles per hour on his fastball, one of the missing ingredients in Hughes’ arsenal all season long when he spent two months on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.
The Yankees provided Hughes with plenty of run support off left-hander John Danks (4-9)
Mark Teixeira, who entered the game 5-for-9 in his career against Danks, blasted a pair of home runs, one from each side of the plate, to lead the 11-hit attack.
He connected on a two-run shot hitting right-handed for his 30th home run of the season in the third inning off Danks to extend the lead to 4-0. He added a solo blast hitting left-handed in the seventh off reliever Jason Frasor hitting to make it a 5-0 game. Teixiera has now connected for home runs from both sides of the plate in 12 games in his career, which establishes a major-league record.
Robinson Cano got the Yankees on the board in the first inning with a two-out double that scored Derek Jeter.
Russell Martin added a run in the second inning with a one-out solo home run, his 11th of the season and his first home run since June 29.
Andruw Jones closed out the scoring for the Yankees with a two-out RBI single off Frasor in the seventh.
Even though rain delayed the start of the game 45 minutes and then ended it 57 minutes after what would have been the bottom of the seventh, nothing could dampen Hughes’ mood. In addition, Hughes’ effort poses a vexing decision on what the Yankees will do with their six starters.
“Maybe we stay with the six-man rotation,” Girardi told reporters, “I don’t know what we are going to do at this moment. But I was happy with what I saw tonight.”
The Yankees ran their season mark to 66-42 and they remain just a game behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League with a three-game showdown scheduled for the weekend at Fenway Park. The Yankees, more importantly, are seven games up in the Wild Card chase. The White Sox fell to 52-56.
- It was obvious from the first inning that Hughes was pitching at his best. He struck out Carlos Quentin looking to end the inning, the first of his four strikeouts on the night. He also was able to limit his pitch count by getting the White Sox to swing early in the count. Of his 65 pitches, 48 were strikes (74%) and Hughes avoided the long at-bats extended by foul tips that have plagued him this season. With another poor outing, Hughes would most likely have been relegated to the bullpen. Instead, he may have re-established himself as the Yankees’ No. 2 starter.
- Teixeira is blazing hot at the plate. In his last 10 games, he is 16-for-39 (.410) with five home runs and 10 RBIs. Teixiera has 31 homers on the season, which trails only Toronto’s Jose Bautista by one for the major-league lead. It also is the eighth consecutive season in which Teixeira has hit at least 30 home runs.
- Jeter collected two hits in the game and he now has 3,022 in his career, passing Rafael Palmeiro (3,020) for 24th place on the all-time hits list. He needs two more hits to pass Lou Brock for the 23rd spot.
Hughes was magnificent, the offense scored early and often and the team did not allow a run. No negatives here. The Yankees are looking the best they have looked all season and it is just in time for their weekend battle with the Bosox.
The Yankees did not make a trade deadline move to add a left-hander to the bullpen to help Boone Logan. It now appears the reason why may be they are considering calling up 20-year-old phenom Manny Banuelos to fill that role. Banuelos was promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this weekend and he made his first start on Tuesday. Banuelos gave up two runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out eight over five innings. Banuelos is rated as the Yankees’ No. 2 prospect behind catcher Jesus Montero and he is rated as the No. 16 prospect overall.
The Yankees can actually clinch their four-game series with the White Sox on Wednesday.
The Yankees send to the hill right-hander A.J. Burnett (8-9, 4.23 ERA). Burnett struck out a season-high 10 batters over eight innings on Friday against the Orioles but he also gave up four runs and lost to drop below the .500 mark. He is 2-5 with a 4.84 ERA in his career against the White Sox.
The White Sox are counting on right-hander Gavin Floyd (9-9, 3.96 ERA). Floyd has won his three starts after the All-Star break, beating the Indians, Tigers and Red Sox. He has allowed only two earned runs in his last 22 1/3 innings. He is 2-1 with a 3.99 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 2
When the Yankees activated Phil Hughes from the disabled list on July 6 they hoped he could re-establish the same sensational form that made him 10-1 and an All-Star pitcher through July 2010.
After six innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday, Hughes may not be there yet but he is pretty darn close.
Hughes (1-2) gave up only two runs on four hits and two walks and fanned five batters in a powerful 80-pitch performance while Brett Gardner continued his hot streak with another three hits and Curtis Granderson drove in three runs as New York routed Toronto at Rogers Centre to earn a split in their four-game series.
Gardner, subbing for a resting Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, was on base in four of five plate appearances, including three singles and a walk, he stole two bases and scored three runs. Granderson gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning with a two-out, two run double off Jays starter Carlos Villanueva (5-2). Granderson later added a one-out RBi single in the ninth off reliever Jason Frasor to close out the Yankee scoring for the afternoon.
Villanueva, a converted reliever, gave up five runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out six over five innings.
However, Hughes was the big story.
Hughes faltered in the second half of last season, going 8-7 after the All-Star break. Then he showed up at spring training unable to reach 90 mph on his fastball throughout the 2011 exhibition season. After Hughes began the season 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA in his first three starts, the Yankees placed Hughes on the disabled list with what was referred to as a dead arm. It later was termed right shoulder inflammation.
In his second start after being activated Hughes threw 51 of 80 pitches for strikes (64 perecnt) and he reached 93 mph on the radar gun on his fastball. It was not a dominant start, but it was definitely a step in the right direction for Hughes and a Yankee starting rotation that desperately needs a healthy and productive Hughes to compete in the American League East.
With the victory, the Yankees are now 55-37 and they are one game behind the Boston Red Sox in the division race. The Blue Jays fell to 47-49 and they are in fourth place in the East, 11 games out of first.
- Hughes looked much better than his his first start off the DL on July 6 against the Indians. In that game he gave up two runs on six hits and two walks over five innings and he took the loss. Today, Hughes made use of a new tighter grip on his curveball and a quicker delivery to the plate. Hughes gave up a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion in the second and Travis Snider followed with an RBI single for the Jays first run. In the fourth, with one out Hughes walked Encarnacion and Snider followed with a ground-rule double that advanced Encarnacion to third. Aaron Hill followed with a sac fly and that was all the Jays offense on the day. Hughes lowered his season ERA to 8.64.
- The Blue Jays probably offered to pay for Gardner’s airfare out of town after he ripped them for 10 hits in 16 at-bats (.625) over the four games with three doubles, a walk, five runs scored and three stolen bases. Gardner also collected three hits in three of the four games and he raised his season average from .265 to .286. and he is hitting a robust .348 in July with an incredible .457 on-base percentage. Gardner also stole two bases on Sunday and he has succeeded in stealing his last 12 bases without being caught to raise his overall stolen-base percentage to 72 percent.
- Granderson struck out his first two times up against Villanueva on change-ups but his RBI double off Villanueva in the fourth and his RBI single in the ninth off Frasor both came off change-ups that Granderson waited on and then pulled both to right-field. Though Granderson leads the team by a margin of 26 in strikeouts with 95, Granderson is now tied for third in the league and the team leader in RBIs with 68.
- The bullpen — Cory Wade, David Robertson and Boone Logan — combined to no-hit the Blue Jays over the final three innings, combining for no walks and five strikeouts. The Yankees bullpen has held up despite the injuries to Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano.
Nothing to really complain about here. The issue now that Hughes is improving can’t be good for the Red Flops (Sox). They currently have three starters on the disabled list and one of those is out for the season.
The Yankees on Sunday optioned outfielder Greg Golson to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled outfielder Chris Dickerson to take his place on the roster. The Yankees brought up Golson as a reserve outfielder because he hits right-handed and the Yankees faced left-handers in two of the first three games of the series. Dickerson was up with the Yankees previously this season and he is hitting .300 over 31 games. Golson was used a defensive replacement on Saturday but he did not get an at-bat. Dickerson was used as defensive replacement in right-field in the eighth inning on Sunday and did not bat. . . . Manager Joe Girardi shuffled his lineup on Sunday because the Yankees are playing eight straight games on artificial surface fields this week. Jeter was rested in favor of Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena played third base. The Yankees also made Mark Teixeira the designated hitter and moved Jorge Posada to first base. . . . Soriano will make a rehab start with Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League on Tuesday. . . . A couple of notes for any Blue Jays fans who may be reading this blog: No. 1, If you are attending a Blue Jays’ home game it is much better to save the “Let’s Go Blue Jays” cheer when your team is batting and not when they are in the field. It is hard to score runs when you are on defense. No. 2, Loudly cheering “Yankees Suck” is OK when you are winning the game by a nice margin but is stupid when the team is trailing. What does it say about the Jays when it is is getting toasted by a team that supposedly sucks?
The Yankees are on their way to St. Petersburg, FL, to open a four game road series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
A.J. Burnett (8-7, 4.15 ERA) will open the series on the mound for the Yankees. He has alternated wins and losses over his last five decisions and he gave up three runs on three hits in a no-decision victory over the Rays on July 9. He is 12-8 with a 3.41 ERA against the Rays in his career.
The Rays will be starting rookie right-hander Alex Cobb (2-0, 3.41 ERA), who will be making his sixth start of the season in place of the injured Wade Davis. Cobb has not faced the Yankees before.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.