YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2
There were some eyebrows raised from some Yankees when Hiroki Kuroda was not selected to pitch for the American League in last week’s All-Star Game. But Kuroda never said a word and just used the time to get rested up for the second half of the season.
That was bad news for the Boston Red Sox.
Kuroda (9-6) shut down the Red Sox on two runs on five hits over seven strong innings and the Yankees got three hits each from Lyle Overbay, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez as New York downed Boston in front of a paid crowd of 37,601 at Fenway Park.
For Kuroda, 38, it was his firs career victory at Fenway and his first triumph in three starts against the Red Sox this season. The veteran right-hander walked one and struck out four while benefitting from some excellent Yankee defense that cut down two runners at home plate.
Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away at Red Sox right-hander John Lackey (7-7) until they were able to chase the veteran from the game in the seventh inning.
The Yankees used a “Plan B’ offense to score their first run in the fifth inning when Nunez led of the frame with a lined single to left and he later stole second. Chris Stewart then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Nunez to third but Luis Cruz slapped a ground ball right at Stephen Drew that allowed Drew to cut down Nunez at the plate.
But with Cruz at first, Lackey uncorked a wild pitch that permitted Cruz to move into scoring position and Gardner scored him with a two-out single to center.
The Yankees’ seventh began much like the fifth with Nunez opening the inning with a double off the Green Monster in left-center. Stewart advanced him to third with a slow bouncing groundout to first and Cruz delivered an RBI single to center that scored Nunez.
After Gardner singled, Red Sox manager John Farrell replaced Lackey with veteran left-hander Matt Thornton.
Thornton did get Ichiro Suzki to hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Gardner at second but Robinson Cano laced a opposite-field RBI single to score Cruz and Overbay followed with an RBI single of his own to give Kuroda and the Yankees some breathing room with a 4-0 lead.
Lackey was touched for four runs on 10 hits and he struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox did manage to score a pair of runs off Kuroda in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff single from David Ortiz and a double off the bat of Mike Carp. Jonny Gomes scored Ortiz on a sacrifice fly and, after Carp advanced to third on a groundout, he scored on a wild pitch from Kuroda.
But the Yankee bullpen tandem of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Red Sox in the eighth and ninth innings to preserve the victory for Kuroda. For Rivera, his save in the ninth was his 31st in 33 opportunities this season and his 639th career save.
The Yankees added an unearned run off right-hander Pedro Beato in the ninth without the benefit of a hit.
Beato hit Cruz with a pitch to start the inning and Gardner reached on an fielding error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Then with Suzuki at the plate, Cruz was caught taking too big a lead off second. But Cruz dashed to third on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s throw to second and he just beat Drew’s throw to third to get credit for a stolen base.
He then scored on a sac fly off the bat of Cano.
But the Yankees really owe their victory to some sterling plays in the field that frustrated the Red Sox all afternoon.
In the first inning, Daniel Nava was on second with two out when Ortiz laced a single to left-field. Nava stumbled as he rounded third and was thrown at the plate on a throw by Vernon Wells.
In the fifth inning, the Red Sox threatened with a pair of leadoff singles by Carp and Gomes. But Saltalamacchia and Drew were retired, leaving Carp at third and Gomes on second with two out.
Kuroda then tossed a 1-2 pitch to Jose Iglesias in the dirt that rolled away from Stewart, allowing Carp to head for home. But Stewart was able to corral the ball quickly and he made a perfect throw to Kuroda at home plate in time to nail a sliding Carp.
Stewart then capped off his day behind the plate with a spectacular play in the eighth inning.
Nava reached first on Robertson with a one-out single. Pedroia then fouled off a 0-2 pitch to the left of the screen. Stewart lunged into the first row of the stands to catch the ball and then fired a perfect one-hop throw to Cano at second base to easily nail a sliding Nava for a rare 2-4 double play.
The victory evened the three-game series at a game apiece and drew the Yankees to within six games of the first-place Red Sox in the American League East with a 52-45 record. The Bosox dropped to 59-40.
- If there was any doubt that Kuroda has been the Yankees’ best and most consistent pitcher of the season then his performance on Saturday had to be the clincher. Kuroda held a lineup that boasted six hitters sporting batting averages of .287 or better to only five hits – including two hits each for Ortiz and Carp. He really was never threatened other than in the fifth and the seventh, but he limited the damage to preserve an important victory that keeps the Yankees in the pennant race.
- Overbay was moved up in the batting order to cleanup and he delivered three hits – two of them doubles – and drove in a run. Other than Cano, Overbay has been the most consistent run producer the Yankees have had all season. He is now hitting .259 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs. Though Overbay, 36, is not producing Mark Teixeira-type numbers, he is doing yeoman work for the team at the plate and in the field.
- Nunez’s 3-for-4 day with two doubles, a run scored and a stolen base must have Yankee fans wondering where he has been all season. Nunez was handed an opportunity to show what he could do at shortstop in the absence of Derek Jeter and up to now he has blown it. Nunez is hitting .226 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 38 games this season.
- Though Travis Hafner was dropped to the sixth spot in the order he still could not produce anything. With a right-hander pitching the lefty designated hitter was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. His season average is now down to .215. At age 36, it appears Hafner’s bat is too slow to catch up with fastballs and he has no clue when he is thrown tough breaking pitches. He needs to be benched.
- Though Wells was 1-for-4 on Saturday he looks similarly overmatched at the plate. He has not homered in his last 49 games and the pitches he was able to drive are now being fouled back to the screen. And when pitchers need Wells out they just throw him either a high fastball or a slider on the outside corner for a guaranteed strikeout. Lackey fanned him twice – once on the slider and once with the high fastball. Wells is hitting .239 on the season.
The Yankees were forced to place outfielder Zoilo Almonte on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with a sprained left ankle. Almonte, 24, suffered the injury hitting the first-base bag hard running out a ground ball in the fourth inning of Friday’s game. The Yankees also designated for assignment infielder Alberto Gonzalez. Almonte was hitting .261 with a home run and nine RBIs in 26 games with the Yankees and the rookie switch-hitter had taken over as the team’s starting left-fielder for Wells. Gonzalez, 30, hit .176 with no home runs and four RBIs in 13 games with the Yankees. To fill the two roster spots the Yankees recalled outfielders Thomas Neal and Melky Mesa from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Neal, 25, was hitting .314 with two homers and 29 RBIs in 66 games at Scranton, In a previous stint with the Yankees, Neal hit .182 in four games. Mesa, 26, was hitting .249 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs at Scranton. . . . Alex Rodriguez was shifted from third base to designated hitter on Saturday for Scranton due to a tight left quadriceps. The Yankees, at this time, still plan to activate Rodriguez from his 20-day rehab assignment on Monday in time for the Yankees’ game in Arlington, TX against the Rangers.
The Yankees can win the three-game series against the Red Sox and draw to within five games of first place with a victory on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia ( 9-8, 4.07 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia is coming off a horrible first half that culminated with a game in which the team’s defense let him down against the Minnesota Twins on July 13. Sabathia gave up eight runs (only three of them earned) on eight hits and two walks in four-plus innings. He is 1-1 against the Red Sox this season, including a victory on 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on May 31.
The Red Sox were forced to scratch left-hander Jon Lester with an undisclosed injury. Right-hander Ryan Dempster (5-8, 4.24 ERA) will start in Lester’s place. Dempster did not make it out of the fourth inning of his last start against the Seattle Mariners on July 11. He was tagged for four runs on nine hits and a walk. He is 0-4 with a 7.22 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.
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.
YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 7
Let’s make this perfectly clear. This game on Thursday is not going to go down as a Yankee Classic. With both teams combining for 17 runs on 18 hits, 13 walks, two hit batters, an error, two wild pitches and two passed balls, it likely could be disseminated without the expressed written consent of the either team.
But it was a victory for the Yankees and they will take it.
Ichiro Suzuki continued his hot hitting by driving in three runs and Nick Swisher blasted his third grand slam of the season as part of seven-run fourth inning as New York outslugged Toronto to give themselves a one-game lead in the American League East over the idle second-place Baltimore Orioles.
Phil Hughes (16-12) did not so much win this game as he did not lose it. He gave up four runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out nine batters in five innings to collect his team-leading 16th win of the season.
The Yankees, meanwhile, had to wait out soft-tossing left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-6) to throw a pitch within a neighboring area code of the strike zone before they drove him out of the game in the fourth.
The Blue Jays held a slim 2-1 lead in the fourth when Laffey issued a leadoff walk to Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson reached when second baseman Kelly Johnson treated his routine grounder as if it was a hand grenade.
Laffey then issued another one of the five free passes he handed out on the evening to Casey McGehee to load the bases for Suzuki, who started the night 7-for-8 in the series and had homered in his first at-bat off Laffey to lead off the third inning.
Suzuki brought most of the paid crowd of 40,511 at Yankee Stadium to their feet with a two-run double that gave the Yankees their first lead of the night. Little did they know they would hold the lead for the rest of the night.
Manager John Farrell mercifully ended Laffey’s evening in favor of right-hander Brad Lincoln. However, unlike the vehicles that sport his name, Lincoln was neither original or inspired.
Lincoln walked Jayson Nix to refuel the bases to full and he put it in gear to face Derek Jeter. But Jeter stroked a lined single into right to make it 4-2.
Lincoln then wished he could have put the whole thing in reverse or hit the brakes when Swisher smacked a fat 2-1 fastball into the third row of bleachers in right-center over the auxiliary scoreboard to put a serious dent in the Blue Jays’ night and give the Yankees what they thought might be some breathing room so they could rest up for their weekend series with the Oakland Athletics.
Laffey’s line read five runs given up (four earned) on just two hits but five walks and he struck out three in three-plus innings.
However, in his effort to get five innings in for his victory, Hughes surrendered a two-run home run to to rookie Moise Sierra in the bottom of the fifth.
The Yankees got those two runs back in the bottom of the frame off reliever Brett Cecil on RBI singles by Nix and Jeter to make it 10-4.
After Derek Lowe pitched two shaky but scoreless innings, manager Joe Girardi called upon Cory Wade to pitch the eighth.
Wade spent most of the season at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because he was unable to get anyone out consistently at the major-league level this season. That should have been a huge red flag for Girardi.
Wade opened the third by giving up a solo home run to Johnson that still might be traveling. A single, a strikeout and a double later and Wade was gone in a New York minute. Joba Chamberlain then allowed a an RBI single to Brett Lawrie and a Mike McCoy drove in another run on a fielder’s choice groundout to make it 10-7 .
Chamberlain then gave up a single to Edwin Encarnacion to bring up the tying run in Adam Lind. I bet Girardi loved this part of the game.
Fortunately, Chamberlain got Lind to fly out to medium right and David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth to collect his second save of the season.
It’s a good thing, too. Whew!
With the victory, the Yankees have now officially righted themselves and have won seven of their last eight games. Their season record improved to 86-63 and they have but 13 contests left to play. The Blue Jays are pretty much sucking on the tailpipe of their own Lincoln after having been swept in the series and they are now 66-82.
- All Suzuki did in the three-game series was go 9-for-12 (.750) with a home run, three doubles, four stolen bases, four runs scored and four RBIs. About the only thing he did not do was deliver margaritas in the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. Girardi has chosen to keep Suzuki in the lineup against left-handers because Andruw Jones seemingly has not gotten a big hit since Memorial Day.
- Swisher struck out three times and walked in the game. However, his grand slam was the biggest hit of the game and it was a game the Yankees needed to win badly. Swisher hit a franchise record-tying 10th grand slam of the season and it was his third. It also was the seventh grand slam of his career. Swisher now has 21 home runs and 83 RBIs on the season. He has hit at least 20 home runs and driven 80 runs in all four of his seasons with the Yankees.
- Hughes tied a franchise record when he struck out four batters in the fourth inning. Hughes struck out in order J.P. Arencibia, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose and Lawrie, however, Hechavarria reached first on one of the two passed balls charged to Russell Martin on the evening. A.J. Burnett also did it for the Yankees on June 24, 2011 against the Colorado Rockies.
- The Yankees scored 10 runs but Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 with a walk. That snapped his modest four-game hitting streak and pushed him under the .300 mark this season. Cano is having an unusually quiet September, hitting just .279 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
- Wade had pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his two appearances since his Sept. 1 recall but he was tagged hard by the Blue Jays. Wade is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA on the season after he was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA for the Yankees last season. It is not likely Wade will make the postseason roster and his days with the team appear numbered.
- Martin’s two passed balls give him seven on the season, which is the most he has been charged with in any of his major-league seasons. The Yankees still rave about his defense but it is hard to imagine the Yankees will re-sign him after he thoroughly flopped at the plate this season.
Mark Teixeira took swings in a batting cage at Yankee Stadium before the game on Thursday and he will travel to Tampa, FL, on Monday in order to rehab his left calf strain in some Instructional League games. Teixeira is targeting a Sept 27 return date so he can get in some game action before the playoffs. . . . The Yankees elected not to activate Brett Gardner on Thursday although the move is imminent in the next few days.
The Yankees open a three-game weekend series against the A’s beginning on Friday and they have some payback in mind after they were swept in Oakland.
The Yankees send to the mound left-hander CC Sabathia (13-6, 3.63 ERA). Sabathia has allowed nine earned runs in his last two starts covering 13 innings. Though the Yankees say he is fine, Sabathia has not pitched well since his return from the disabled list with left elbow soreness. He is 8-8 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the A’s.
Oakland will start right-hander Jarrod Parker (11-8, 3.51 ERA). Parker allowed two runs on seven hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in seven innings in a victory over the Orioles on Saturday. He is 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his one career start against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.
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.
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