Bunts and a bloop give Yanks win
Bombers employ some small ball to top Blue Jays
NEW YORK -- The Bronx Bombers didn't earn that long-cherished nickname by perfecting the art of small ball, but Joe Girardi's new bag of tricks might help add a new dimension to the way the Yankees do business.
Two bunts and a bloop were a winning recipe for Girardi's club on Thursday, as Bobby Abreu's eighth-inning hit moved across the deciding run in New York's 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays.
"You get in tight games and you're going to have to be able to execute and score runs," said Girardi, who won his second game as Yankees manager. "We're not afraid to do that. Guys can handle the bat here."
Melky Cabrera opened the New York eighth with a single before lefty reliever Scott Downs bobbled Johnny Damon's sacrifice bunt, stumbling into foul territory and creating a two-on, none-out jam. Derek Jeter sacrificed, then Abreu plopped a single in front of center fielder Vernon Wells, sending the go-ahead run home.
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth inning around a single for his second save, preserving a win in which starter Phil Hughes fired six innings of two-run ball for a no-decision. Later it was the Yankees' changing style that drew the biggest raves.
"We have a manager over here who likes to make the plays," Abreu said. "I think he's using more [of] our speed to move the runners and steal bases and hit-and-run. I think that will be different this year. It's good. We're using all the abilities that our team has."
One of the primary criticisms of former manager Joe Torre's clubs was that they had a tendency to sit back and wait for the three-run homer, though that mind-set was partially encouraged when his rosters swelled with aging power hitters. Girardi has players who lend themselves to a more athletic style of play, a design aspect that agrees with Girardi's previous managerial experience in the National League.
"It's definitely a way we can go, especially against tough pitching staffs, where one run can be a difference," Damon said. "We're going to have to do that kind of thing. We plan to be in most of the ballgames this year, and if we can get an extra run across, whether it's early or a little later in the game, it's going to be huge."
Of course, it also helped Girardi's decision-making process that Damon and Jeter, two talented table-setters, happened to be due up after Cabrera's leadoff single.
"You're not going to do it with A-Rod and Giambi," Girardi said with a chuckle, referring to Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi.
Despite Hughes' no-decision, the Yankees saw plenty of encouraging signs from their youngest rotation member, as he looked sharp. Among the Yankees' earliest attendees in Spring Training this year, Hughes wanted to use exhibitions to fine-tune his pitches more than his body, and he saw an early payoff on Thursday.
"I got a taste of what it takes to go through a long season and be successful last year," Hughes said. "Really, my goal this offseason was to get in great shape and come into spring ready to go instead of using the spring as time to get in shape. I think that was really beneficial."
Making his 14th career start, the 21-year-old retired the first nine batters he faced before David Eckstein's fourth-inning double. After a groundout, Yankee-killer Alex Rios extended his hitting streak to 23 games against New York with a run-scoring single to left.
Toronto pieced together a second run off Hughes in the fifth, as Marco Scutaro walked and moved to third on a Gregg Zaun double. Eckstein followed with a hot shot to third base that Rodriguez deflected but threw too late to get the runner, allowing Scutaro to score. Hughes coolly got Matt Stairs to ground out, ending the frame.
"He kept it to a minimum, and that's what you want to see," Girardi said. "With this offense, you're going to have a shot."
Hughes said that he spotted his fastball well and was able to throw his slider and curveball for strikes, as well as a changeup when he needed it. Scattering four hits over six innings, he was warmly encouraged by the Yankee Stadium crowd, who showered him with extended chants of his name -- sounding like boos to the untrained ear, perhaps, but also reminiscent of the "Moose" calls that greeted Mike Mussina on Wednesday.
Not that Hughes heard them.
"Not so much. I wish I could," he said. "I don't really hear much. [Pitching coach] Dave [Eiland] has to actually call time and yank on my shirt for me to hear what he's saying."
Home plate umpire Bill Miller had no such issues, getting an earful from Toronto's Frank Thomas in the fourth. The Big Hurt was ejected for arguing a called third strike, but Hughes -- not surprisingly -- thought Miller nailed the pitch.
"I thought I'd been getting that call all night," Hughes said. "It's hard to tell, especially from my perspective. It seemed like [Miller] had a pretty good idea where the strike zone was tonight. I felt like, for the most part, it was one of those borderline strikes."
Battling flu-like symptoms, Toronto right-hander Dustin McGowan held the Yankees scoreless on three hits through the first five innings. The first three batters of the New York sixth reached base, with Damon scoring on a wild pitch and Giambi popping a sacrifice fly that scored Jeter. McGowan was finished after six innings, walking three and striking out one.
The Yankees' bullpen held the fort after Hughes' exit. Left-hander Billy Traber made his Yankees debut by striking out the only batter he faced, Lyle Overbay, and Brian Bruney recorded the final two outs of the seventh. Joba Chamberlain fired his second scoreless inning of the season and, with the rally, picked up his third big league victory before Rivera closed out the ninth for his second save.
"It's nice to have guys at the back end who can do a job," Girardi said. "I felt all the guys during Spring Training threw the ball really well. When you have a bullpen that can shut the door, it's a lot easier. It's not going to be like that every night, but we like the arms down there."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.