Yanks' offense does what Mitre can't
Four-run seventh bails out righty as AL East lead expands
TORONTO -- For much of the Yankees' quick two-day stop into Canada, context seemed to matter most. Fresh off a forgettable weekend in Chicago, the Yankees were at first focused on doing precisely that -- forgetting. And once they beat Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays in Tuesday night's opener, thoughts of the Red Sox came barreling over the horizon.
Yet there was still a game to be played on Wednesday at Rogers Centre, still an opponent to beat. For the suddenly-hot Yankees, it was a mere nuisance. They played far from their best ball but overcame the requisite obstacles, parlaying a late offensive jolt into an 8-4 win.
Down in Florida, the Rays were wrapping up a similar two-game dispatch of the Red Sox, while the Yankees put finishing touches on the Jays. And so New York's trip came with this additional bit of context -- when the Yankees square off against the Sox this weekend, they will do so with a 2 1/2-game lead in the American League East.
"It ends up being a good road trip," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "If we come in here and we get beat by Halladay and maybe not win today, it's bad -- it's a really bad road trip. But winning two here is huge."
The actual spark may have occurred back in the States, when the Yankees -- fresh off three straight losses to the streaking White Sox -- beat Mark Buehrle in their Sunday finale. They followed that up on Tuesday with a win over Halladay, and they followed that up Wednesday with six flat innings against Marc Rzepczynski and the Jays.
Quite a few breaking balls and a sneaky fastball kept the Yankees off balance early, such that they were able to score only on Johnny Damon's walk and Teixeira's grounder in the second. For all of their fine work against Buehrle and Halladay, the Yankees appeared on track to be undone by a rookie.
Then Nick Swisher homered, and everything changed. Swisher's long ball leading off the seventh led to a four-run inning for the Yankees, thanks to ensuing RBI singles from Hideki Matsui, Damon and Teixeira.
Damon, for his part, homered later in the game to finish 3-for-5 with three RBIs -- one of the outs coming on a deep fly ball that Vernon Wells caught as he crashed into the center-field fence. Damon is now batting .353 in nine games against the Jays this season, with three homers and seven RBIs.
"He's really hit us hard this year," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said of Damon. "I think we'd better come up with something else to throw him."
Damon also slid hard into second base to break up a potential double play in the third inning, extending an early rally while Rzepczynski was still stout.
"That's the way you win tight ballgames," Damon said.
All the offense was of little help to Sergio Mitre, who left after 4 1/3 innings and 92 pitches, manager Joe Girardi feeling that his starter was tired. Mitre, who allowed two of his three home runs on a series of ground balls and a bloop hit in the first, disagreed -- his arm felt fine and he was ready to pitch more.
"That just comes with the territory about being a sinkerball pitcher and playing on turf," Mitre said of the first inning. "Balls are going to find holes a little bit more than playing on grass."
But with Mitre in the clubhouse, Alfredo Aceves earned his seventh win on that same turf, allowing one run in two innings.
And the Yankees didn't particularly care. Mitre's pitching might have been an issue after a loss, but not after a win. And especially not after this win, this week. The Yankees, for all of their just-another-series proclamations, had no choice but to consider the Red Sox more than anything as they waited to fly back home.
The Yankees, for example, were less focused on Phil Hughes' scoreless eighth than they were on the prospect that he won't be available on Thursday. They were less focused on David Robertson's shutout ninth than they were on the fact that it kept Mariano Rivera fresh for the Sox. And they were less focused on a win over the Blue Jays than they were on a winning streak heading back to New York.
"It's going to be exciting," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "It's going to be a fun weekend."
Then again, the Yankees did take time to savor what was also a fun week. Losing four of their first seven games on a nine-game road trip could have become something much worse. It did not.
"It started off good and then it got a little bumpy in the middle, and then we finished off strong," Girardi said. "That's what you want to do. We ended up with a winning road trip, and that's a good thing."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.