Vazquez puts Yanks 20 games over
Defense helps righty last seven innings in win over A's
OAKLAND -- The last time Javier Vazquez warmed up on the mound at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, he was desperately in need for a confidence boost, incapable of trusting his lagging fastball and searching for quick fixes.
The Athletics obliged him in that April duck-and-weave effort, and now that Vazquez feels like himself, the stakes were even higher. Vazquez hurled seven sharp innings and Mark Teixeira homered as the Yankees posted a crisp 3-1 victory on Monday evening.
"I feel like if I go out there and throw quality innings, then I'm going to go deep in the games," Vazquez said. "That's always important as a starting pitcher, that you can go deep."
Vazquez's second tour of duty in pinstripes started poorly, as he was booed off the mound at Yankee Stadium and used some road starts just to figure out his mechanics away from the spotlight.
But he has been much better lately -- after three-hitting the A's on Monday, Vazquez improved to 6-4 with a 3.04 ERA since May 12, helping the Yankees set a new high-water mark for this season at 20 games over .500.
"He's been huge," Teixeira said. "He had a tough month, but there were a couple of other guys that had tough months in April. That's baseball. You're not going to be successful all season long, every time out. The best players and best teams bounce back from adversity."
"It's a tale of two halves, is what it is," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "His first quarter was rough, his second quarter has been pretty good. It's been night and day. He's throwing the ball extremely well, with good stuff."
The Yankees did not draw an easy assignment against Oakland starter Ben Sheets, who would hurl a season-high 7 1/3 innings and retire the last 15 Bronx Bombers he faced. But with Vazquez recovering after a foul ball-laden opening act, the few mistakes Sheets made were enough to saddle him with a loss.
New York put up two runs with a second inning, two-out rally against Sheets. American League All-Star Final Vote candidate Nick Swisher doubled to right and moved to third on a passed ball before Curtis Granderson sliced a triple into the right-field corner.
Francisco Cervelli drove in the second run with a soft dribbler that squirted through into center field, giving the backup catcher 18 hits in 48 at-bats (.375) with runners in scoring position this year and providing the Yankees with a little room to work.
"Two-out hits in general, it's always a good thing when you get a chance to do that, but especially here in this ballpark," Granderson said. "It's never over. This team definitely comes from behind a lot here, and even with Mariano [Rivera] coming out to throw, you never can assume anything."
In the sixth, after Teixeira had been robbed by a diving stop and the right-side shift in his first two at-bats, he connected for his 14th home run, squaring up a Sheets fastball and driving it over the center-field wall.
"Sheets pitched very well tonight, and it wasn't going to be a high-scoring night with the way those guys were pitching," Teixeira said. "It was good to get three off him."
That was enough support for Vazquez, who was touched only in the third inning, when Cliff Pennington tripled to right and scored on Coco Crisp's sacrifice fly.
"He really didn't leave many balls over the plate," said the A's Kurt Suzuki. "He was changing his speeds, hitting his spots and he was pretty good tonight. It was kind of a night where you tip your hat and you're looking for one pitch, and whenever you don't really get it, you know the pitcher's doing his job. I thought he did a great job tonight."
Pitching carefully because of the slim lead, Vazquez executed and hit his spots, issuing two walks and striking out two against the A's, whom he also defeated on April 20 for his first victory of the season.
"It's really good," Cervelli said. "Everybody supported him, and he's been pitching really, really good. I think his confidence is back. Everybody is going to see good Javy the rest of the season."
The Yankees flashed good defensive leather behind Vazquez. Alex Rodriguez made a strong diving stop and throw to retire Suzuki in the sixth, one of his best plays of the season, while Granderson and Colin Curtis made back-to-back sliding catches to end the seventh inning.
"That was unbelievable -- the seventh inning especially -- those two great catches by Grandy and Colin," Vazquez said. "They were huge, because that could have been two men on base right there."
Joba Chamberlain pitched a perfect eighth inning with two strikeouts, freezing Daric Barton with a 97-mph fastball on the black to end the frame, and Rivera hurled the ninth for his 19th save in 21 opportunities, preserving Vazquez's seventh victory.
"We're playing good," Vazquez said. "If you ask me, I feel like we can play better. I know a few guys feel that way, too. Hopefully, it says something that we're 20 games over and I feel we're playing that way. We can start getting in a groove and winning more games."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.