05/14/09 12:11 AM ET
Early outburst helps Yanks cruise to win
Gardner's first career tater highlights five-run second inning
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
It was the last inserts that proved most productive for the Yankees, as rookies Brett Gardner, Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli helped carry the offense to an 8-2 victory over the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
Gardner led that charge, belting his first Major League homer and driving in three runs in support of starter Andy Pettitte, who hurled six solid innings of two-run ball to win for the first time in four starts.
"Hopefully it gives us a little boost," Gardner said. "We've got a lot of interchangeable parts here, and I think those guys are definitely part of it. Hopefully they'll continue to contribute, along with myself. Everybody can pitch in."
The Yankees relied on understudies because Jeter missed a second game with a sore right oblique and Matsui was rested to guard a tight right hamstring. Yanks manager Joe Girardi loaded the top of the lineup with veterans and hoped for the best.
"I thought we had a chance to score runs," Girardi said. "It was going to be a different type of game. You didn't necessarily think it was going to be a game where we hit the ball out of the ballpark. But one of the guys we expect to steal bases and do a lot of things hits the ball out of the ballpark. That's surprising."
One night after being stifled in a complete-game five-hitter by Toronto ace Roy Halladay, the Yankees' offense came alive to send 10 men to the plate in the second inning, chasing Scott Richmond after the right-hander recorded just five outs.
Gardner clubbed the two-run homer and Pena followed with a triple before Johnny Damon brought in a run with a three-base hit of his own, marking his ninth consecutive game with an extra-base hit. Mark Teixeira delivered a booming RBI double to deep center, showing signs of busting out of his long slump.
"Any good team needs one through nine producing," Teixeira said. "You can't rely on any two guys every game to step up and hit a three-run homer. Everyone produced today, and it was a great team effort. We had a lot of contributions."
The Yankees (16-17) retrieved the ball for Gardner, a 24-year-old who was the Opening Day center fielder but lost the job to Melky Cabrera after a slow start. Despite that setback, New York still has confidence in Gardner, who played well last September and in Spring Training.
After the game, a clubhouse prankster got to Gardner, stashing a phony error-laden memento on top of his locker. The scuffed ball contained five inscription errors, including the wrong date and misspelling Gardner's name without the "N."
"I think that's a joke right there, or at least it's supposed to be," Gardner said. "Hopefully that's a fake one."
But there was nothing false about the offensive support. Robinson Cano logged a run-scoring single to chase Richmond (4-2), who was charged with five runs on seven hits, walking two and striking out two. Teixeira added a sacrifice fly in the fourth off Brian Wolfe, while Gardner and Cervelli notched RBI hits in the fifth facing Bill Murphy.
The bottom three in New York's order combined to produce three runs, four RBIs and three extra-base hits, and Girardi lauded the contributions of Pena -- a 23-year-old rookie who surprisingly made the Opening Day roster as a slick-fielding utility infielder -- and Cervelli, who was promoted from Double-A Trenton when catchers Jorge Posada and Jose Molina were lost to injury.
Pena has given the Yankees more of a lift than anticipated, hitting .280 through Thursday, and Cervelli has come up with big hits despite Girardi telling him on his first day that defense should be his No. 1 priority.
"Every day you play is better," Pena said. "You feel more comfortable when you get a chance. You feel like they trust in you to play shortstop right now. I try to do the job, and every day it's getting better."
"The manager trusts everybody and he gives you confidence all the time," Cervelli said. "He always says, 'You can do it. You can do it.' You just don't try to be a hero or do too much. All you know, just put it on the field and do it."
After allowing a first-inning run, Pettitte (3-1) made use of the big lead, limiting the Blue Jays (23-13) to two runs -- one earned -- over six innings in securing his third victory of the season and first since April 21 vs. Oakland, a span of three starts.
"That's always nice," Pettitte said. "The guys did a great job of scoring a lot of runs that inning. Obviously, anytime you get that kind of lead, it helps you relax a little bit. I felt good, I just scuffled through that first inning. I got a little bit out of rhythm, but all in all, I felt good."
Pettitte was touched by a first-inning Cano error that allowed Aaron Hill to scamper home and by Rod Barajas' RBI single in the fourth, bringing in Scott Rolen, but otherwise remained in control of Toronto's lineup. Pettitte said he believed he had dodged a bullet in escaping his three-walk first inning only down one run.
He walked four and struck out two before yielding to Alfredo Aceves in the seventh, with New York's bullpen coming through to put the Yankees in position for a winning road trip if they can secure a victory in Thursday's series finale.
"There's no doubt our starting rotation needs to go out there and string a bunch of good ones together, and help this team get on a big winning streak," Pettitte said. "With the arms we've got in our rotation, it should be possible. I know we're banged up a little bit, but we still should be able to do that."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.