Back in the real AL East
After a 6-1 homestand against two last-place teams, the Yankees were thrust back into the American League East rumble Friday night under the dome of Rogers Centre. This time the numbers 6-1 reflected the final score that did not go the Yankees’ way.
It was the Yankees’ first up-close look at Toronto, the latest point in a season that these teams faced each other for the first time. The Blue Jays have been bludgeoning the ball, and Friday night was no different. A.J. Burnett was reached for three home runs, two by league leader Juan Bautista, one of the surprise stories of the year.
The two bombs, which raised his season total to 18, was part of a perfect night for Bautista, who also walked and doubled, scored three runs and drove in three. Bautista never hit more than 16 home runs in a season, which he did in 2006 with the Pirates. Last year, he hit 13, but 10 came in September and October. Bautista was just as powerful the first two months of this year as he was the last two months of 2009.
The other Toronto home run was by Edwin Encarnacion, the 9-hole batter who is batting .210 but has eight home runs. The Jays have a few guys handing around the Mendoza line – Lyle Overbay .224, Adam Lind .218, Aaron Hill .198 – but they are hitting the long ball. Toronto’s 94 home runs lead the AL by a 17-jake margin over the runner-up Red Sox. By contrast, the Yankees have 61 home runs, none Friday night.
Burnett has a history of success at Rogers Centre with an overall record of 22-10 there, but it was 22-8 before he returned there wearing a Yankees uniform. He is 0-2 with a 7.24 ERA in two starts for the Yankees there this year and last.
Lefthander Brett Cecil, a Maryland native who grew up a Yankees fan and admirer of Andy Pettitte, stared over his glove for eight innings and allowed one tainted run and five hits with one walk and five strikeouts. The Yankees might have been shut out if Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells hadn’t played Chad Moeller’s flare to center from a single into a double. Moeller eventually scored from third base on a double play.
This was a much different Cecil than the Yankees saw last year when they tagged the lefthander for 10 earned runs, 16 hits including three home runs, and eight walks in eight innings for an 11.25 ERA. Cecil is now 6-2 with a 3.43 ERA and the top winner on an impressive rotation that includes two other five-game winners, Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero, who will start Saturday.
The Jays’ problem of late has been closing games. They blew two ninth-inning leads to Tampa Bay earlier this week. Jason Frasor had a five-run cushion in the ninth and withstood a leadoff walk to preserve the victory. The final out was a fly to left by Robinson Cano, who also struck out twice and fouled out as his 17-game hitting streak ended.
Toronto’s 10-9 record against AL East teams features a 6-0 mark against the Orioles, so the Jays have feasted off Baltimore pitching as much as the Yankees, who definitely had a wakeup call Friday night. They are back in the real AL East, not for what passes for it these days at Camden Yards.