Results tagged ‘ Travis Hafner ’
What Yankees fans never see from Mariano Rivera was what Orioles fans witnessed Monday night from Jim Johnson. The Orioles closer, who led the American League is saves last season with 51, sustained his third consecutive blown save, something that Rivera has never done, and the Yankees took advantage of it to come away with a 6-4, 10-inning victory.
Johnson was gone by the time the Yankees scored the deciding runs in the extra inning off Pedro Strop and Brian Matusz with clutch hitting by Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner. Rivera kept the lead intact with his 17th save in 17 opportunities. Johnson began the season with a similar streak with 14 saves before coming unglued in his past three appearances.
Hafner dealt the crushing blow to Johnson this time with a one-out home run in the ninth, the Yankees’ fourth solo shot of the evening in Baltimore’s humid Inner Harbor air. Johnson’s latest failure opened the gates for the Yankees to improve their record in games where they get on the scoreboard first to 19-0 and extend the Orioles’ losing streak to six games.
The Yankees were in danger of losing their first game when they scored first because their offense was reduced to the long ball with no one on base and CC Sabathia blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2. Robinson Cano and Orioles first baseman Chris Davis entered the game tied for the AL lead in home runs with 12 and maintained that tie as each got his 13th in his first at-bat.
David Adams, the rookie who has done so well at third base and turned a few more good plays Monday night, hit his first career home run to put the Yankees up, 2-0, in the second, but Davis made it 2-1 in the bottom of the second and Nick Markakis singled in the tying run in the fifth.
It was a strange start for Sabathia, who allowed a double-digit hit total (11) for the second game in a row (23 total in his past 12 2/3 innings) and had only two strikeouts, although he did not walk a batter. The lefthander is winless in four starts since April 27. Former teammate Freddy Garcia actually pitched better. He allowed the two solo homers and just one other hit with two walks and two strikeouts in six innings.
Lyle Overbay’s leadoff homer in the seventh off lefthander Troy Patton put the Yankees ahead again, but Sabathia couldn’t hold the advantage as the Orioles grabbed the lead on RBI doubles by Markakis and J.J. Hardy. Shawn Kelley stopped the O’s there with two more strikeouts. He added a third in the eighth, which gives the righthander 15 of the past 21 batters he has faced and 33 in 18 1/3 innings for the season.
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter entrusted the lead to Johnson, who began the ninth by retiring Cano on a groundout. Johnson fell behind 3-1 in the count to Hafner, who drove a 94-miles-per-hour fastball over the left field fence for his eighth home run. The Yankees were back in business.
Johnson’s woes have come after a run of 35 consecutive saves dating to last July. He has given up eight earned runs and nine hits in 2 1/3 innings (30.86 ERA) in the three blown saves, which has driven his season ERA from 0.95 to 4.22.
In the 10th, Ichiro Suzuki ran his Camden Yards hitting streak to 20 games with a leadoff double off Strop, a reliever who has struggled against the Yankees. Vernon Wells, riding the bench despite having good career numbers against Garcia (.438, one home run), came up as a pinch hitter for shortstop Reid Brignac and doubled to left to send home Ichiro.
Austin Romine bunted Wells to third, but Wells could not advance as Jayson Nix grounded out. After Cano was intentionally walked, Hafner delivered an insurance run with a line single to right off the left-handed Matusz. Rivera then showed Johnson how it’s done with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th.
Hafner. Wells. Overbay. There are those names again. Yankees fans are getting used to seeing these guys do important stuff.
It is clear by now that the Yankees did not enjoy reading all spring about how they were on the downside and that the Blue Jays were gearing up after a busy off-season to take control of the American League East.
All the Yankees have done is to take out their ire on the Blue Jays. The Yankees have Toronto to thank mostly for their being perched atop the division, which has been a customary spot for them since 1996. But this year with all the injuries and the scouring of what some might call the scrap heap, the Yankees were expected to topple down the standings.
Except that they have just refused to do that.
The Yankees’ 7-2 victory Saturday raised their record against the Blue Jays this year to 8-1. The Yanks are 19-15 against all other teams combined, so their record against Toronto is essential to their place in the division. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are the only team in the AL East with a sub-.500 record (17-26) and have fallen 10 games out of first place, a far distance from where so many prognosticators forecast them.
Sure, the loss to injury of shortstop Jose Reyes and pitcher Josh Johnson has derailed Toronto some, but what club has had more devastating injuries than the Yankees? They have had 13 players on the disabled list, including seven regulars among position players and three of their starting pitchers.
That is how David Phelps, Saturday’s winning pitcher, got into the rotation and, who knows, he just might stay there. The righthander struggled with fastball command but found reinforcements in breaking pitches and posted his third straight quality start. Phelps allowed one run, six hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings to even his record at 2-2. His ERA has dropped from 5.56 to 3.83 over those three starts.
With Phelps’ fastball unpredictable, catcher Austin Romine said, “We had to mix things up.”
“I didn’t have a good curve and was not ahead in the count enough to use my changeup” Phelps said. “I had a good slider, which helped.”
Another huge help was a pickoff play in the first inning after Phelps walked two batters with one out. After striking out J.P. Arencibia, Phelps and shortstop Jayson Nix combined on a pickoff of Jose Bautista at second base for the third out of the inning.
“I knew we had a chance because I could see he was taking a big lead,” Phelps said. “That was a big play. It might have been a different inning without that the way I was stuggling, you never know.”
It looked as if it might be one of those days where the Yankees had to nickel-and-dime it for some runs when Brandon Morrow got them out in order in the first two innings. Robinson Cano had other ideas. He followed an RBI single by Brett Gardner in the third with a home run and supplied another two-run homer two innings later.
“You get the runs behind you and guys make plays behind you, and it gives you confidence that you can get the job done,” Phelps said.
One day after the middle of the lineup was nonexistent, the big bats came alive. In addition to Cano’s two bombs, Travis Hafner crushed a solo shot off Darren Oliver in the eighth.
The Yankees’ dominance of Toronto, particularly at the Stadium, goes back more than just this season. They have won nine straight home games over the Blue Jays dating to Sept. 19, 2012, 20 of the past 24 games and 23 of the past 28. The nine-game home winning streak ties their longest against the Jays of June 21, 1979 to Sept. 17, 1980. The Yanks have won the home season series against Toronto for the 10th consecutive year.
The Yankees are 18-0 when scoring first this season and remain the only team yet to lose when scoring the game’s first run. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the streak is an AL record and the longest stretch of its kind by any club since the 1992 Mets started the year 18-0 when scoring the first run of the game. This is the Yanks’ longest such streak at any point in a season since 19 straight May 7 to June 6, 2011.
Curtis Granderson, activated from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, was thrown right into the fire as the starting left fielder and cleanup hitter against the Mariners and Felix Hernandez at Yankee Stadium to open the homestand following a 6-2 trip through Denver, Kansas City and Cleveland.
Granderson played all three outfield positions during his injury-rehabilitation stint at Triple A Scranton. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he will use Granderson in each spot, although it appears that left field will be the one where he will play most often. Brett Gardner has done an outstanding job in center field during Granderson’s absence, and Girardi noted that while he has played some left field Ichiro Suzuki is more comfortable in right field.
Center field with the Yankees is one of the sexiest positions in baseball, yet Granderson told reporters before Tuesday night’s game that he is fine with his new surroundings. Just being back in the major leagues is satisfying enough for Granderson, who enjoyed being back at the Stadium where he was also visited by Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Players Association. Granderson is the Yankees’ player representative to the union.
Granderson is among several Yankees individual players with good career numbers against King Felix, who entered the game with an 8-5 record and 3.08 ERA in his career against the Yankees. The righthander has been especially tough at the current Stadium with a 4-1 mark and 1.13 ERA.
Granderson is a .273 hitter with two doubles, one triple and two home runs in 55 at-bats against Hernandez. Others with good numbers are Robinson Cano (.366, 2 doubles, 2 homers in 41 at-bats) as well as Ichiro (.400) and Jayson Nix (.500) in a limited number of at-bats. Ichiro is 2-for-5 and Nix 5-for-10.
Missing from the lineup will be designated hitter Travis Hafner, who was scheduled to undergo an MRI on his right shoulder that has been sore for several days. The Yankees hope the situation is not serious, but Hafner has had shoulder problems in the past. Vernon Wells, who had manned left field while Granderson was out, was in the lineup as the DH.
CC Sabathia will start for the Yankees in the matchup of former Cy Young Award winners. This is the pairing of Sabathia, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2007 with the Indians, and Hernandez, the 2010 AL winner. It marks the fourth time former Cy Young Award winners will meet at the current Stadium after the winning the award. The others were Sabathia against Lee June 16, 2009, Sabathia against Roy Halladay June 15, 2010 and Sabathia against Johan Santana June 20, 2010.
Sabathia took a 12-4 record and 2.46 ERA in his career against the Mariners into the game. He has won each of his past eight starts against Seattle dating to Aug. 13, 2009 with a 1.20 ERA in 60 innings over that stretch.
The unfortunate side of the Granderson transaction is that pitcher Vidal Nuno, who got his first major-league victory in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader at Cleveland, was optioned to Scranton to create roster space. It was the obvious move because having pitched five innings Monday Nuno could not be used for several days. The lefthander, who pitched eight scoreless innings in two appearances for the Yankees, made a strong impression and will be in Scranton’s rotation to get innings and be available if the Yankees need pitching help down the road, which they almost surely will.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Nuno and righthander Adam Warren became the second pair of Yankees pitchers to earn their first career victory and first career save, respectively, in the same game. The others were Alan Closter (victory) and Fritz Peterson (save) July 25, 1971 in the second game of a doubleheader at Milwaukee. Warren was also the winning pitcher of the Yanks’ victory Thursday at Denver. Elias points out that he and Nuno marked the first pair of Yankees pitchers to earn their first major-league victories on the same trip since Matt DeSalvo and Tyler Clippard in May 2007.
The Yankees shut out their opponent in Game 2 of a doubleheader after being shutout in Game 1 of the DH for only the second time in the past 37 years. They also turned the trick on May 12, 2010 at Detroit, dropping Game 1, 2-0, and winning Game 2, 8-0. The Yankees are 4-0 in games immediately following a shutout loss this season, and have gone 30-9 (.769) in such games since 2008 when Joe Girardi took over as manager.
Sometimes it comes down to one simple play. A blown hit-and-run play turned into an important stolen base for the Yankees that turned the ninth inning Wednesday night into a melodrama that sent them toward a very satisfying, dugout-emptying victory.
Normally when you hear the phrase “dugout-emptying,” it is in reference to a brawl. This time it was literal for the Yankees. With Eduardo Nunez still unavailable due to an irritated left ribcage, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was forced to use all the available players in an inter-league game at a National League park where the designated hitter is forbidden. Thank heaven this one didn’t go extra innings or you might have seen some pitchers playing elsewhere on the field.
The Yanks’ 3-2 victory over the Rockies was truly a team effort. The deciding run that was set up by a stolen base that should have been an out scored thanks to the hustle of Brennan Boesch, the Yankees’ third pinch hitter of the night, who beat out an infield hit with a dash down the first base line while Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado took ever-so-slightly too long to get off a throw.
Vernon Wells, who crossed the plate for the tiebreaking run, then trotted out to third base with his oversized outfield glove, marking the first time he had played the infield in a major-league game. Sure enough, a ball was hit to him, but he handled Carlos Gonzalez’s grounder with ease and got the second out of the inning. Mariano Rivera withstood a two-out single and a steal of second base by Michael Cuddyer to make it 12-for-12 in saves when he retired Wilin Rosario on a fly to center.
Wells, whose three-hit game included his seventh home run that accounted for the Yanks’ other two runs, was asked to play third base because starter Chris Nelson had been lifted earlier in the ninth for pinch hitter Travis Hafner, who struck out. Without Nunez, Girardi had no infielders he could call on, a situation that the manager had explained to Wells even before the game started.
It was also Wells who benefit from a dropped throw by shortstop Jonathan Herrera from catcher Rosario on a busted hit-and-run play. Wells, who had left off the inning with an infield single, ended up with a gift of a stolen base. Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt in a non-save situation was not sharp and walked Lyle Overbay. After Ichiro Suzuki bunted the runners over, Jayson Nix was intentionally walked to load the bases. Girardi had his ace in the hole in Hafner, but the DH without a spot in the starting lineup at Coors Field struck out.
Boesch was Girardi’s last available player to use as a pinch hitter for catcher Austin Romine (Chris Stewart would have to catch the bottom of the ninth). Arenado made a terrific stop of a hard grounder to his left by Boesch, but the third baseman glanced momentarily to second base before throwing to first where Boesch beat the play by a hair.
Pitchers played major parts for the Yankees as well. Starter David Phelps went six innings and was hurt only by a two-run homer by Todd Helton. Recent Triple A call-up Preston Claiborne pitched a 1-2-3 seventh (the righthander has retired all nine hitters he has faced in his first two appearances for the Yankees) and David Robertson added a scoreless eighth.
This is not the sort of stuff fans are used to seeing at Coors Field. Tuesday night, it was 2-0 Rockies. Seven runs in two games in a yard where every night it seems that seven runs are scored every two innings is pretty rare. The Yankees ended a five-game losing streak at Coors dating to June 20, 2002 and are 29-9 in games following shutout losses since Girardi became manager in 2008, including 3-0 this year.
For five innings Tuesday night, it appeared Hiroki Kuroda would turn the tables on Coors Field, the Denver yard where he had a lot of problems during his years with the Dodgers. Kuroda was 1-2 with a 6.85 ERA at Coors and 1-5 with a 5.52 ERA overall against the Rockies.
Kuroda, who has been the Yankees’ best starting pitcher in the early going this season, had a two-hit shutout working into the sixth and got the first two outs that inning in short order. Then just as quickly, the game fell out of his grasp.
Josh Rutledge got one of his three hits, a single to center field, before Carlos Gonzalez dealt the killing blow to Kuroda by driving a 3-2 fastball to right field for his seventh home run and a 2-0 Colorado lead that held up as the final score.
It was a tough loss for Kuroda, who scattered seven hits and walked only one batter with three strikeouts in seven innings. Even with the loss, his ERA is an enviable 2.30. The game came down to that one pitch, the full-count heater to Gonzalez.
If the Yankees thought they would pad their batting averages and power number at offensive-friendly Coors Field, they were sadly mistaken. They managed merely four hits, all singles, off four Colorado pitchers in the first shutout at Coors Field this season, in 17 games.
Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa, who gave up three hits over the first six innings, continued his career success against the Yankees by improving to 3-0 with a 0.98 ERA against them. Despite his good numbers, the Yankees had hit .302 as a team against De La Rosa, but after Tuesday night that figure fell to .257.
The Yankees had won five of their past seven games against left-handed starters and were an American League-best 8-3 against them overall. Once again, they played without shortstop Eduardo Nunez, who is still bothered by a irritated left ribcage. Also, with no designated hitter in play in a National League park for the inter-league series, the Yankees were able to get only one at-bat for Travis Hafner off the bench (he grounded out batting for Kuroda in the eighth).
Despite a sloppy track caused by a steady rainfall during the game (hey, it could have been worse; snow is not uncommon in Colorado in May), the Yankees had four stolen bases, including swipes of second and third by Ichiro Suzuki on successive pitches in the third inning. Three of the five runners that the Yankees left on base in the game were in scoring position. They were 0-for-5 in those situations.
Through five innings Saturday, Phil Hughes had thrown 86 pitches. I thought here’s another situation in which the righthander cannot moderate his pitch count and that Yankees manager Joe Girardi would have to get his bullpen in gear early.
But lo and behold, Hughes got more efficient with his pitches and came up with three straight 1-2-3 innings to be in good position to get his first winning decision of the season. Phil certainly earned it with eight shutout innings in which he allowed four hits and two walks with a season-high nine strikeouts.
Things got a bit hairy in the ninth when Shawn Kelley gave up a leadoff single, and Girardi did not hesitate to call on Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation. Mo gave up a walk and a hit with a couple of runs scoring, but the 4-2 Yankees final gave Hughes that long-awaited first victory of the season.
“I knew my pitch count was pretty high the first five innings,” Hughes said. “It all starts with the fastball. I got more aggressive with it on both sides of the plate and then I could mix in off-speed stuff.”
Hughes’ 117-pitch effort included an unusually high number of strikes – 82 – and marked his fourth consecutive outing of six or more innings in which he allowed two or fewer runs. He has held opponents to a .223 batting average in that stretch. Over those starts, Hughes had brought his ERA down from 10.29 to 3.60. “I feel like I’m clicking now,” he said.
For the second straight outing at Yankee Stadium, Hughes kept the ball in the yard, something he had not done before his previous start since last August. The long ball will always be a nemesis for Hughes, a fly-ball pitcher (10 of his 24 outs Saturday were in the air), but it is worth noting that all five homers he has allowed this year have come with the bases empty.
Ichiro Suzuki saved Hughes from yielding a home run to the first batter of the game, catcher John Jaso, with a fence-climbing catch in right field. A couple of other drives reached the warning track but stayed out of the stands.
“The consistency of his pitches every inning” was Girardi’s explanation for the turnaround in Hughes since his first two poor starts to open the season. “He mixed in all his stuff the second and third time through the order.”
Hughes’ offensive support came mainly from the bottom of the order – home runs from 9-hole hitter Chris Stewart in the third and 7-hole hitter Lyle Overbay in the fifth off Athletics starter Bartolo Colon and a triple by 8-hole hitter Eduardo Nunez, who scored on a two-out single by Brett Gardner in the seventh. The other run came from cleanup hitter Travis Hafner with a single in the sixth that scored Robinson Cano, who had doubled to lead off the inning against Colon.
That double was career No. 344 for Cano, who broke a tie with Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Mickey Mantle to take over eighth place on the franchise’s all-time list.
Colon, who was 8-10 for the Yankees in 2011, lost for the first time in four decisions this year despite another good outing (three runs, six hits, no walks, three strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings). A control freak of a power pitcher, Colon has tossed 37 1/3 innings in 2013 and walked one batter.
The Yankees are 28-9 in games immediately following shutout losses since the start of the 2008 season (all under Girardi) with victories in both cases this year and 11 of the past 13. . .Hughes, with a 1.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts over his past four starts covering 28 innings, became the first right-handed starter for the Yankees to pitch at least eight shutout innings and strike out at least nine batters in a game since Mike Mussina Sept. 14, 2004 at Kansas City and the first to do so at the Stadium since Roger Clemens June 18, 2003 against the Rays. . .Hafner has at least one RBI in nine of the Yankees’ 10 series this season. . .Stewart entered 2013 with four homers in 351 career at-bats. He has two in 40 at-bats this season. . .Rivera’s 1,064th career appearance tied him with Dan Plesac for sixth place on the all-time games list. . .The Yankees are 17-2 when holding opponents to four or fewer runs and 16-3 when scoring four or more runs.
That vulnerability the Yankees once showed against left-handed pitching appears to have worn away. Their 5-4 victory over the Astros Wednesday night improved the Yanks’ record to 8-3 in games started by left-handed opposing pitchers, including their past five at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have won six of the past eight games against left-handed starters.
Nevertheless, they continue to seek ways to bolster their lineup against lefties. After the game, the Yankees announced that they had acquired infielder Chris Nelson from the Rockies in a deal for cash considerations and/or a player to be named. Nelson, 27, was batting .242 in 66 at-bats for Colorado but apparently was available because Nolan Arenado was seeing more playing time at third base. Nelson was a .301 hitter with nine home runs and 53 RBI in 2012. He bats right-handed, can play third base and second base, although defense is not his strong suit. Nelson is expected to join the Yankees Friday night when they open a three-game series against Oakland.
The Yankees cleared space on the 40-man roster for Nelson by assigning catcher Francisco Cervelli (broken right hand) to the 60-day disabled list. They will have to make a move for the 25-man roster when Nelson is activated, most likely returning infielder Corban Joseph to Triple A Scranton.
With all their injuries, the Yankees have had to use left-handed batters against left-handed pitching, and it has worked out. Travis Hafner walked and scored in the second inning, and Robinson Cano belted his eighth home run in the third.
Lyle Overbay doubled, walked twice and made an alert base-running maneuver that led to the deciding run. In the sixth inning with the score 4-4, Overbay was on first base and Eduardo Nunez on third with one out when Ichiro Suzuki, another lefty swinger who had two hits, hit a grounder between first and second. Overbay stopped in the baseline and forced second baseman Jose Altuve to throw to first base while Nunez sprinted home before the Astros could complete the double play by throwing out Overbay in a rundown.
“It takes a heads-up play like that to prevent the double play from happening,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That is what veterans do. They don’t get frazzled by situations.”
Neither did the Yankees’ bullpen. David Phelps was okay in his start (four runs, eight hits, one walk, five strikeouts, two hit batters in 5 2/3 innings), but Boone Logan (2-1), David Robertson and Mariano Rivera (11-for-11 in saves) combined for 3 1/3 spotless, two-hit innings with four strikeouts.
It got a big scary for Mo in the ninth when rookie outfielder Brandon Barnes led off with a line single to right. Matt Dominguez hit the ball hard, too, but Cano made a back-handed stab and got an unassisted double play by tagging Barnes, who was running on the play. Rivera reared back and fired three strikes past Marwin Gonzalez to end a stretch of 16 consecutive dates of games in which the Yankees went 11-5 and won four of the five series.
With a lefthander, Eric Bedard, starting for the Astros Wednesday night, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had to decide which left-handed hitting outfielder to give the night off. He chose Brett Gardner for two reasons: (1) Gardner could use the blow and (2) Ichiro Suzuki is hot.
Ichiro has really stepped it up this homestand. He entered the game on an 8-for-19 (.421) stretch that shot his batting average up to .268, which was 68 points higher than it was a week ago. With hits in each of his first two at-bats, Suzuki’s average just kept climbing nearer to the .300 level with which he was so familiar in his years with the Mariners.
Suzuki led off the game with a triple off the auxiliary scoreboard in right-center field. He scored moments later on a single to left by Jayson Nix. Bedard, who did not walk a batter in his prior start at Boston despite throwing 91 pitches in three innings, walked the bases loaded with none out in the second.
The first walk was to Travis Hafner, whom Girardi left in the batting order as the designated hitter while using righty-swinging Ben Francisco in right field. The Astros used an exaggerated shift against Hafner, who I think would be smart to consider bunting in those situations. After all, he was leading off the inning, so getting on base is the priority. The Astros were giving him the entire left side of the infield.
The Yankees got only one run out of the rally, on a sacrifice fly by Chris Stewart, who is doing a terrific job in making up for the loss to injury (fractured right hand) of Francisco Cervelli. The Yanks reloaded the bases with two out on an infield single by Suzuki when Bedard and first baseman Carlos Pena miscommunicated on a play at the bag while Ichiro sped to another hit. It proved inconsequential as Nix popped out.
The game was beginning to look like one of those runaways when Robinson Cano and Francisco homered in the fourth inning for a 4-0 Yankees lead. Cano’s homer was career No. 185 for 16th place on the Yankees’ all-time list. He also moved ahead of Elston Howard for 20th place on the Yankees’ career RBI list with 733.
Francisco’s homer was his first with the Yankees, and it must have felt wonderful. He entered the game batting .103 and may just be the odd man out whenever Curtis Granderson comes off the disabled list, which is likely sometime this month.
Making his first start of the season, David Phelps was certainly appreciative of the early run support. The righthander cruised through three innings in pitching to the minimum number of batters and allowing one hit before the wheels started to fall off in the fourth. Phelps was stung for four hits and didn’t help himself by hitting two batters, one of which forced in a run, as the Astros tied the score.
Speed has not been that much an element to the Yankees’ offense this year. It was thought that they would suffer a power outage this season with the loss of several sluggers, but the Yankees continue to lead the American League in home runs with 36, the most recent coming on Lyle Overbay’s solo shot in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s 7-4 victory over the Astros.
The Yankees’ other runs were due more to their legs than their brawn, which was good to see. They entered the game with nine stolen bases, the second lowest total in the league. They used thefts to help manufacture the first two runs. Travis Hafner got two of his three RBI because of the steals by Brett Gardner in the first inning and Ichiro Suzuki in the third.
Houston starter Philip Humber also helped the Yankees move around the bases by throwing four wild pitches in his six innings. Two came in the fifth inning in which the Yankees scored twice with only one ball reaching the outfield. Suzuki and Jayson Nix beat out infield hits, and a dash to first base by Brennan Boesch averted a double play and resulted in a run as well.
Eduardo Nunez ran from out of his helmet as usual to turn two of his three hits into doubles, the second of which led to a run in the three-run eighth on a single by Chris Stewart. They seemed like pad-on runs at the time, but the Astros rallied in the ninth against Shawn Kelley that prompted manager Joe Girardi to summon Mariano Rivera, who restored order with a strikeout and earned his 10th save.
Hafner and Suzuki also had three hits in the Yankees’ 15-hit assault. Humber’s record fell to 0-6. He is 4-11 since pitching that perfect game April 21 last year for the White Sox at Seattle.
Hiroki Kuroda overcame a shaky first three innings to pitch a four-hit shutout through seven innings. The Astros were hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position over those first three innings and stranded seven base runners. Kuroda found himself after that and pitched to the minimum number of batters through the seventh and is now 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA.
The Astros didn’t score until Chris Carter hit a two-run home run off David Robertson in the eighth. They got two more runs off Kelley in the ninth before Rivera put the finishing touch on a surprisingly strong April for the Yankees, who posted a 16-10 record despite having six regular position players and two-fifths of the rotation on the disabled list during the month.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi knows that he has to be careful with Travis Hafner. Injuries have plagued the slugger in recent years. Sometimes a manager gets a hunch. Saturday was just that kind of day. The Blue Jays were starting a lefthander, J.A. Happ, but aware that the right-handed portion of the designated hitter platoon, Ben Francisco, is struggling (.103 in 29 at-bats) Girardi chose to give the lefty-swinging Hafner a rare start against a southpaw.
How it turned out was just downright beautiful. All Hafner did was drive in four runs as the Yankees turned back the Blue Jays again, 5-4, behind another gritty effort from CC Sabathia. This was like old times for Travis and CC, former teammates at Cleveland. It was another victory due in large part to the newcomers with the Yankees this year; in this case Hafner and Vernon Wells, who drove in the other Yankees run.
Just as was the case in recent years of the likes of Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Raul Ibanez and Andruws Jones, among others, who thrived with the Yankees in their twilight years, Hafner and Wells have found a fountain of youth in the Bronx.
“This is a great place to play,” Girardi said. “It’s a great clubhouse. There are great expectations. Guys feed off that.”
It was quite an afternoon. Sabathia fell into a 3-0 hole, but the Yankees helped him climb out of it so that he ended up pitching through eight innings and improving his record to 4-2 despite yet another game when his stuff was not top shelf.
“I was all over the place in the early innings,” Sabathia said. “They just missed some balls that I left out over the middle of the plate.”
“He competes, that’s what he does,” Girardi said of Sabathia. “He has not been as sharp in April, but he has four victories, so I am not going to complain.”
Newly thrust into the starting catcher role with Francisco Cervelli out for six weeks with a right hand fracture, Chris Stewart had a rough time of it in the fourth inning. A passed ball and an error helped the Blue Jays to a gift run that gave Toronto the 3-0 lead.
Sabathia, still searching for some velocity on a fastball that rarely topped 90 miles per hour, had an unusual number of fly-ball outs in the early innings. Nobody was catching the ball Jose Bautista hit to start the fourth inning, however. It darted into the left field stands for his seventh home run.
Edwin Encarnacion, who had five home runs in his previous four games, followed with a single and advanced to second on a groundout. Stewart’s passed ball put Encarnacion at third base. He tried to score on Brett Lawrie’s flyout to right field, but Ichiro Suzuki’s laser-beam throw to the plate beat Encarnacion. Plate umpire Jeff Kellogg was prepared to call Encarnacion out, but the ball was dropped by Stewart, a costly error.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Happ got careless with the lead as he began the bottom of the fourth by walking Wells and Kevin Youkilis, who was back in the lineup after missing six games due to back stiffness.
Hafner lowered the boom and brought the Yankees even with his sixth home run, a three-run shot to right-center. He had never faced Happ before, but Hafner was a welcome addition to the batting order.
Lawrie picked up the RBI he lost in the fourth two innings later when he lined a home run to right field that put Toronto back in front.
Not for long, though, as Hafner struck again in the seventh. Righthander Esmil Rogers took over at that point and gave up a one-out double to Robinson Cano, who nearly didn’t get to second base before a remarkably strong and accurate by Bautista from the right field warning track. Wells tied the score with a single to center.
The Yankees stayed out of the double play by sending Wells as Youkilis grounded out to third base. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons brought in another lefthander, Brett Cecil, to face Hafner, who tripled off the glove of center fielder Rajai Davis. In the top of the inning, Brett Gardner made a fence-slamming catch off a similar drive by Bautista. It was the 13th career triple for Hafner and his third over the past six years. This was the first time since 2007 that Hafner has had a triple and a stolen base in the same season.
“Probably tiring,” Hafner said about what it felt like getting to third base. “You want to get some quality at-bats against a lefthander once in a while. It would be nice to get some starts, but I also know that they have my best interests at heart.”
Wanting to stay away from Mariano Rivera, who pitched in three of the previous four games, Girardi used Joba Chamberlain out of the bullpen in the ninth. He was touched for a couple of one-out singles but eventually slammed the door for his fifth career save and first since Sept. 21, 2010 at St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Yankees are now 13-5 since opening the season 1-4, 8-1 in games decided by two or fewer runs, 3-0 in one-run games and 13-1 when holding opponents to four runs or less. In addition, the Yankees are creating distance from the disappointing Jays, who are 9-16 and six games behind the 14-9 Yankees in the American League East. Toronto’s 11-28 (.282) record at Yankee Stadium is the worst for any team that has played at least 30 games in any current major league park.