Keep an eye on the scoreboard

September is just around the corner, so it is time to start watching the scoreboard regularly. And never believe it if you read or hear a player say that he doesn’t pay attention to the scoreboard. Of course, they do. As Dennis Eckersley used to say, “That’s why they put the scoreboards out there, right?”

So with a little more than a month left in the season, scoreboard-watching becomes a sport of its own, especially now that there is an additional wild card team in each league, a wrinkle that puts a premium on finishing first in your division. The wild cards will face off in a one-game playoff game to qualify for the Division Series. You can be sure that the Yankees and the other division leaders have no desire to be involved in a one-game win or go home scenario.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been somewhat defensive about his managerial philosophy in September and maintained that he would never ease off the pedal regardless of circumstances. It did seem, however, that in 2010 he rested players quite a bit knowing that the Yankees despite being in a division race with the Rays were guaranteed a postseason berth anyway and preferred to get there without being exhausted. That is not an option anymore. Finish second, and you need to win another game to go to the postseason dance.

First place is the Yankees’ goal. Girardi has emphasized that since the start of spring training. With the Yankees playing within the American League East for three weeks, close attention will be paid to the scoreboard.

Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays was an antidote the Yankees needed after Monday night’s extra-inning loss. Rafael Soriano atoned for his blown save with a clean ninth inning for his 34th save, but the main pitching contribution came from starter Phil Hughes, who limited Toronto to one run and four hits over seven innings.

Matters got a bit wobbly in the sixth when Hughes walked the first two batters and nearly had Adam Lind take him deep before the drive off a changeup died on the right field warning track. Yunel Escobar hit the ball much harder, a liner on which Robinson Cano made a leaping catch and topped it off with a strong throw to third base that doubled up Colby Rasmus.

“I thought he had no chance to catch the ball, and then he gets a double play for icing on the cake,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure any other second baseman could have made that play.”

The only run Hughes allowed, not surprisingly, came on a home run, the 30th he has yielded this year, and the first career jack for rookie third baseman Adeiny Hechavarria, in the fifth. Hughes needed to be sharp because the Yankees had as weak a batting order as Girardi could have put together with newcomer Steve Pearce, who has bounced between the majors and minors, in the cleanup spot and .195-hitting Russell Martin in the 5-hole.

Ironically, Pearce and Martin helped build the run in the fourth inning that proved the difference maker. Pearce drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch by hard-luck loser Ricky Romero. Martin moved Pearce to third with a ground ball to the right side, which enabled Curtis Granderson to score Pearce with a fly ball to center.

The Yankees’ other run was on a single in the third by Swisher off Romero, who lost his 11th consecutive decision. The lefthander opened the season with an 8-1 record and is now 8-12. The Jays have scored merely 17 runs over Romero’s past 10 starts. Jayson Nix, who played for the Blue Jays last year, had two hits and is batting .400 in 25 at-bats this season against his old team.

It was the second of 22 straight games for the Yankees within the AL East, which will include 13 games combined against their closest divisional competitors, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. The Yankees could see that the Orioles shut out the White Sox to remain 3 ½ games behind them in the standings. The 6-0 final was right there on the scoreboard.

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