June 2014

Yanks barely over .500 at halfway point

There was a point Monday night when it seemed like Joe Girardi was managing as if this was Game 7 of the World Series instead of a game in late June.

The score was 2-2 in the eighth inning. Dellin Betances, the third of six Yankees pitchers in the game, had just walked two batters after two were out. Girardi hopped out of the dugout and made the call to David Robertson. Using his closer in the eighth inning of a tie game was certainly an indication that Girardi wanted to win this game badly.

Robertson and Betances have been the Yankees’ best relievers, but on this night neither got the job done. Robertson gave up a single to Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan that gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead.

You cannot fault Girardi. After losing two of three games to American League East rivals in each of their previous three series, the skipper wanted very much to get a victory at the start of this series, the fifth straight against division foes.

Brian Roberts gave the Yankees that opportunity with his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot to right with one out in the ninth off Joel Peralta, whose blown save cost Yankee killer Chris Archer a winning decision.

Archer gave the Yankees his usual hard time, although he did blow a 2-0 lead on solo homers by Matt Joyce and Kevin Kiermaier by giving up two runs in the bottom of the third. Archer asked for trouble by hitting Ichiro Suzuki with a 1-2 pitch to start the inning. He came around to score on a triple to right by Brett Gardner. The Rays conceded a run by playing the infield back against Derek Jeter, who obliged with one of his four ground balls to second base in the game that scored Gardner.

And there it stood until the eighth when the Rays scratched that run off Betances and Robertson. David Phelps had started for the Yankees and gave up the two long balls but otherwise was solid. Roberts’ homer hung a no-decision on Archer, who is 4-0 with a 1.51 ERA against the Yankees in his career, including 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA at Yankee Stadium.

Whatever lift Roberts’ shot gave the Yankees was short-lived. The Rays scored a run with two out in the 12th to send the Yankees to their third straight loss and put their record at 41-40 at the halfway mark of the season.

“It has been up and down,” Girardi said. “We have had our share of issues in the first half, but we’re still in the thick of it.”

Rookie Jose Ramirez walked Brandon Guyer with two out in the 12th. Guyer’s steal of second base was crucial, putting him in position to score on a single to center by Logan Forsythe. Rays reliever Brad Boxberger retired the Yankees in order in both the 11th and the 12th and was the winning pitcher.

Tampa Bay has been hit hardest in the division by injuries but still presented a problem for the Yankees Monday night.

Jeter likely Yanks’ lone starter in All-Star Game

It is looking very much like the Yankees will have only one player in the starting lineup for the All-Star Game July 15 at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Not surprisingly, Derek Jeter is the leading vote getter at shortstop for the American League. Although the White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez is having a better season statistically, he trails the Captain by more than 589,000 votes. DJ is not underserving. He is one of baseball’s most popular players, and the All-Star Game is after all the fans’ game. It is extremely doubtful that Ramirez could make up the gap in a week’s time. The All-Star Game rosters will be announced Sunday.

It would mark the second consecutive season that the Yankees would have only one starter. Second baseman Robinson Cano was in the AL starting lineup last year at Citi Field. The Yankees had two starters in the previous seven All-Star Games after having only one in 2005 at Detroit. The last time they had more than two was in 2004 at Houston when they had three — Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. Alfonso Soriano was the Most Valuable Player of the game that year, his first season with the Rangers after the A-Rod trade.

Jeter entered play Monday night batting .275 with two home runs and 19 RBI. Meanwhile, Ramirez is hitting .298 with nine homers and 38 RBI. It is not all about statistics, however. There is also the matter of star power, which Jeter certainly has.

None of the other Yankees on the ballot is close to a starting berth. Masahiro Tanaka would likely be among the candidates to start the game except that his final start before the break barring a change in the rotation is scheduled for the Sunday before the All-Star Game, which would make him ineligible for the game yet he could be named to the squad.

The best chance for any other of Jeter’s teammates to join him in the Twin Cities would be out of the bullpen. David Robertson and Dellin Betances are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

75th anniversary of Lou’s “luckiest man” speech

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Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium July 4, 1939

One of baseball’s most memorable moments had nothing to do with a ball being pitched or hit. It was a speech delivered July 4, 1939 by Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium as he bid farewell to the game and his fans.

Having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gehrig took himself out of the lineup May 2, 1939, in Detroit, thereby ending a consecutive game streak of 2,130 games that lasted as a record until broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken Jr.

On the Fourth of July that year, the Yankees honored the “Iron Horse” at the Stadium before a sellout crowd of nearly 70,000 people. Along the baselines stood his teammates from the current Yankees and those from years gone by, the famous “Murderers Row” teams of the 1920s, including Babe Ruth.

Gehrig had not prepared a speech. He did not expect to talk but just to wave his cap in appreciation. Yankees manager Joe McCarthy whispered to Gehrig, “Lou, you’ve got to say something,” and out of the first baseman’s mouth came words of emotion and dignity.

Here is what Lou Gehrig said:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

That moment will be celebrated this week. At Yankee Stadium Wednesday, the first 18,000 customers will receive a Lou Gehrig bobblehead that depicts him the day he gave that speech.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will celebrate the Diamond Anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day in Cooperstown, N.Y., with special programming while teaming up with the ALS Association Upstate New York Chapter to honor the Hall of Fame first baseman.

The Museum will offer tributes throughout the day Friday, July 4 as well as provide complimentary admission for those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and a care-giver, pre-arranged through The ALS Association UNY Chapter.

Gehrig was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 in a special election by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America before passing away June 2, 1941.

Special programs offered by the Museum Friday, July 4 – all included with Museum admission – will feature:

10 a.m. – The Plaques of the Gallery (Buck O’Neil Award, 1st Floor)
Learn about the history of the Hall of Fame Gallery and the process by which each plaque is made and installed in this 20-minute guided tour.

10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Operation Gratitude (Learning Center, 1st Floor)
Honor the military personnel and veterans by taking some time out of your visit to write a letter to our soldiers and veterans. All letters will be sent to Operation Gratitude. In honor of the 4th of July we will be handing out American Flags participants in this Museum program.

11 a.m. – Guided Tour: Lou Gehrig (Location, 2nd Floor)
Gehrig’s career will be highlighted in a guided tour throughout the Museum focusing on artifacts that relate to the Iron Horse.

1 p.m. – Artifact Spotlight: Lou Gehrig (Bullpen Theater, 1st Floor)
Get an up-close look at artifacts highlighting Gehrig’s career not currently on exhibit, and learn about the stories behind them.

2 p.m. – A Tribute to Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Speech
A tribute features a first baseman from each major league team reciting a line from Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech.

3 p.m. – Lou Gehrig Trivia (Bullpen Theater, 1st Floor)
Test your knowledge of Gehrig in this interactive game show. Make your way through nine ‘innings’ of questions, and win a free year-long membership to the Museum.

4 p.m. – “The Pride of the Yankees” (Bullpen Theater, 1st Floor)
A special screening of the 1942 film starring Gary Cooper as Gehrig and featuring Babe Ruth as himself. Gehrig died only one year before its release at the age of 37.

For more information about Lou Gehrig, please visit http://www.baseballhall.org/hof/gehrig-lou.

Red Sox outlast Yanks to take series

You could feel the air come out of Yankee Stadium in the third inning Sunday night when David Ortiz blasted a 0-1 pitch from Chase Whitley into the right field bleachers for a three-run home run and a 4-0 Red Sox lead.

The Stadium crowd was pretty lively until that point but turned gloomy at the reality of seeing the offensive-struggling Yankees down that much early against as solid a pitcher as Boston’s John Lackey.

Whitley had given up a run in the second inning on a double by Mike Napoli and a one-out single by Stephen Drew, but it was the Ortiz bomb that spelled disaster for the Yankees. It was career homer No. 450 for Big Papi, who ranks 37th on the all-time list. The Yankees would have some fireworks of their own, however, to work themselves back into the game.

It began with a gift run in the bottom of the third. Ichiro Suzuki reached base on a throwing error by third baseman Brock Holt. After Ichiro stole second base, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter put Lackey to work. Gardner grounded out at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat with Suzuki crossing to third. Jeter then pushed Lackey to 11 pitches, pushing a single to right field on the last one to get the Yankees on the board.

The fireworks came in the fourth as Mark Teixeira (No. 15) and Carlos Beltran (No. 8) took Lackey deep to make it a one-run game. That brought the crowd back into play, but Yankees fans were not pleased at all with what came next.

Whitley came out of the game after he walked Jackie Bradley Jr. to begin the fifth. Shawn Kelley was not any better. He walked Holt and Daniel Nava, which loaded the bases with no outs and no hits. Dustin Pedroia lofted a flare just over first base for a two-run single that also sent Nava to third base.

Lefthander David Huff came in to face Ortiz and kept him in the yard with a flyout to shallow left field. Huff picked Pedroia off first base, but the runner kept himself in a rundown long enough for Nava to cross the plate while the out was made at first base. Just like that, the Yankees were down by four runs again.

Whitley, who was called up from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in mid-May to pitch in the rotation after CC Sabathia went on the 15-day disabled list with right knee inflammation, did well in his first seven starts as he went 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA during that stretch. In his past two starts, however, the righthander has allowed 13 earned runs and 19 hits in 7 1/3 innings for a 15.95 ERA that has driven his season ERA to 4.70.

Unlike Saturday night’s 2-1 Boston victory, Sunday night was more like Yankees-Red Sox games we have come to know. The Yankees got two runs back in the bottom of the fifth on a triple by Suzuki, a double by Gardner and two infield outs.

Ichiro’s triple was a drive to right on which rookie Mookie Betts attempted a diving catch only to have the ball bounce past him. Ichiro’s 40-year-old legs got to third base, but there was a time he would have made it all the way home on such a hit.

Betts was playing in his first major-league game. He got his first hit, a single, in the fourth. I am amused at the idea of a player named Mookie with the Red Sox. Baseball’s only other Mookie — Wilson — broke Sox fans hearts with his tapper past first baseman Bill Buckner that won Game 6 of the 1986 World Series for the Mets. It turns out that Mookie Betts was not named after Wilson but after Mookie Blaylock, his mother’s favorite NBA player.

The Yankees finally got a pitcher who threw strikes consistently when Dellin Betances entered the game in the sixth and inherited a bases-loaded, no-outs situation. The Red Sox got minimal damage with one run on a sacrifice fly by Pedroia after Nava struck out. Betances won the battle against Ortiz, who grounded out to second.

Pushed to 96 pitches, Lackey was gone after the fifth. The Yanks lost a scoring opportunity in the sixth against Burke Bradenhop when Carlos Beltran, who had doubled with one out, was thrown out at the plate by Bradley on a single to center by Kelly Johnson.

In the seventh, Betances struck out Napoli with a high fastball. What an idiot.

Napoli did not fare any better in the ninth when he was called out on strikes against Jose Ramirez. By then, the die had been cast. Boston was polishing off an 8-5 victory saved by Koji Uehara. The Red Sox took the series, two games to one, as the Yankees once again failed to capitalize on Toronto and Baltimore both losing and remained in third place in the American League East. They also fell to 6-6 in the stretch of 15 games against AL East competition that concludes with the three-game set against the Rays starting Monday night at the Stadium.

There’s that word again

That word is back.

Idiot.

Remember, that was the phrase popularized by Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar in 2004 when the Red Sox ended their 86-year championship drought and won the World Series. The Boston players referred to themselves as “idiots.”

So what to make of Mike Napoli’s use of the word Saturday night when he was caught on FOX microphones in the dugout saying “What an idiot!” in reference to Masahiro Tanaka for throwing him a fastball on a 1-2 count that the first baseman hit over the right field fence for what proved a game-winning home run.

Clearly, it was one of those heat-of-the-moment things that can often get blown up, particularly in a rivalry as historically volatile as Yankees-Red Sox.

Tanaka shook off catcher Brian McCann twice before throwing the fateful heater that Napoli tagged to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth that held up. Tanaka had made Napolo look foolish swinging at two split-fingered fastballs during the at-bat. On 1-2, McCann called for another splitter. Tanaka shook his head. McCann put down fingers for a slider, which was a very effective pitch for Tanaka. Again, a head shake. Tanaka wanted to come upstairs with gas, and Napoli was delighted to get a pitch he could handle.

Managers Joe Girardi of the Yankees and John Farrell of the Red Sox downplayed the situation before Sunday night’s game, which was also nationally televised, this time on ESPN. I agreed with Girardi’s assessment, that Napoli did not mean to insult Tanaka and that he was just happy not to have gotten another splitter or one of those devastating sliders.

“I haven’t seen anything in Mike Napoli that he is a guy that shows people up or he is a guy that degrades people,” Girardi said. “I don’t make too much of it. I think we might be making too much out of one pitch. If you score three runs, it really doesn’t matter. If you win 3-2, you are going to say, ‘Man, he pitched another great game.’ Since we lost it, 2-1, the focus is on that one pitch.”

“I know we have the utmost respect for Tanaka,” Farrell added, “and I know Mike Napoli does.”

Some columnists were writing before the series that the rivalry may be losing some of its juice now with a new cast of characters that have not yet made the same impact. Major League Baseball would only have itself to blame if things get ugly between the clubs over this. MLB allows FOX to put mikes in the dugout, supposedly to “enhance” the viewers’ enjoyment of the game.

It could have been worse. Napoli at least did not use the players’ favorite adjective, which cannot be printed here.

Tanaka bested by Lester in classic pitching duel

Does anyone actually think Masahiro Tanaka should not have pitched the ninth inning for the Yankees Saturday night? I mean, really? Talk about severe second guessing. Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked why he did not have David Robertson pitch the ninth instead of Tanaka.

Look, if Girardi knew that Tanaka was going to give up a solo home run to Mike Napoli on a ball that barely cleared the right field wall on a 1-2 pitch, then, sure, he would rather have D-Rob out there. But, come on, Tanaka was pitching a gem, deserved a better fate and certainly did not deserve his manager having to be grilled for staying with his best pitcher.

Yes, this one hurt, a 2-1 loss to the Red Sox for the Yankees, who failed to take advantage of Toronto and Baltimore both losing earlier in the day. But as good as Tanaka was, Red Sox starter Jon Lester was slightly better.

For one thing, Lester kept the ball in the yard. Both the runs off Tanaka were on solo homers. The other was by catcher David Ross in the third inning. If a pitcher is going to give up home runs, let them be with nobody on base. You hear that all the time, so cut Tanaka some slack.

Look at what he did in the fourth inning when Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz scorched him for a single and double, respectively. Strikeout, strikeout, groundout to the next three batters, slamming the door.

The Yankees’ only run off Lester was unearned due to an error by Boston shortstop Stephen Drew in the bottom of the third. Lester took a no-hitter into the sixth, withstood three singles that inning and continued to keep the Yankees off balance.

For a wild moment there in the eighth, it appeared as if the Yanks had taken the lead. Jacoby Ellsbury seemed to have stolen second base, continued to third on an errant throw by Ross and then headed for the plate that was uncovered. What Ellsbury and most of the people in the Yankee Stadium sellout crowd of 48,433 did not know was that the pitch Ellsbury stole on was a called third strike by plate umpire Andy Fletcher on Mark Teixeira.

The Red Sox did hit Tanaka hard in the ninth. Pedroia led off the inning with his third hit, a line single to center. Ortiz hit a blistering one-hopper gloved by third baseman Yangervis Solarte on the overshift that became a double play. Tanaka got two strikes on Napoli only to lose the battle when the Boston first baseman hit an opposite-field homer. Koji Uehara closed it out for the Red Sox with a 1-2-3 ninth for his 17th save.

Tanaka has lost consecutive starts for the first time this season. His three complete games are the most for a Yankees rookie since 1998 when Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez had the same total. It was a tough loss for Tanaka, but I for one applaud the manager for leaving him in the game.

Dueling video reviews

With help from a video review, Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester still had a no-hitter through five innings Saturday night. Although the Yankees had a run on the board, they had yet to get a hit when Yangervis Solarte appeared to have broken up Lester’s bid with an infield single with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.

It was an official scorer’s nightmare for Howie Karpin, who ruled the play a single. Solarte hit a dribbler near the third base line. Boston third baseman Zander Bogaerts made a nifty, bare-handed pickup, but his throw to first base was in the dirt. First baseman Mike Napoli stretched for the throw and made a nice scoop, but first base umpire Mark Wegner called Solarte safe.

Karpin was forced to credit Solarte with a hit because of the degree of difficulty Bogaerts had in making the fielding play. It all became incidental when Red Sox manager John Farrell asked for a review. Video replays clearly showed that Napoli’s foot was on the bag before Solarte reached first base, so Wegner’s call was overturned keeping Lester’s no-no in place for the time being.

The Yankees came right back in the sixth with a review request of their own when Dustin Pedroia led off with an apparent double. That call was also overturned when replays showed that Pedroia slid into the tag of second baseman Brian Roberts.

Lester’s no-hit bid did not last for long. Brett Gardner led off the sixth with a ground single through the middle for the Yankees’ first hit. Gardner was quickly erased when thrown out attempting to steal second base. Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury restarted the rally with singles, but Mark Teixeira flied out and Carlos Beltran struck out.

The Yankees had scored in the third inning without a hit. Shortstop Stephen Drew bobbled a grounder by Roberts for an error, and Lester hit Solarte with a pitch. Gardner advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. Roberts scored as Jeter grounded out to shortstop. Solarte crossed to third base but was stranded as Ellsbury also grounded out to short.

The Red Sox had gotten on the board in the top of the third on a solo home run by David Ross. Masahiro Tanaka showed off a good slider and splitter, but in the fourth Boston hit him hard with Pedroia lining a single to right and David Ortiz almost decapitating Pedroia with another liner to right for a double. Tanaka held firm, however. He struck out Napoli and Drew and retired Bogaerts on an infield grounder.

Tanaka vs. Lester, Round 2

Masahiro Tanaka and Jon Lester, who were paired against each other Saturday night at Yankees Stadium, first hooked up April 22 at Fenway Park. At the time, Tanaka was still an unknown quantity although he had already opened plenty of eyes. But in the tense atmosphere of Boston’s old yard, the Japanese righthander was going to face some strong scrutiny.

He passed with flying colors. Tanaka pitched 7 1/3 innings and allowed two earned runs and seven hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in improving his record to 3-0. The Yankees pounded Lester for 11 hits and eight runs, although five were not earned due to errors by catcher A.J. Pierzynski and first baseman Mike Napoli.

Tanaka’s record was up to 11-2 entering play Saturday night. The Elias Sports Bureau put together some interesting information on the American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year candidate.

Tanaka has pitched at least six innings and allowed three runs or fewer in each of his 15 starts. In the past 103 seasons since earned runs became an official statistis in 1912, he is one of only two pitchers to produce such an outing in each of his first 15 major-league games. The other was the Expos’ Steve Rogers, who did so in each of his first 16 games for Montreal in 1973).

Tanaka is the only pitcher to produce such an outing in each of his first 15 starts with the Yankees and one of only three Yankees pitchers to produce such a start in 15 consecutive starts at any point in their careers. The others were CC Sabathia (16 games) in 2010 from June 3 to Aug. 22 and Ron Guidry (15 games) in 1978 from April 8 to June 22.

No pitcher has recorded a longer such streak since the Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong had 16 consecutive quality starts in 2012 from May 3 to July 29.

Elias also pointed out that Friday night’s 6-0 victory over the Red Sox marked the first time in franchise history that two non-pitchers each age 40 or older started a game together for the Yankees in shortstop Derek Jeter and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. The last pair of 40-year-olds to start for the Yankees prior to Friday was pitcher Andy Pettitte and outfielder Raul Ibanez in 2012.

Yankees fans should take note that the rainout makeup game against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City will be at 7:10 p.m. Aug. 25.

Girardi awarded for sticking with Nuno

It would not have surprised anyone if Yankees manager Joe Girardi used Thursday’s open date to skip over Vidal Nuno in the rotation. The lefthander has struggled over the past six weeks as an emergency starter in the Yankees’ injury-riddled rotation. With Thursday’s open date, the Yanks’ first off day in 24 days, Girardi could have sat down Nuno and kept the rest of the rotation on schedule.

Fans of Masahiro Tanaka would not have minded that, either, because by starting Friday night the Japanese righthander would have put himself in position to pitch in the All-Star Game. As it is now, while he may be named to the American League squad Tanaka is doubtful to be able to pitch in the July 15 All-Star Game at Minneapolis’ Target Field because barring rainouts his final start before the break would be Sunday, July 13, at Baltimore.

Despite fielding many questions about Nuno’s place in the starting unit, Girardi reiterated that his rotation will have no change, at least not for now. So Nuno took the mound Friday night against the Red Sox in the opener of a three-game series in front of a full-house crowd of 48,522 at Yankee Stadium and came up with his best start of the season.

Nuno pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed two hits and two walks with five strikeouts to earn his first winning decision in nine starts since May 7 and end a personal four-game losing streak. As recently as two starts ago at Oakland, Nuno was pounded for eight earned runs in three innings as his ERA skied to 5.90. He dropped it to 5.42 Friday night with all the zeroes he put up on the scoreboard.

There is still much room for improvement for Nuno, but this was a positive start toward that end. He limited the defending World Series champions to a single by Jonny Gomes in the second and a double by Brock Holt in the third. When he walked David Ortiz with two out in the sixth, Nuno was replaced by Dellin Betances, who along with Adam Warren and Matt Thornton preserved the shutout.

Mark Teixeira gave Nuno a 1-0 lead in the first inning against righthander Brandon Workman on a sacrifice fly. The Yankees broke open the game in fourth with a pair of home runs, a two-run blast by Kelly Johnson and a solo shot by Brett Gardner back-to-back. They pushed the score to 6-0 with another homer in the eighth, a two-run bomb into the second deck in right field by Brian McCann off lefthander Craig Breslow.

It was a great way to start the weekend. And by not toying with the rotation, Girardi created a dream matchup Saturday night at the Stadium with Tanaka opposing Jon Lester.

D-Rob called on to avoid sweep at Toronto

Joe Girardi wasn’t taking any chances Wednesday night. The manager wanted to avoid being swept in Toronto as the Yankees had done to the Blue Jays last week at Yankee Stadium. Toward that effort, Girardi did not hesitate to have David Robertson work a five-out save to salvage at least one victory in the three-game series.

The Yankees came back from Tuesday night’s sloppy loss to turn back the Blue Jays, 5-3, and end a four-game losing streak. The Jays jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Jose Reyes hit the first pitch from Hiroki Kuroda for a home run, but the Yankees attacked Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison for four runs in the third and held the lead with solid ensemble work from the bullpen.

Kuroda earned his first victory in five starts since May 28, although he had not pitched that poorly (3.33 ERA) during the four-game stretch in which he had two losses and two no-decisions. The Japanese righthander gave up two runs on a two-out single by Melky Cabrera in the fifth that made it a one-run game but worked out of trouble in the sixth and departed with one out and a runner on first base in the seventh with the Yankees up by two runs.

Shawn Kelley gave up a single to Reyes but then got Cabrera on a fly to right. Girardi brought in lefthander Matt Thornton to face lefty-swinging Adam Lind. During the at-bat, Anthony Gose and Reyes, two of the fastest players in the major leagues, pulled off a gutsy double steal. Thornton got the job done, however, as Lind hit the ball right back to the pitcher for the third out.

Adam Warren started the eighth, but when he gave up a one-out single to Dioner Navarro Girardi summoned Robertson. D-Rob had not pitched in a week and was plenty strong. He finished off the eighth with two strikeouts, then got another punchout to start the ninth before inducing two ground balls for his 18th save.

The Yankees were only 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and had two runners thrown out trying to steal but got key hits when it mattered. Getting a rare start behind the plate, Francisco Cervelli doubled home the Yanks’ first run in the third inning. The first of Jacoby Ellsbury’s three hits was a two-out single that sent home Cervelli. Mark Teixeira followed with his 14th home run to make the score 4-1.

After the Jays closed to 4-3, the Yankees scored a run without a hit in the seventh on two walks, a hit batter and a sacrifice fly by Teixeira.

The Yankees can now exhale Thursday, their first day off after playing for 23 straight days. It is also Derek Jeter’s 40th birthday. He and his teammates could surely use the rest.