Bird likes those ducks on the pond
Take heed all you sluggers that refuse to bunt against the shift, especially leading off an inning in a tie game when getting on base is the priority.
How delightful it was to see Brian McCann push his ego aside and drop a bunt to a practically empty left side of the infield for a leadoff single in the 10th inning Tuesday night. It was a rally starter for the Yankees, and they cashed in later in the inning on a three-run home run by Greg Bird off relief pitcher Mark Lowe.
There was a playoff atmosphere at Rogers Centre where the Yankees got back to 2 1/2 games behind the firt-place Blue Jays in the American League East with the 6-4, 10-inning victory before a packed house of 47,992. Bird’s homer quieted the crowd, which woke up momentarily in the bottom of the 10th on a home run by Edwin Encarnacion.
Bird has homered in three straight games and has 10 homers and 28 RBI in 34 games. The rookie first baseman also doubled. Of his past 17 hits, 13 have been for extra bases (eight home runs and five doubles).
Put people on base in front of Bird and watch out. He is batting .370 with four doubles, eight home runs and 26 RBI in 54 at-bats with runners on base compared to .164 with three doubles, two homers and two RBI in 67 at-bats with the bases empty.
It sure would be nice if the Yankees had Masahiro Tanaka available to pitch Wednesday night in the series finale, but the Japanese righthander was scratched because of a hamstring injury with Ivan Nova taking his place against Toronto’s Marcus Stroman.
Luis Severino was not the least bit overwhelmed starting an important game against a team he had faced twice previously and beat him up 11 days ago at Yankee Stadium (six earned runs, six hits, two home runs in 2 1/3 innings).
The rookie did give up the 2-0 lead the Yankees gave him in the first inning, but he held the AL’s most potent lineup to three hits. The 2-3-4 sluggers Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — each with more than 30 home runs this season — were a combined 0-for-7 with two walks.
One of the walks was to Donaldson, who scored the tying run in the sixth on a two-out single by Justin Smoak. The other run off Severino was a solo homer in the third by Kevin Pillar.
Bautista did more damage with his strong right arm than anything else. He killed two Yankees rallies with outfield assists. The right fielder gunned down Dustin Ackley at third base in the seventh on a play that was overturned by a replay challenge after the original call was that the runner was safe.
Even more dramatic was Bautista’s throw in the ninth inning that got Chris Young at the plate. The Yankees had runners on second and third with none out, but the double play foiled things and after a walk to Brett Gardner Alex Rodriguez flied out.
An insurance run or two there would have been a big help in the bottom of the ninth for Andrew Miller, who blew a save for only the second time in 36 opportunities this year when he gave up a one-out home run to Dioner Navarro. The Blue Jays went on to load the bases with two out against Miller, but he struck out Donaldson as the game went into extras.
The Yankees attacked Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada early by scoring twice in the first inning. The suddenly-hot Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double and scored on a one-out single by McCann that also sent Rodriguez, who had walked, to third base. Carlos Beltran got A-Rod home with a sacrifice fly. Beltran got an even bigger RBI in the eighth with a solo homer off Liam Hendriks before the ninth-inning turn of events.
Ellsbury doubled twice and is batting .440 in 25 at-bats during his six-game hitting streak. Since the start of 2013, Ellsbury has hit safely in 23 of 25 games at Rogers Centre and reached base on a hit, walk or hit by pitch in all but one. In a 12-game hitting streak at Toronto dating to June 24 last year, Ellsbury is hitting .431 with eight runs, four doubles, two triples, two home runs and eight RBI in 51 at-bats.
Blue Jays lefthander David Price, the winning pitcher Monday night over the Yankees with seven shutout innings, lowered his AL-leading ERA to 2.34. He has won 13 games since June 1 and is 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA since being traded to Toronto from Detroit. Price, who was 9-4 with the Tigers, is one of four pitchers since 1893 to win at least eight games and had winning records for two different teams in the same season. The other three all pitched for the Yankees during their careers: Hank Borowy, traded by the Yanks to the Cubs in 1945; David Cone, traded by the Blue Jays to the Yanks in 1995 and Bartolo Colon, traded by the Indians to the Expos in 2002. Colon, now with the Mets, pitched for the Yankees in 2011. Since 1980, four other pitchers won at least eight of their first 10 starts with the new team after being acquired by an in-season trade: Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 for the Cubs, Doyle Alexander in 1987 for the Tigers, Randy Johnson in 1998 for the Astros and CC Sabathia in 2008 for the Brewers. The latter three pitched for the Yankees during their careers: Alexander in 1982 and ’83, Johnson in 2005 and ’06 and Sabathia since 2009.