Results tagged ‘ Steve Pearce ’

3-game sweep keeps eluding Yankees

Maybe the Yankees just wore themselves out the previous two games. After combining for 27 runs and 36 hits Friday night and Saturday, the Yanks came out flat against the Orioles Sunday and were shut out in failing once again to sweep a three-game series.

It marked the seventh time this season that the Yankees won the first two games of a series but could not complete the sweep. Overall in three-game series this year, the Yankees have won 14 and lost 16. They have been swept in three-game sets four times but have not yet done so themselves. Oddly, they have two four-game series sweeps and one two-game series sweep.

CC Sabathia put the Yankees in position to get over this hump until the seventh inning when a strange hit set up what proved a decision blow. With a runner on first and two out, Nolan Reimold hit a spinning bloop of a liner that bounced past Starlin Castro, who was also distracted by the runner, Jonathan Schoop, coming into the area.

Sabathia then sealed his own fate in the game with a walk to 9-hole hitter Hyun Soo Kim that loaded the bases. Manager Joe Girardi called on righthander Adam Warren to face righty-swinging Steve Pearce, who lined a 2-2 fastball through the middle for a two-run single that pushed Baltimore’s lead to 3-0. Pearce had broken the scoreless tie the inning before with his 12th home run.

Pearce, who was reacquired by the Orioles Aug. 1 in a trade from the Rays, helped douse a promising Yankees rally in the third inning by throwing out Gary Sanchez at third base for the first out, a cardinal sin. Sanchez, who had two more hits and is batting .405, led off the inning with a single. On a single to right by Mark Teixeira, Sanchez noticed no one was at third base and made a break for it. Third baseman Manny Machado, however, made a quick recovery, took Pearce’s strong, accurate throw and tagged out Sanchez. Didi Gregorius followed with a single, but the rally died when Castro grounded into a force on another nice play by Machado and Brian McCann struck out.

This turned out to be another fruitless game for the Yanks against Orioles righthander Kevin Gausman, who shut them out on seven hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings. Gausman is 1-1 with an ERA of 0.99 in 27 2/3 innings against the Yankees this year but is 5-9 with a 4.41 ERA against everyone else.

The Orioles padded their lead in the eighth when major league home run leader Mark Trumbo, who had struck out twice and grounded into a double play, belted a two-run shot (No. 40) to left off rookie Ben Heller.

Sabathia became the 39th pitcher in American League history to achieve the 3,000 plateau in career innings (3,002). . .It was career victory No. 1,411 for Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who moved past Al Lopez into 26th place on the all-time list. . .Ronald Torreyes had 2-for-3 with a double in extending his hitting streak to seven games during which he is batting .538 with six runs, six doubles, one home run and four RBI in 26 at-bats to boost his season average to .298. . .Sanchez was the AL Player of the Week for the period ending last Sunday and is a candidate again for the period ending this Sunday. The rookie catcher had a slash line of .522/.604/1.250 with seven runs, three doubles, five home runs and nine RBI this past week.

Five Rays homers cost Yanks shot at sweep

Michael Pineda endured a nightmare of a first inning Sunday that put a damper on a bright, sunshine day in which the Yankees were shooting for their first series sweep since Aug. 28-30 last year at Atlanta. Instead, they fell back into the cellar of the American League East and hobbled their way to Arlington, Texas, to begin an 11-day, nine-game trip that starts Monday night against a Rangers team that is tied for first place in the AL West.

Five pitches into Sunday’s game before a crowd of 40,931 at Yankee Stadium, Pineda had two outs and nobody on base. He then gave up hits to the next six batters, including two doubles and two home runs, as the aggressive Rays attacked him early in the count to put up a five-spot against which the Yankees brought little resistance in falling, 8-1.

The only positive for Pineda Sunday was that he managed to pitch through the fifth inning, which spared manager Joe Girardi of digging too deep into his already overworked bullpen. Masahiro Tanaka’s seven-inning start Saturday helped, but Girardi knew from the outset Sunday that he did not have Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller available. This game turned out not to be the type in which either of the late-inning shutdown guys works.

Birthday boy Steven Souza celebrated turning 27 with two home runs, a two-run shot in the first and a solo blast in the fifth. Pineda also gave up dingers to Corey Dickerson following a two-out double off the top of the center field wall by Evan Longoria in the first inning and to Steve Pearce leading off the third. Logan Forsythe, who had three hits, joined the home run derby with Tampa Bay’s fifth of the game, a solo shot in the eighth off Nick Goody.

It was also Carlos Beltran’s birthday. The Yankees right fielder turned 39 but did not have as explosive a game as Souza. Beltran was 1-for-4. His first-inning single off eventual winning pitcher Drew Smyly was career hit No. 2,472 for Beltran, who tied Ted Simmons for 10th place among switch hitters. In ninth place at 2,605 is Tim Raines.

The day turned grimmer for the Yankees when Alex Rodriguez, who has driven in their only run with a two-out double in the fourth inning, could not bat when his turn came up again in the sixth. Girardi had to use the left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley as a pinch hitter against the lefty-throwing Smyly (although Ackley singled for his first hit of the season, in his eighth at-bat).

An MRI exam on Rodriguez’s sore left oblique was negative, but the situation shows the dilemma the Yankees are in with Aaron Hicks already out several days because of traumatic bursitis in his left shoulder. The Yanks have proved vulnerable to left-handed pitching. They are 2-5 against left-handed starters and are batting .225 with two home runs overall in 213 at-bats off lefties. Against right-handed pitching, the Yankees are batting .246 with 16 home runs in 358 at-bats.

The Yankees said that A-Rod will make the trip to Texas. But if he cannot play right away, and that is very likely considering how lingering oblique injuries tend to be, and with Hicks out as well, the Yankees lose two right-handed bats. Switch-hitter Nick Swisher, who was released by Atlanta and signed a Triple A contract with the Yankees, is playing for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but is not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees are not believed interested in dropping anyone off the 40-man roster at this time, which limits their options if they make an internal move for outfield and DH help. The best bet for a call-up would be outfielder Ben Gamel, who is hitting .300 with a .368 on-base percentage at SWB but alas bats left-handed.

The Yanks have known along that staying healthy is a challenge to a team with aging players. The upcoming trip that continues to AL East rival stops in Boston and Baltimore could be a major test for them.

CC hurt by weak ‘D’

CC Sabathia hoped to an impact on this pennant race. It was felt when he limped off the field Aug. 23 that his 2015 season might be over. Wearing a brace on his arthritic right knee Wednesday night, Sabathia returned with a serviceable if unspectacular and ultimately disappointing performance.

The disappointment part had more to due with the leaky defense of second baseman Stephen Drew, whose two misplays during Sabathia’s 4 2/3 innings resulted in three runs, only one of which was earned but was nevertheless tainted.

“That was really the difference in the game,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of those runs.

The Yankees lost, 5-3, to a Baltimore club that won two of three games at Yankee Stadium, a tough prelude to their upcoming four-game showdown against the Blue Jays that starts Thursday night.

Drew, whose batting average was below .200 most of the past two seasons, got a pass from Yankees fans because his fielding has mostly been a positive trait. Wednesday night, however, he turned out to be a thorn in Sabathia’s side.

In the first inning with a runner on first base and none out, Drew bobbled a bouncer by Gerardo Parra that might have been a double play. Drew was able to recover and get an out at first base, but Nolan Reimold was able to take second. One out later, he scored on Chris Davis’ flare single to right field.

Sabathia settled into a nice rhythm over the next two innings while Carlos Beltran thrust him into a 3-1 lead with a solo home run (No. 15) in the first inning and a two-out, two-run single in the third.

The Orioles threatened in the fourth on a leadoff walk to Davis and a single by Jonathan Schoop. Sabathia recovered nicely by striking out Caleb Joseph, retiring Steve Pearce on a fly ball to the warning track in left field and J.J. Hardy on a grounder to third.

The same scenario presented itself in the fifth as Dariel Alvarez walked and Reimold singled to start the inning. Parra bunted the runners into scoring position, and Sabathia got a big strikeout of Manny Machado on a pitch off the plate.

Girardi estimated before the game that he could get 85 pitches from Sabathia, which is precisely the number he got, except that CC’s 85th pitch, a 1-2 fastball, hit Davis and ended the lefthander’s outing before he could qualify for his first victory in eight starts since July 8.

Adam Warren took over with the bases loaded and appeared to have gotten out of the jam by getting Schoop on a grounder to third, but Drew mishandled third baseman Chase Headley’s peg for what would have been an inning-ending forceout for an error that allowed in two runs which tied the score.

Pearce, who was robbed of an extra-base hit in the second inning on a wall-climbing catch by left fielder Dustin Ackley, finally got something out of a long drive when he homered with one out in the eighth. The Orioles added an insurance run in the ninth on an RBI double by Davis, who had a big series (4-for-8, two runs, one double, one home run, four RBI, four walks).

For the second straight game, the Yankees were shut down by the Orioles’ bullpen, who held them hitless for six innings. As strange as it may seem, the work of Sabathia may have been the most encouraging aspect of this game.

Playoff hopes dampen after Baltimore weekend

The Yankees got a taste of their own recent medicine over the weekend in Baltimore where their post-season hopes grew grimmer after losing three of four games to an Orioles team that has its magic number for clinching the American League East title to three. The Yankees’ last gasping hope for a trip to the playoffs lay in the second wild-card slot, and they are five games back with 14 games to play.

The Yankees started the series at Camden Yards trip on a high from consecutive comeback victories over Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium in which they obliterated 4-0 deficits. Chris Young, who made huge contributions to both those victories, was in position to be the hero again Friday in the afternoon game of a day/night doubleheader when he homered with two outs in the 11th inning to break a scoreless tie.

Adam Warren, pitching the bottom of the 11th because closer David Robertson had already pitched 1 2/3 innings of relief, couldn’t hold the Orioles down, however, and lost the game on a bases-loaded, two-out double by pinch hitter Jimmy Paredes. The Yankees then got shut out, 5-0, on four hits in the night game, which took away any sense of momentum they had from the Rays series.

Saturday’s 4-3 victory behind Shane Greene and four relievers was a brief reprieve, but the fact that the Yankees had no runs and one hit in the eight innings other than their three-run second that included a home run by Brian McCann and a steal of home by Young was emblematic of the offensive struggles that would continue in the series.

Sunday night’s game resembled the day-game loss Friday in that the Yankees took a one-run lead in the last inning and then gave up two runs in the bottom half for another walk-off loss, their eighth of the season. McCann’s second home run of the series and 20th of the season put the Yanks up, 2-1, in the top of the ninth.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to bring in Robertson for the third straight day instead of staying with Dellin Betances, who had pitched a shutout eighth with two strikeouts. That gave him 130 for the season, tying Mariano Rivera’s 1996 franchise mark for K’s by a relief pitcher.

I do not fault Girardi’s judgment here. Robertson is his closer. The manager has been careful with his relievers all year so they would be strong in September where they are needed most. Robertson’s stuff was up all inning. The Orioles quickly tied the score on successive doubles by Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce. One out later, Kelly Johnson, of all people, drove in the winner with another double. Johnson batted .219 in 77 games and 201 at-bats for the Yankees this year before he was traded to the Red Sox July 31 for Stephen Drew, who is hitting .135 in 104 at-bats for the Yankees. The Orioles acquired Johnson in an Aug. 30 deal with Boston. Playing for his third AL East team this season, Johnson finally ended up in first place.

The crushing loss obscured a very good outing by Hiroki Kuroda, who gave up one run and six hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings. Once again, Yankees pitching was not the main problem despite the two bullpen leaks.

The Yankees batted .172 and slugged .261 as a team in the series in which they totaled six runs in 38 innings. They were 2-for-20 (.100) with runners in scoring position. Jacoby Ellsbury was 2-for-17, Mark Teixeira 1-for-11, Brett Gardner 1-for-10 and Derek Jeter 0-for-11. The Captain’s slump goes beyond this series; he is hitless in his past 24 at-bats as his average has sunk to .250.

To make matters worse, the Sunday Night Baseball date means the Yankees will arrive in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the wee hours of the morning Monday where that night they open a three-game set against the Rays at Tropicana Field. The playoff outlook is equally as bleary.

Offense runs dry against Orioles

Sunday was one of those rare Old-Timers’ Days when the game between the team’s former stars is more pleasant than the real game. The Yankees put a damper on a fun-filled weekend with full houses at Yankee Stadium Saturday and Sunday with losses to the Orioles both days.

They followed an uplifting comeback victory Friday night on Carlos Beltran’s three-run home run. That was the last real burst of offense for the Yankees, who scored one run over the final 18 innings of the series.

“Going 4-2 against your division rivals in one week is pretty good,” manager Joe Girardi said, “but it’s also disappointing because we were 4-0 at one time.”

Friday night’s victory followed a three-game sweep of the first-place Blue Jays that tightened up the American League East standings. They stiffened even more Sunday. The Yankees and the Orioles are tied for second place, 1 1/2 games behind the Jays. All three clubs are even in the loss column.

Baltimore’s 8-0 victory was all the more shocking because Masahiro Tanaka started the game for the Yankees. He was credited with another quality start for having allowed three earned runs in seven innings with six hits, a walk and six strikeouts, but since the Yankees could not score the effort went for naught as his record went to 11-2 and ended a personal five-game winning streak.

Perhaps the game might have gone differently had Brett Gardner not been thrown out at third base trying for a triple leading off the first inning. He slid past the bag and was tagged out by Manny Machado, who kept his glove on Gardy’s leg while his hand came off the base following a head-first slide.

Then again, maybe not. The Yankees got only three more hits in the game while the Orioles kept pounding away. They hit four home runs Saturday and added two more Sunday. Jonathan Schoop took Tanaka deep in the second. Catcher Jacob Joseph added his first career homer in the ninth off David Huff.

Tanaka gave up two more runs in the seventh without the ball leaving the yard. Adam Warren was tagged for four runs in the eighth, an unsightly inning for the Yankees that included two errors.

One was a wild throw by third baseman Kelly Johnson that was excusable under the circumstance. With runners on first and second and none out, Nelson Cruz hit a chopper to Johnson, who stepped on third and then threw the ball into the first base stands while Steve Pearce running from second to third slid in front of him.

Pearce appeared to have run out of the baseline and should have been called for interference. That was Girardi’s argument, too. He was told, however, that Pearce was still in the proximity of third base. Well, judging from my view Pearce must have the wing span of a 747 jetliner to have had his right hand anywhere near third base on that play.

Didn’t matter; the play was not renewable and stayed. “You don’t need to review it,” Girardi said. “You just need to call it. It was a dangerous slide. If it happens at second base or first base it gets called.”

The game soon went out of hand when J.J. Hardy cleared the bases with a double. The bottom of the eighth didn’t go well for the Yankees, either. Mark Teixeira, who accounted for the Yanks’ only run of the past two games with his 12th homer Saturday, was hit in the left foot with a pitch and came out of the game. X-rays were negative, however, and Tex was relieved after the game.

Nevertheless, the good feeling the Yankees derived from their climbing up Toronto’s back was negated somewhat by Baltimore doing the same to them. This is a division race up for grabs.

Long ball haunts Nuno at Stadium

Probably a lot that could be written about Vidal Nuno this year would be similar to what pertained to Phil Hughes last year. He may not be suited for Yankee Stadium. There is a big difference, however, and it is not favorable for Nuno. He is left-handed.

Traditionally, the Stadium has favored lefthanders, much more so many years ago when the left-center field fence at the original yard was 467 feet from the plate, much deeper than the 399-foot power alley at the current Stadium.

The Orioles smacked four home runs Saturday in a 6-1 victory over the Yankees with only one of the drives, an opposite-field job by Nelson Cruz, dipping into the right-field porch. The home runs off Nuno by Adam Jones in the first inning and Steve Pearce in the fifth both landed in the left field seats as did J.J. Hardy’s first homer of the year, in the eighth off Jose Ramirez.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi acknowledged that Nuno is “a bit of a fly-ball pitcher,” the same handle once attached to Hughes, who was often victimized by the long ball at the Stadium. Nuno is now filling that role. He has allowed 13 home runs in 39 1/3 innings at the Stadium this year compared to two in 28 innings on the road.

“He made some mistakes,” Girardi said. “Unfortunately, when he is making mistakes, they are hitting them out of the park.”

“I left fastballs up that were supposed to sink,” Nuno said. “I have no regrets about my approach, but they got to my fastball.”

Did the Orioles ever. Baltimore’s home run derby made it another dark day for Nuno, who remained winless in eight starts since May 7 at Anaheim when he earned his only victory of the season. Nuno is 0-4 with a 4.37 ERA since his last victory. His record at the Stadium this year fell to 0-3 with a 7.09 ERA.

Naturally, Girardi had to field questions about Nuno’s place in the rotation. The skipper has not changed his view. Michael Pineda’s snail-paced return from shoulder soreness creates the need for Nuno in the rotation. Pineda still has inflammation in the area and does not appear to be close to returning.

Adam Warren remains an option, but Girardi is comfortable with the righthander in the bullpen. I don’t blame him. If Warren goes into the rotation, who would do what he does in the pen? Nuno? I don’t think so.

The debate is a waste of time because Girardi is not about to make a change.

“It’s not like there are starting pitchers lying around out there,” he said. “This is our rotation and what it will be.”

A home run also accounted for the Yankees’ only scoring. Mark Teixeira clouted his 12th of the season in the fourth inning off eventual winning pitcher Bud Norris. That the Yankees could do no more damage and that Nuno could not keep the ball in the yard put an end to their four-game winning streak.

Bad-call ump on crew for Yanks-Rays series

Well, look at who the umpire was at third base Friday night? None other than Jerry Meals, who made the worst call of the year against the Yankees last weekend at Baltimore on a play at first base in which Mark Teixeira aggravated his left calf injury and has been out of action ever since.

A similar call went against the Yankees at first base Friday night. Good thing Meals was not the ump there again. This time, it was Gary Darling who missed it. It came on a bang-bang play after a passed ball by Russell Martin on a third-strike pitch from CC Sabathia to the Rays’ B.J. Upton. The ball went to the backstop where it was retrieved by Martin, who threw the ball to first base.

Darling called Upton safe, but video replays indicated that the throw from Martin was in the glove of first baseman Steve Pearce before Upton’s cleat hit the bag. Imagine the row that would have ensued if Meals had been the ump? Ben Zobrist, who was on first base when Upton fanned, made it all the way to third base, but Sabathia worked out of trouble by retiring Jeff Keppinger on an infield grounder.

Yanks muscle their way back atop AL East

There was good reason for Yankees fans to be nervous about Friday night’s game against the Orioles. The Yankees’ starter was Phil Hughes, who was tied with two other American League pitchers for the most home runs allowed this season with 32. Baltimore is second to the Yankees in home runs in the AL and was off a six-tater game Thursday night.

Hughes ended up yielding another home run, a three-run shot to Adam Jones in the sixth inning, but by then was working with a seven-run lead, thanks to long ball slugging by his teammates. Muscle returned to the Yankees’ lineup Friday night, and because of that they returned to the top of the AL East all by themselves.

Home runs accounted for all but one of the runs in the Yankees’ 8-5 victory that pushed the Orioles one game behind in the standings in the middle game of a four-game set at Camden Yards. All of the O’s runs were on homers as Robert Andino and Manny Machado had solo blows off Cody Eppley and Rafael Soriano, respectively. Yet because of the Yanks’ outburst against Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen they had the Birds climbing uphill throughout the game.

Russell Martin got the Yanks off to their rousing start with a three-run shot in the fourth. Martin, who has straddled the Mendoza line all year and is hitting .204, has had a strong trip with 6-for-14 (.429) with one double, two home runs and seven RBI.

Andruw Jones, who is also in Mendoza line territory at .206, poked a single one out later and came home on Steve Pearce’s first home run with the Yankees and his fourth of the year. All Pearce needs to catch Alex Rodriguez with home runs for the Yankees is 299.

A-Rod banged his 300th home run with the Yankees, a two-out, two-run drive that traveled more than 430 feet to left-center. It seemed like gravy at the time but proved an important clout when Jones took Hughes deep in the sixth. Rodriguez became the sixth player with 300 home runs for the Yankees, joining Babe Ruth (659), Mickey Mantle (536), Lou Gehrig (493), Joe DiMaggio (361) and Yogi Berra (358). The Yankees are the first franchise to have six players hit 300 or more home runs for the team. The Braves and Red Sox have five apiece.

It was part of a milestone night for A-Rod. His second-inning single pushed him past Mel Ott and into 39th place on the career hits list with 2,877. Career home run No. 645 gave Rodriguez his 1,882nd career run, which tied him with Tris Speaker for 10th place on the all-time list.

Derek Jeter had three hits to raise his major-league-leading total to 186 and batting average to .320. The Captain’s third hit was a screeching single past Andino in the ninth that scored Ichiro Suzuki with a welcomed extra run that gave Soriano plenty of a cushion in the bottom half in a non-save situation.

Hughes had a good fastball and effective changeup that helped him take a four-hit shutout into the sixth. He and four Yankees relievers also managed to keep Mark Reynolds, who had six home runs over his previous four games against them, in the yard. David Robertson made a nice comeback from Thursday night’s debacle. He struck out Jones, who hit a tiebreaking home run off him the night before. Boone Logan also got two key outs in the seventh one night after giving up a home run to the only batter he faced.

Baltimore manager Buck Showalter will start lefthanders again Saturday night and Sunday, but the lightning that came off the right-handed bats in the Yankees’ lineup should give him reason to be concerned.

Yanks head to Baltimore after regaining lead

Many Yankees fans over the years have taken advantage of the relative nearness of Baltimore to make the trip to Camden Yards and see the team there. The Yankees can use all the support their fans can give them this week in a four-game series against the Orioles that starts Thursday night.

The Yanks gave themselves a needed boost Wednesday night in regaining the top spot of the American League East with a 6-4 victory over Tampa Bay while Baltimore lost by the same score at Toronto. So the Yankees take a one-game lead over the Orioles into the coming series.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told writers before the game, “We intend to win the American League East. That’s what we expect to do, and that’s what we intend to do. Buckle up – it’s going to be a hell of a ride this last month. I would tell our fans to hang in. We’re going to sprint this one out and do them proud.”

As it turned out, a sacrifice bunt that the Yankees did not rely on earlier in the game helped set up what proved the winning rally in the seventh inning as they unlocked a 4-4 score. Following singles by Andruw Jones and Steve Pearce with none out, Jayson Nix moved the runners along with a bunt so well placed that he nearly got a hit out of it.

Rays second baseman Elliot Johnson did the rest. Moving on contact when Derek Jeter hit a ground ball to the right side against a tight infield, pinch runner Ichiro Suzuki made it home on a wild throw to the left of the plate by Johnson that allowed Pearce to score as well. It was the kind of break the Yankees dearly needed during this stretch when they have struggled against division foes. Through the first nine games of a 22-game period against AL East competition, the Yanks are 3-6.

It was a break as well for Hiroki Kuroda, who failed to hold leads of 3-1 and 4-3 but ended up with the winning decision. He does not have to apologize considering the lack of run support he has had most of the season. There have been several losses Kuroda has endured this year when he has pitched well enough to win, so it is only fair that he get a victory on a night when he was not at his best.

To have notched the victory against a first-rate lefthander like Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore was also a major plus for the Yankees, who have been vulnerable against left-handed pitching in the second half, particularly during the six weeks Alex Rodriguez spent on the disabled list. They will see three more left-handed starters at Baltimore. Orioles manager Buck Showalter can read a stat sheet, that’s for sure.

All eight of the Yankees’ hits in the game, all against Moore, were by right-handed hitters as Joe Girardi filled his lineup with as many righty swingers as he could find. Russell Martin drove in three runs with a two-run double and a home run to get his batting average above .200 (.202) for the first time in 67 games since June 22.

Jeter had three hits and a run batted in. One of the hits was on fly to shallow center field that could not be handled by Johnson, who had a bad night in the field. That misplay also cost the Rays a run. Rodriguez sent Jeter home with a well-struck double to left. And don’t forget that Jones and Pearce, two more right-handed hitters, got the seventh-inning rally started.

Kuroda was hurt by a two-out, RBI single by Evan Longoria in the first inning, a two-out, two-run triple by Ben Zobrist in the fifth and a solo home run by Luke Scott in the sixth as he kept giving back leads the Yankees gave him. The bullpen did no such thing as Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano (36th save) combined for three shutout innings.

Not everything went the Yankees’ way. They struck out 15 times in the game. But they took advantage of opponents’ fielding lapses and held on to a lead when it was crucial. They have their share of fans in the Tampa Bay area where they spend spring training and some of their players have off-season homes. A trip to Baltimore, however, brings them even closer to their fan base. For all those headed down the New Jersey Turnpike, give the lads a helping hand.

Yanks hope for boost from A-Rod

It is admittedly hard to stay optimistic about the Yankees after this past homestand in which they lost four of six games and had their lead in the American League East dwindle to two games over the Orioles, who were 8-3 winners Sunday and have beaten the Yankees six times in nine games this year at Yankee Stadium.

Baltimore certainly did not look like a team that will fade this month. Granted, the Orioles did hand the Yankees Saturday’s game, but they came back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 Sunday on the strength of two home runs by Mark Reynolds for four of the five runs that Phil Hughes gave up over five-plus innings.

The long ball has plagued Hughes all season, although Sunday was the first time in seven starts that he gave up more than one. Hughes has been taken deep 32 times this season.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi wore out a path from the dugout to the mound as he used eight pitchers in the game, including five in the eighth inning alone when the Orioles pulled away. Get used to this. With rosters expanded in September, managers have many more pitching options.

At issue for the Yankees has been a somewhat stagnant offense. They scored 22 runs during the homestand, which was an average of less than four runs (3.7) per game. After Mark Teixeira was sidelined because of a left calf strain, the Yankees’ cleanup hitters were Steve Pearce, Andruw Jones, Curtis Granderson and Eric Chavez. Granderson also got hurt (right hamstring tendinitis) and did not play Sunday.

In Granderson’s place was the lone bright spot for the Yankees Sunday. September callup Chris Dickerson hit a two-run home run, walked, scored two runs and made a sensational catch to rob Adam Jones of a potential home run in the seventh inning.

The Yankees are 2-4 after the first portion of a 22-game stretch against divisional foes, and they embark on their longest trip of the year, a 10-game, 11-day trek to St. Petersburg, Fla., Baltimore and Boston that starts with a Labor Day matinee game at Tropicana Field where the Yanks have lost five of six games this season.

Teixeira and Granderson may be kept off the Trop’s artificial surface, but Girardi said he was planning on getting Alex Rodriguez back into the lineup, although the manager did not specify third base or designated hitter. The main position for A-Rod with Girardi is hitter. The Yankees could use a lineup boost.

In the 36 games Rodriguez spent on the disabled list, his replacements at third base (Chavez, Jayson Nix and Casey McGehee) combined to bat .303 with six doubles, seven home runs, 16 RBI and a .508 slugging percentage in 132 at-bats. Not bad. However, over the past 16 games, Yankees third basemen hit .193 with one extra-base hit, a double, and one RBI in 57 at-bats. Not good.

The Yankees played .500 ball (18-18) in Rodriguez’s absence. They are going to have to do better to fight off the challenge of the Orioles and the Rays, who are 3 ½ games out.