Results tagged ‘ Yunel Escobar ’

Pineda foiled by a couple of hanging sliders

With one swing of the bat, the Rays scored more runs in a game against Michael Pineda this year than any other team. That swing was in the fourth inning by Yunel Escobar, who drove a 2-1 slider to left field for a three-run home run.

In his previous nine starts, Pineda had not allowed more than two runs for a 1.80 ERA in 50 innings. The righthander yielded two runs three times, one run five times and no runs once. In one of those one-run outings, the run was unearned.

Pineda, who missed 86 games due to a right shoulder injury, has been brilliant since his return Aug. 13. He took a 1.78 ERA since being reinstated into Thursday night’s game. Pineda was less than brilliant this time but still impressive. His main problem was hanging sliders to Escobar.

The Tampa Bay shortstop also took Pineda deep in the seventh for the first multi-homer game of his career. Pineda pitched to contact all game. He gave up 10 hits and had only two strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. For the seventh time in 10 starts this season he did not walk a batter and has allowed only four walks in 57 1/3 innings.

Another major problem for Pineda was that opposing starter Alex Cobb flirted with a no-hitter. Cobb, who has always been tough on the Yankees, took his no-no into the eighth inning. Stephen Drew, who reached base in the third inning when Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier dropped his fly ball for an error, made the first out of the eighth on a foul pop in front of the Yankees’ dugout.

Chris Young, who has been a nice addition for the Yankees and a far cry from the guy who had been dreadful for the Mets, ruined Cobb’s beauty by smoking a line drive into right-center field for a double. Cobb was removed from the game at that point, and fans at Yankee Stadium showed plenty of class by applauding him as he walked off the field.

Martin Prado, who did not play in five of the previous six games because of a tight left hamstring, batted for Brendan Ryan and abruptly greeted reliever Brad Boxberger with a two-run home run. That avoided a shutout, which Pineda knows all about. Of the eight games in which the Yankees have been shut out this year, three were Pineda starts.

The Yankees’ runs came after Pineda left the game, which means that he has received zero runs of support in eight of his past 14 starts since Aug. 27, 2011 when he was with a Mariners club that was among the poorest offensive teams in major league history.

Yankees’ offense continues to be offensive

Andy Pettitte wore the hair shirt after the Yankees’ 8-3 loss Thursday night to the Rays, but this was really another example of an offense that has had trouble clicking of late. The Yankees have the second lowest batting average in the American League and rank 13th of 15 clubs in scoring.

In their seventh loss in the past nine games, the Yankees’ team on-base percentage fell below .300, and their slugging percentage is well below .400. What is going on is nothing short of an epidemic.

The way their offense is sputtering these days the Yanks can use all the help they can get. They got it from opposing pitcher Matt Moore in the sixth inning when they were able to score three runs despite getting only one hit to get back into the game. Tampa Bay had a 4-0 lead at the start of the inning, but the Yankees cut the deficit to 4-3 thanks in large part to wildness by Moore.

Control problems have been a recent issue for Moore, who started the season 8-0 with a 2.18 ERA before losing his past three starts with a 13.86 ERA and 11 walks in 12 1/3 innings that raised his season ERA to 4.12. The lefthander was working on a two-hit shutout entering the sixth when the Yankees finally got something going.

Reid Brignac, who started at shortstop because manager Joe Girardi wanted his best defensive alignment behind Pettitte, led off the sixth with a single to center. Moore then filled the bases with walks to Brett Gardner and Jayson Nix and had to contend with Robinson Cano. A wild pitch allowed the first run to score and advanced the other two runners.

Cano hit a smoking liner to deep center field for a sacrifice fly that also put Nix on third base. The Rays kept the infield back and conceded a run as Travis Hafner made the second out on a grounder to the right side.

Pettitte was hoping for a shutdown inning in the seventh to keep it a one-run game, but with two out Desmond Jennings and Sean Rodriguez touched the lefthander for successive doubles that marked the end of his outing. The Rays had nine hits in 6 2/3 innings off Pettitte, who walked one batter, struck out six and threw a wild pitch.

“Matt lets our guys get back in the game, and Joe has confidence in me to get Rodriguez out to get us out of the inning and I give back another run,” Pettitte said. “It was another disappointing outing for me, very frustrating. My command in the zone isn’t where it needs to be. My fastball command isn’t there. I got to have my fastball. I can’t just throw cutters and curves.”

The wild pitch took away the possibility of Andy getting out of a second-inning jam with a double play ball as Tampa Bay got its first run on a sacrifice fly by Jose Lobaton. Three hits in a row and a sacrifice fly by Evan Longoria in the third pushed the Rays’ lead to 3-0. Longoria, who has had little success against Pettitte (3-for-23 career) got his second RBI of the game with a leadoff home run to right-center in the sixth.

“Andy didn’t make too many mistakes, but when he did they were big ones,” manager Joe Girardi said.

In losing his second straight start, Pettitte (5-5, 4.20 ERA) fell to 2-5 with a 5.13 ERA (52.2IP, 30ER) in his past nine starts covering 52 2/3 innings and is winless in his past five starts at Yankee Stadium (0-3, 7.46 ERA in 25 1/3 innings).

Moore also departed in the seventh after a one-out double by Lyle Overbay, the Yankees’ first extra-base hit in 18 innings. Overbay made a base-running blunder by trying to cross to third base on a grounder to shortstop and was thrown out to spike a major scoring opportunity. When teams are struggling for runs, plays such as that appear to be over-aggressive but turn out to be self-destructive.

It all became academic as the Rays continued their display of extra-base power. Longoria hit his second homer of the game leading off the eighth against Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan gave up a two-run shot to Yunel Escobar on a towering drive into the net beyond the center-field wall.

The Yankees lost an opportunity to gain ground on the first-place Red Sox and remained 3 ½ games behind them but are just 1 ½ games ahead of the fourth-place Rays. The last-place Blue Jays have gotten hot lately with an eight-game winning streak to get within one game of the .500 level. Things are tightening up in the division.

Yanks over Tampa Bay thanks to Overbay

Two outs, nobody on base and watch out for Lyle Overbay. That is pretty much how the Yankees came up with a 4-3, 11-inning victory over the Rays Saturday. Oh, sure, there were plenty of other factors that contributed to the thrilling, come-from-behind triumph, but it was a pair of at-bats by Overbay that made the greatest difference in the game that put Tampa Bay’s record back to .500 at 24-24 and pushed the Rays six games behind the 30-18 Yankees.

Overbay was a key figure in Fernando Rodney blowing his fifth save in 14 opportunities this year, a far cry from the 2012 season when the Rays closer had the best conversion rate in the majors at 96 percent on 48-for-50. Rodney entered the ninth with a 3-1 lead that Tampa Bay had acquired partially against the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen and got the first two outs of the inning.

Rodney never did get that third out. Overbay drew a walk on a 3-2 changeup, the pitch that would continue to let Rodney down that inning. After Overbay moved to second base on a balk by Rodney, Brennan Boesch, fresh up from Triple A Scranton, batted for catcher Austin Romine and poked a changeup inside the left field line for a double that scored Overbay.

Brett Gardner followed with a single to center off yet another ineffective changeup. Boesch made it to the plate with the tying run with a nice slide on a close play. The way Rodney was going he might not have ever gotten out of that inning if Gardner had not been thrown out at second base trying to steal for the final out. Gardner had made a base running gaffe by not advancing to second base on center fielder Desmond Jennings throw home, which would have negated the need for an attempted steal in that spot with Robinson Cano at the plate.

Ivan Nova, who was activated from the disabled list Friday, made his first relief appearance in two seasons and did quite a dance in the bottom of the 10th. The Rays loaded the bases with one out on a couple of singles and a walk, but Nova struck out .344-hitting James Loney on a nasty curve and got Matt Joyce on a grounder to second to keep the Yankees alive.

Then in another two-out, nobody-on situation in the 11th, Overbay made a great swing on a 96-mph fastball from Josh Lueke and crushed his eighth home run, to right field. That triggered a call to Mariano Rivera, who showed Rodney and everyone else in the Tropicana Field crowd of 25,874 how saving a ballgame is done with a 1-2-3 inning featuring two strikeouts. Mo’s conversion rate remained 100 percent at 18-for-18.

Nova got the winning decision in relief in another ensemble effort from the bullpen, the area of the game that most separates the Yankees from the Rays. The Rodney walk of Overbay was an example of Tampa Bay bullpen’s problem this season. Rays relievers have walked 73 batters in 133 2/3 innings whereas the Yanks’ pen has issued 52 walks in 148 1/3 innings. The Yankees’ relief corps is 10-4 with 20 saves and a 3.16 ERA while the Rays’ pen is 6-11 with 10 saves and a 4.92 ERA.

The Yankees were not able to hang an ‘L’ on unbeaten Rays starter Matt Moore (8-0), but they did the next best thing, which was to stay close in the game until he departed, which was after the sixth inning with the score 1-1. Rookie Vidal Nuno kept pace with Moore until the seventh when he gave up a leadoff hit.

Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan could not prevent Tampa Bay from taking the lead at that point, 3-1, but Preston Claiborne kept the inning from getting too messy. The rookie righthander came into the game with runners on first and second, none out and two runs in and got a force play and two strikeouts.

Ichiro Suzuki made a dazzling, sliding, game-saving catch in right field of a sinking liner by Yunel Escobar in the bottom of the ninth that spared David Robertson, who had started the inning with a walk to Joyce, who was sacrificed to second. Joyce almost surely would have scored on Escobar’s ball had Ichiro not gobbled it.

Suzuki also had two hits. Travis Hafner got the Yankees off to a good start against Moore with a two-out, RBI single in the first inning, but it would be a long time before they scored again and in the most difficult of circumstances – two out, nobody on base and down to their last strike. Victories do not come sweeter than this.

Yanks supply Kuroda plenty of run support

Hiroki Kuroda had some sloppy Toronto base runners to thank for helping him get through an important start for the Yankees Friday night. Their 11-4 victory kept them one game ahead of the Orioles, 9-1 winners at home against the Red Sox, in the American League East standings.

Brett Lawrie and Yunel Escobar led off the first two innings with doubles, and both were erased on dumb moves on the bases. Nick Swisher, who had given Kuroda a 2-0, first-inning lead with a two-run double, fielded a grounder by Colby Rasmus at first base and noticed Lawrie had broken off the bag at second too far and quickly threw to shortstop Derek Jeter covering for a big out.

In the second inning with the Yankees ahead, 3-0, Escobar was at third base after a wild pitch by Kuroda. As Kelly Johnson struck out, catcher Russell Martin noticed Escobar drifting off the bag and fired a strike to Alex Rodriguez for another huge out.

Kuroda thanked his teammates by not giving up a lead in the game for the first time in six starts. The Blue Jays loaded the bases later in the third inning with two out, but Kuroda got a major out himself by striking out Rasmus with an inside fastball on a full count.

It was not vintage Kuroda, who spent most of his 5 1/3 innings pitching out of the stretch what with all the runners he put on base. The righthander allowed 10 hits and two walks, but the Jays had only one hit in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position off Kuroda, who gutted his way through a victory that improved his record to 15-11.

The Yankees, who have not always supported Kuroda with a lot of runs this year, fortified him throughout this game. Of the Yankees’ 11 runs, nine were scored after two out. The crucial hit was Russell Martin’s three-run home run in the sixth that turned a tight 3-1 score into a comfy 6-1.

Martin’s 20th homer of the season came off righthander Jason Frasor, who entered the game after lefthander Brett Cecil had struck out Curtis Granderson and Raul Ibanez with runners on first and second. Frasor then walked Eric Chavez and allowed singles to Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki to make it 7-1.

In 19 games since Sept. 3, Martin has batted .299 with three doubles, six home runs and 19 RBI in 67 at-bats to raise his batting average from .195 to .212. With his career-high total, Martin is the fifth Yankees player to reach the 20-homer plateau, joining Granderson (40), Robinson Cano (30), Swisher (24) and Mark Teixeira (23).

It was truly an ensemble offensive effort for the Yankees. Everyone in the starting lineup had at least one hit. The last to join the hit parade was Chavez with a two-run home run in the ninth. He had contributed earlier with two walks and a run. The Yankees had 6-for-15 (.400) with runners in scoring position.

Yanks hurt by errors, lack of clutch hitting

Whether the Yankees like it or not, they are going to be in a division race. The 10-game lead in the American League East that they had July 18 is ancient history. The Orioles went into their game Wednesday night against the White Sox trailing the Yanks by only two games in the loss column and are due at Yankee Stadium Friday night to open a three-game series that could have ramifications on what kind of a September is in store.

Yankees fans must hope their team will play better than it did against the Blue Jays in losing two of three games to the division’s cellar dwellers. Wednesday’s 8-5 setback was a messy affair. CC Sabathia, the staff ace, failed to hold leads of 2-0 and 4-3, although his defense betrayed him in spots.

The biggest spot was in the third inning. An error by third baseman Jayson Nix opened the doors to a three-run rally. The Yankees appeared to have escaped danger in a bases-loaded, none-out situation with Nix fielding Mike McCoy’s grounder, tagging third and throwing home for a twin killing.

Broken-bats by Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind tied the score before Yunel Escobar got the first of his four hits, three doubles and five RBI with a shot to left that put the Jays ahead. The only reason the Yankees were able to regain the lead with two runs in the third was because left fielder Rajai Davis misplayed Curtis Granderson’s line drive into a two-run double, one of six two-baggers the Yanks had in the game.

The one big mistake by Sabathia was hanging a full-count slider in the sixth to Escobar, who crushed it into the left-field bleachers for a two-run home run. Escobar had actually attempted to bunt earlier in the at-bat. Six of Sabathia’s eight strikeouts in seven innings were on sliders, but the one to Escobar in that situation was too fat.

Still, the Yankees had chances, loads of them, to get back into the game. Nix doubled to lead off the sixth and never got past second base. Robinson Cano doubled with one out in the seventh and ditto. Successive doubles by Raul Ibanez (6-for-18 as a pinch hitter) and Russell Martin in the eighth got the Yankees within 6-5, but Martin was stranded.

The Yankees had 3-for-17 (.176) with runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays had 5-for-13 (.385) in the clutch in sending Sabathia to his first loss in 10 starts since June 7. It also ended an eight-game winning streak Sabathia had against the Blue Jays dating to May 1, 2007 and marked his 10th loss in 42 decisions at the current Stadium.

“I was falling behind in counts and wasn’t making pitches with two strikes,” said Sabathia, who did not resort to excuses.

Asked about the broken-bat dunks, CC said, “They are hits that score runs, it doesn’t matter. I have to pitch better. We have to play better.”

Yanks can’t recover from horrid 1st inning

The Yankees got off to a pretty rocky start post-All-Star break Thursday night at Toronto. Talk about rocky starts, how about Bartolo Colon? The feel-good story for the Yankees in the first half, Colon failed to survive the first inning as the Blue Jays struck for eight runs. The only Toronto player who did not score that inning was Adam Lind, and he joined the pack when he scored in the second to make the score 9-0.

Colon’s lack of mobility on the mound was a factor in the inning. He did cover first base to get an out on Lind, but two dribblers to the left side later in the inning became RBI singles for Rajai Davis and Yunel Escobar. When Eric Thames doubled beyond the reach of Curtis Granderson in center field, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had seen enough and yanked Colon from the game.

Despite the onslaught of runs, Colon’s ERA didn’t take that much of a hit. It rose from 3.20 to 3.47. That was because only three of the eight runs off him were earned. A damaging error by Eduardo Nunez prolonged the inning.

The defensive problems that Nunez experienced at shortstop followed him to third base where he is spelling Alex Rodriguez, who is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. With three runs in and runners on first and second with two out, Nunez failed to glove a bouncing ball near the bag by J.P. Arencibia. The error loaded the bases, and the next three batters combined to knock in four runs. The fifth unearned run scored on a balk by Luis Ayala in a very ugly inning.

All those unearned runs came back to haunt the Yankees when they made a game of it later on with huge contributions from Andruw Jones. He hit a home run to start a four-run third inning that also featured a two-run triple by Granderson, who then scored on an infield out. Jones got his second homer of the game with two on in the sixth that made the score 9-7. Jays starter Jo Jo Reyes barely pitched long enough (5 1/3 innings) to qualify for a winning decision and seemed to be doing everything in his power not to get one.

Jones started as the designated hitter against the left-handed Reyes, but with righthander Shawn Camp in the game in the eighth, Girardi sent Jorge Posada up as a pinch hitter (he grounded out). In doing so, history was made. It marked the 1,661st time that Posada and Derek Jeter were in the same game, breaking the franchise record for teammates previously held by Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri.

Despite losing slugger Jose Bautista in the fourth inning due to a twisted right ankle while sliding into third base, the Blue Jays kept putting runs on the board and finished with a 16-7 victory on 20 hits. The loss ended a string of victories by the Yankees in the first game back from the All-Star break dating to 2002. The nine-year streak tied a record the Yankees set from 1940-49 (there was no All-Star Game in 1945) and matched by the Montreal Expos from 1984-92.

Thursday night began a 22-game stretch in which the Yankees were scheduled to play 18 times against clubs with records at or below .500. Toronto moved to one game below .500.

A most satisfying CG for CC

Not to make any excuses for CC Sabathia, but he sort of got dinked to death in the fourth inning Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium when the Blue Jays first-and-thirded their way to a three-run rally that at the time appeared to put the big lefthander in a ditch out of which the Yankees would be sore-pressed to emerge.

The Yankees managed to make the game close with some late-inning fire but were 1-18 in games in which they trailed after eight innings. Their track record suggested that despite his impressive get-back-on-the-bike performance Sabathia was destined for a tough-luck loss. Make that stat 2-18, which tells you all you need to know about how big that 5-4 Yankees victory was Tuesday night.

That Sabathia was still in the game and eligible for the winning decision as the Yankees scored two runs in each of the eighth and ninth innings was a credit to his ability and stamina. After being blooped into a 4-1 deficit, CC kept moving down the Blue Jays and ended up with the first complete game for a Yankees pitcher this season.

Of course, it would have been a complete game for Sabathia even if the Yankees hadn’t rallied in the ninth against Blue Jays closer Frank Francisco and gave A.J. Burnett the chance to smash a pie in Mark Teixeira’s face after his game-winning hit. Pitchers love those W’s even more than complete games.

And how terrific was it that Jorge Posada, on the bench because the Blue Jays had started Ricky Romero, a lefthander, made a huge contribution as a pinch hitter from the left side with a double off the right-handed Francisco. Curtis Dickerson, pinch running for Posada, took third on Derek Jeter’s grounder to shortstop for the second out and scored the tying run on Curtis Granderson’s fourth hit, a single to right.

Granderson’s home run hitting (16) this year has obscured the fact that he is a speedster on the bases, which he reminded everyone with a steal of second base that put him in position to score the winner on Teixeira’s hard single off first baseman Juan Rivera’s glove. The euphoric spirit of the victory was not wasted on Sabathia, who was as important to the outcome as anyone.

Go back to that fourth inning. Rivera’s double that began the inning was a legitimate blow, a well-struck liner to right-center that might have been a triple for a faster runner. Then the dinking began.

J.P. Arencibia’s single to left-center that scored Rivera was of the flare variety. So were the one-out singles to right by Edwin Encarnacion and Rajai Davis, the latter driving in the second run of the inning. The third run scored on a squeeze bunt by John McDonald, who had pulled the same maneuver against the Yankees April 19 at Toronto to tie the score in the ninth of a game that the Blue Jays won in extra innings.

The Yankees lost an out at first base as well when Robinson Cano dropped Sabathia’s throw to first base for an error. It was the fifth error this year by Cano, two more than he committed all of last season.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell liked the result so much that he had Yunel Escobar do the same thing, but his bunt went right to Sabathia, who held Davis at third before throwing out Escobar at first. Escobar had batted cleanup Monday night when he bunted for a sacrifice in a key spot, but he was the leadoff hitter Tuesday night so a bunt from him wasn’t as surprising.

What was surprising was Sabathia walking Corey Patterson, which loaded the bases for major-league home run leader Jose Bautista, who is by no means a dinker. The game was on the line at that point, which was decidedly a turning point for Sabathia. He got Bautista on a ground ball to shortstop that ended the inning and was the first of 16 consecutive outs by Sabathia that kept the Yankees in the game provided their offense would wake up.

Russell Martin’s home run (No. 9) in the second inning accounted for the Yanks’ only run until the eighth after Romero had departed. The Yankees got nowhere with the lefthander but made it a one-run game with two runs off the Toronto bullpen. Cano, who had driven in Granderson three times Monday night, made it a fourth with a two-out double. Martin’s second RBI hit, this time a single, got the Yankees to 4-3.

Sabathia went out for the ninth and set down the Blue Jays 1-2-3 for the fifth straight inning. He then sat back and watched his teammates construct a victory that he richly deserved.

More ‘small ball’ at Stadium

The sacrifice as an offensive weapon has made a big comeback this week at Yankee Stadium.

Sunday, it was Curtis Granderson, the 16-home run hitter, asked to lay down a bunt to move runners to second and third. It worked, too, as the Yankees broke open the game with an eight-run seventh inning to beat the Mets, 9-3.

Monday night, Blue Jays manager John Farrell followed Joe Girardi’s plan and had his cleanup hitter give himself up in the sixth inning with the score 1-1 to push up runners and fuel a rally that resulted in a five-spot as Toronto took a 6-1 lead against Bartolo Colon, who had been pretty strong up to that point, on the way to a 7-3 victory.

The only blemish in Colon’s first five innings was Jose Bautista’s 19th home run with two out in the first. Next time up, Bautista walked in the third. Colon had learned his lesson. Colon also put Bautista on with a walk in the sixth. This one was intentional, which made sense considering that first base was open after a leadoff double by Corey Patterson.

Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar, who granted is not your normal cleanup hitter, then bunted the runners to second and third. Farrell has had to play around with his lineup since Adam Lind went on the disabled list last week with a lower back injury. Escobar has never hit more than 14 home runs in a season. Still, it is not every day you see a guy batting cleanup asked to sacrifice.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, it worked this time, too. Aaron Hill singled in a run. Colon then shot himself in the foot with a four-pitch walk to Eric Thames to force in a run. J.C. Arencibia, who had been called out on strike his previous two times up, jumped on a first-pitch fastball and doubled to center, clearing the bases.

That one bad inning kept Colon winless in five starts since April 27. The Yankees managed only one run and two hits off Carlos Villanueva, whose previous 13 appearances this year had been in relief and who was making his first start since Oct. 3, 2009 for the Brewers against the Cardinals. Farrell hoped to get five innings out of the righthander, which he did.

Granderson and Robinson Cano collaborated on all three Yankees’ runs. Granderson had three walks and was driven home each time by Cano on a sacrifice fly, a fielder’s choice and a single. The Yankees had another rough game in the clutch (2-for-15 with runners in scoring position).

Positive signs included two hits apiece for Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner that raised their batting averages to .289 and .274, respectively. Gardner also had two stolen bases. Hector Noesi took over for Colon and allowed one run in three innings in another effective performance.

The American League East tightened up even more. Only 1 ½ games separate the top four clubs – the Yankees, Red Sox, Ray and Blue Jays. Even the last-place Orioles are just 3 ½ game out of first. This is looking like quite a dogfight.

Impressive homestand for Yanks’ rotation

The seven-game homestand that ended Sunday turned out to be a showcase for the Yankees’ rotation. Coming out of spring training, the team’s starting pitchers seemed to have the most question marks, but they supplied a week’s worth of answers at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees received quality starts in six of the seven games, and the one pitcher who didn’t work into the seventh inning, Freddy Garcia, at least got through five. Ivan Nova, the winning pitcher Sunday against the Blue Jays, pitched well in both his starts on the homestand but lost a possible winning decision in his previous start when Rafael Soriano failed to protect a lead for him against the White Sox.

The rotation had a 4-2 record with one no decision and a 2.31 ERA in the seven games. Starters averaged 6 1/3 innings per start, which is very good by today’s standards. They held opponents to 12 earned runs and 44 hits in 46 2/3 innings, had a good walk-to-strikeout ratio of 15 to 32 and allowed only four home runs.

The other loss by a Yankees starter was also a quality effort, by A.J. Burnett, who gave up one run in eight innings but got outpitched by the White Sox’ Phil Humber in a three-hit shutout that opened the homestand. But the Yankees closed it out with a second straight sturdy effort from Nova, whose curve was responsible for all five of his strikeouts Sunday.

The starting unit has become so solidified that veteran big-league pitcher Kevin Millwood, who had hoped to find a place in it, decided to look elsewhere for a job by opting out of his minor-league deal with the Yankees. Who would have thought there would be a “No Vacancy” sign on the Yanks’ rotation at this point in the season, and even with Phil Hughes on the disabled list?

Nova got a big boost Sunday from Curtis Granderson, who also had a strong homestand and put the Yankees in front to stay with a three-run home run in the fifth inning. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has so much confidence in the way Granderson is hitting that he gave him the green light on a 3-0 count in that at-bat. The count eventually ran full to Grandy before he went yard for the eighth time this season. A year ago, he didn’t hit his eighth home run until July 25.

Granderson was used at the top of the batting order – first or second – in four of the games and batted .294 with a homer and five RBI in 17 at-bats. Girardi said after the game that Granderson is the kind of hitter who could bat in any spot in the order and be effective, quite a compliment.

Another good thing to see during the homestand was a return to prominence offensively by Brett Gardner. He scuffled through much of the first month of the season in losing his new-found role as the leadoff hitter. Back at the bottom of the order, Gardner had 6-for-11 (.545) with two home runs, three RBI, six walks and five runs during the homestand. It is interesting about all those walks. That takes patience, a virtue difficult to maintain for hitters trying to work out of slumps. It says volumes about Gardner’s approach.

Gardner’s speed, the best part of his game, kept a rally alive in the fifth inning when he was able to cross from second to third on a ground ball by Derek Jeter and beat shortstop Yunel Escobar’s peg to third trying to cut down the lead runner. Gardner beat it by a wide margin. His average is up to .200, which is significant since he has been on the Interstate since Opening Day.

Girardi may be tempted to use Granderson in a new spot in the lineup – fifth – if Robinson Cano is unable to play Monday night at Detroit where the Yankees begin a seven-game, two-city trip that continues to Arlington, Texas. Cano was removed for pinch hitter Eric Chavez in the eighth inning Sunday because of a bruised left hand, the result of awkwardly catching a pickoff throw at second from Nova.

Cano had played every inning of every game for the Yankees before then. That distinction now belongs solely to Nick Swisher. Jorge Posada achieved a milestone by playing in the 1,737th game to tie Joe DiMaggio for 10th place on the Yankees’ career list. Jorgie was happier about ending a 19 at-bat hitless streak with a double to left in the fourth inning.

Got it…got it…can’t see it!

Welcome to Yankee Stadium in the late afternoon of a sunny day. These 4 p.m. starts not only can play havoc with hitters as shadows engulf the plate but also outfielders trying to track fly balls with the sun glaring into their eyes.

Both center fielders have adventures in the first inning of the Yankees-Blue Jays game Saturday. The Yankees’ Curtis Granderson lost sight of Rajai Davis’ drive that became a leadoff triple. He scored the first run of the game on an infield out by Yunel Escobar.

The sun struck back in the Yankees’ favor in the bottom of the first when Davis, playing center field, lost a high fly by Mark Teixeira that fell on the warning track for a double. It did not cost the Jays a run, however, as Robinson Cano struck out.

Cano was in the cleanup spot Saturday because Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to give Alex Rodriguez the day off. A-Rod had a tough time of it Friday night in the Yankees’ 5-3 loss. He went 0-for-5 and stranded seven base runners.

Rodriguez has slumped since returning to the lineup after missing one game due to a tight left oblique. Although he did have a six-RBI game in Baltimore during this stretch, A-Rod overall had 5-for-30 (.167), which dropped his season average from .366 to .290. He said before the game that he had become conscious of not re-injuring the muscle and fell into bad habits. Rodriguez was out for early hitting Friday night and Saturday to try and regain his early-season form.