A week ago, the Yankees were riding the wave of Alfonso Soriano’s scorching bat and winning games.
Soriano’s bat has cooled off considerably but the Yankees still are winning games.
Last night, the Soriano swing from last week returned in a big way as his two-out, two-run home run lifted the Yankees to a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays.
Soriano had an astounding .484 average (15-for-31) in winning AL Player of the Week honors last week. He also batted an absurd .682 (15-for-22) over a five-game stretch last week. But when he stepped in against R.A. Dickey in the eighth inning, he had not had a hit in 17 straight at-bats.
For Soriano, that last at-bat was more about getting acclimated to the hard knuckleballs from Dickey. He had plenty of positive experiences against the softer pitches from Tim Wakefield, but had just eight at-bats against Dickey, whose knuckleball is in the high-70s and reaches 80 on occasion.
“I just tried to swing at a good pitch to hit,” Soriano said. “The whole game, he [had] been throwing me knuckleballs, good ones, a lot of movement. Finally, the last one I got a good one to hit and that’s good to take the lead.”
Soriano’s opportunity came after Robinson Cano singled to right field off Dickey (9-12), who had allowed five hits and eight base runners to that point.
“As soon as Cano got the hit, this is a chance now to do something impressive because every game is very important for us. He was due,” manager Joe Girardi said. “As hot as he had been, he was due.”
Soriano’s ninth home run since rejoining the Yankees in a trade with the Cubs on July 26 lifted New York to its fourth straight win. The Yankees also have won 10 of their last 13 games and are within four games of the AL’s second wild-card spot.
Soriano’s big hit came on a night when others did some of the heavy lifting, including David Huff, who pitched five scoreless innings in relief for the victory.
“It’s awesome, unbelievable,” Huff said of Soriano. “That guy is unreal.”
The clutch home run also came on a night when Ichiro Suzuki reached 4,000 combined hits between Japan and MLB when he slapped a first-inning single into left field.
The game was stopped as the Yankees came out of the dugout to celebrate the moment and Ichiro removed his helmet and bowed to the crowd.
Ichiro became the third to reach 4,000 hits when the highest levels of Japan and the United States are considered. Pete Rose finished with 4,256 hits after he broke Ty Cobb’s record of 4,191 hits in 1985.
“It was supposed to be a number that was special to me but what happened tonight, I wasn’t expecting when my teammates came out to first base it was very special,” Ichiro said through an interpreter. “And to see the fans, I wasn't expecting so much joy and happiness from them and that's what made it very special tonight, not just the number. All the things that happened with it was very special.”
By getting the hit out of the way in his first at-bat, Ichiro could soak it in and then enjoy watching Soriano.
"It's an amazing feat,” Girardi said. “Obviously it didn't bother him. He wasn't thinking about it because he gets it out of the way pretty quick tonight. But it's just a testament to how hard he's worked, how long he's been in the game, how he stays healthy and the way he goes about his business. He's a great player. He's been a great player for a long time.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.