TORONTO – With their star closer sidelined, the New York Yankees were not going to leave things to chance in the ninth inning.
Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada hit home runs in the top of the ninth, propelling them to a 10-5 win over the floundering Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night.
Toronto came into the ninth down by two runs with Mariano Rivera, New York’s lights-out closer, unavailable due to a tender left groin.
However, Rodriguez hit a solo shot before Posada belted a second-deck, two-run homer off Jason Frasor to put the game out of reach.
Suddenly the absence of Rivera didn’t seem quite as significant.
“We are playing good ball, there’s no doubt about that,” Posada said. “I think it’s just the way our pitchers are doing it, giving us a chance to win, staying in the game, not really letting down. I think that’s the reason we’re playing the way we are.”
Alfredo Aceves (10-1) picked up the win for New York thanks to 2 1/3 innings of relief, while rookie lefty Ricky Romero (11-7) was tagged with the loss for Toronto.
Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte combined to close out the eighth and ninth innings.
New York has now won seven straight and is a Major League-best 35-11 since the all-star break. Toronto, by contrast, has dropped four consecutive games and seven of its last eight as the team continues to crumble in the late stages of the season.
The Jays, 7-20 in their last 27 games, trail the American East-leading Yankees by 26.5 games.
New York is 72-1 when leading after eight innings this season.
Things took a bad turn early for the Jays as a terrible gaffe by right-fielder Travis Snider in the first inning led to three Yankee runs. Romero dug himself a hole by granting two walks and a single to load the bases with one out.
Hideki Matsui then pulled a soft single to right, which Snider completely misplayed, allowing the ball to get under his glove and roll to the wall. That cleared the bases and put Matsui on third until the next batter, Posada, drove him in with a single.
Just like that, the Bronx Bombers had a 4-0 lead, to the dismay of the Rogers Centre crowd of 22,773.
“I guess I just came up trying to throw too quick before I had the ball in my glove and unfortunately, to put Ricky in a position like that early in the game against an offence like that, it’s tough on any pitcher,” said the 21-year-old Snider. “I just look to learn from it and try and get better next time I go out there.”
Toronto manager Cito Gaston said he could relate.
“I’ve been there,” Gaston said. “It’s hard to describe how you feel, you feel really bad inside and embarrassed. It seems like you’re never going to get to that ball when you’re running after it. But as I told him, if he plays long enough it’ll happen again.”
New York scratched out another run in the fourth, but the Jays clawed back in the bottom half of the inning with three runs of their own.
A one-out, bases-loaded single by Raul Chavez scored Vernon Wells before a sacrifice fly from Marco Scutaro pushed Snider across home. Aaron Hill then lined a hard, two-out single to score Jose Bautista from second.
That was it for Yankees starter Chad Gaudin, who was lifted in favour of Aceves after making a spot start in place of the injured Sergio Mitre.
New York answered right back in the fifth with two more runs, knocking Romero out of the game and restoring a four-run advantage.
Romero struck out seven but struggled with his control, walking six batters and surrendering six hits over 4 1/3 innings of work.
“The first thing that comes to mind is try to minimize the damage from there and try to pick up a teammate,” Romero said. “I’m disappointed in myself, I felt like I let the team down today. It’s unacceptable for me to walk six guys out there.”
Toronto was able to cut the deficit to two runs by scoring a pair in the sixth. Snider led the inning off with a double and scored when Chavez, who went three-for-four with two RBIs, smacked his second two-base hit of the game.
Chavez eventually scored when Rodriguez muffed a grounder to third by Marco Scutaro. One pitch before that play, Scutaro fouled a pitch from Aceves who replaced Gaudin in the fourth behind home plate. In a bizarre and potentially dangerous twist, a fan hurled the ball back onto the field and it nearly struck an unsuspecting Aceves in the face after bouncing off the front lip of the mound.
Several Yankee players exited the dugout and glared into the stands before security confronted the individual.
“That’s disturbing,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “The guys got thrown out, they did the right thing. You just hope that fans are respectful of the players. These are human beings out on the field and you don’t want to hurt anyone. You can show your frustration in other ways”.
Interestingly, that wasn’t the only play where an observer of the game became part of the action. Rodriguez, while failing to snag a foul pop up down the left field line, got tangled up with a policewoman who was seated in front of the stands for security purposes”.
“I’m just glad she didn’t read me my rights,” Rodriguez said. “Only me. Oh my God, how embarrassing”.
Notes: Rivera, who has converted a career-high 34 consecutive saves, is expected to be unavailable until the weekend. He played catch in the outfield prior to Thursday night’s game and was expected to throw off the bullpen mound on Friday. The Yankees now have five winning streaks of seven games or more this season. Their longest victory string of the season is nine games, occurring May 13 to 21. Posada hit his 340th career double as a Yankee, moving him past Bob Meusel into ninth place on the team’s all-time list. Three Jays – Snider, Bautista and Randy Ruiz – were hit by pitches in the game.