Hours before he would rebound from his third blown save by displaying some of his most electric stuff of the season, Rafael Soriano encountered Mariano Rivera in the clubhouse.
Rivera was watching Monday’s loss when Soriano hung a slider to Colby Rasmus that turned into a three-run home run. When he found Soriano in the clubhouse, Rivera told him to stop focusing so much on that pitch.
Soriano listened to the greatest closer of all-time’s advice and needed just 10 pitches to nail down Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays.
“The thing that happened last night, I said, ‘All right, tomorrow will be a better day and I would do the best that I can,’” Soriano said. “Mariano came to me today and said ‘throw your fastball, you can do whatever you want but don’t throw too many sliders because your best pitch right now is your fastball. Why do you got to throw too many sliders?’”
Rivera also dished out another piece of advice to Soriano about remaining accountable after bad outings. After not discussing his third save with reporters, Soriano gladly relayed the advice he received from Rivera, spending nearly 5 1/2 minutes discussing Rivera’s advice and the stuff that he displayed in retiring the side for his 34th save in 37 opportunities.
Russell Martin described Soriano’s performance as a man pitching angry in an on-field interview. It appeared that Soriano was determined to preserve a one-run ballgame that had it gone the other way would have seen the Yankees’ AL East lead drop to 2 1/2 games over the Orioles.
“When he has something to say you listen, just because he’s been doing for it for a while,” Martin said. “It’s kind of like when Derek [Jeter] talks to you about hitting. He definitely had a good fastball tonight.”
“I think tonight I [was] the best that I felt,” Soriano said.
Of the 10 pitches Soriano threw while pitching three straight days for the second time this season, three were sliders. Each one generated a swing and a miss and accounted for strikeouts of Adam Lind and Yorvit Torrealba.
“I think I throw like five sliders in a row and that never happened before,” Soriano said. “Sometimes it happens. Sometimes the pitching coach or maybe the catcher has to come to you and say ‘today might be the best slider you have’ and figure out to throw something else.”
“It was as good a stuff as I’ve seen him have this year,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I thought his fastball was exceptional, his slider as well. It’s hard when you’re a closer and you do your job 95 percent of the time. It doesn’t make it easier that five percent and he did a good job tonight.”
Leading up to Soriano’s bounce-back was seven effective innings from Phil Hughes, who had lost two 2-1 games this season. Hughes allowed just a solo home run to Adeiny Hechavarria in the fifth among four hits. But he also had significant help from Robinson Cano’s glove in the sixth.
One pitch after getting Adam Lind to fly out to warning track in right field, Hughes recorded two outs on an Escobar liner to Cano, who doubled Colby Rasmus off third.
“It’s an incredible play,” Girardi said. “I thought he had no chance at third, but it’s an incredible play — a huge double play at a crucial time. I wasn’t even sure he was going to catch it to begin with and to get the double play was icing on the cake.”
“He’s one of the bigger second baseman, so he can certainly jump higher,” Hughes said. “To be able to get rid of it like that is pretty big, so obviously it got me out of a tough inning. I don’t know if there’s many who can make that play, especially to instinctively know to get rid of it and throw to third base. It’s like he’s looking over there when he’s catching the ball.”
Hughes found himself in a tight situation because the Yankees could only squeeze out two runs and five hits against Ricky Romero. Romero was pounded for 12 hits in six innings in a rain-shortened game here on July 18 when the Yankees took a season-high 10-game lead in the AL East.
If they did not get the two runs on Nick Swisher’s RBI single in the fourth and Curtis Granderson’s sacrifice fly the Yankees faced the possibility of the lead being 2 1/2 games for the second time in five days.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.