A.J. Burnett allowed one unearned run and two hits in seven dominant innings, and Nick Swisher powered a relentless attack with two homers to lead the Yankees to an 11-4 victory over the Rays in Tampa, Fla. It was the Yankees' 10th win in 11 games, keeping them 2-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and dropping the defending AL champion Rays 7-1/2 games back.
The Yankees went 9-1 on their recent homestand, beating up on the last-place Orioles and A's, though they did sweep the first three games against the AL Central leading Tigers, beating All-Stars Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson along the way.
Monday they began a nine-game trip, part of a 19 of 26 on the road that will feature games against contenders such as the Rays, White Sox and Red Sox, and includes a seven-game trip to Oakland and Seattle. It's clearly a tough stretch for the team that also provides it the opportunity to create a little separation from the pack.
"We left home after a good homestand and we're in a good spot right now," Burnett said. "But you can tell from these guys that we're not content. We want to keep going and keep winning and see how far we can go."
Burnett (10-4, 3.53 ERA) got the trip off on the right foot, continuing his recent stretch of outstanding starts. He walked two, struck out five and threw 69 of 114 pitches for strikes.
More importantly, Tampa couldn't touch him. Burnett retired all seven leadoff hitters he faced and once he got to two strikes on batters, he got them out 81 percent of the time. It was as if once a batter got to two strikes, he could just turn around and head to the dugout.
Burnett won his fifth straight decision and is unbeaten in six straight starts. Since losing to Boston on June 9, he is 6-1 with a 1.84 ERA and he now won at least 10 games in a season for five straight years.
The only threat Burnett had to face all night was in the sixth when B.J. Upton reached on a passed ball after striking out to lead off, went to third on Carl Crawford's single and scored when Even Longoria hit into a double play to make it 5-1.
And by that point, the offense was just getting cranked up.
The Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second when Hideki Matsui led off with a single to right and actually scored on Jorge Posada's double. Robinson Cano followed with a triple, marking the second consecutive game he's had a big hit with runner in scoring position early in a game. He scored on Swisher's groundout.
Cano and Swisher made it 5-0 in the sixth, hitting back-to-back homers to start the innings. The Yankees just poured it on from there.
"We wanted to make sure we took the first one," Swisher said. "After the break, I think the one thing we stressed was come out of the gate good, and that's what we're doing. We feel confident, and I'll tell you what, if we keep playing like this, it's going to be a really, really, fun season."
The Yankees made it 7-1 in the eighth on Alex Rodriguez's two-out, two-run double, allowing the Yankees to rest the key members of the bullpen. Jonathan Albaladejo struggled in the bottom half, allowing two runs on two hits and one walk, but David Robertson got out a two-out jam, and allowed just Pat Burrell's homer in the ninth to pick up the save.
The Yankees finished off the Rays in the ninth when Swisher hit his second homer, a shot to left, before Johnny Damon crushed a three-run shot, the 200th of his career.
Were the Yankees sending Tampa a message with those tack-on runs?
"We worry about winning series. We don't worry about sending messages," manager Joe Girardi said. "For us, we wanted to get this road trip, it's a long road trip, off
on the right start and we did."
They might not have been sending a message, but they certainly were applying the pressure.
The Yankees' latest possible trade target is quite familiar to Yankees fans. SI's Jon Heyman reported the Yankees have once again inquired about acquiring Jarrod Washburn. Heyman also reported the Yankees also could go after the Reds' Bronson Arroyo.
The Yankees discussed a trade for Washburn at the deadline, but talks fell apart because the Mariners were asking for the Yankees' top prospect for a pitcher who was struggling and had 1-1/2 years left on a back-loaded contract.
Washburn, a lefty, will be a free agent will in the offseason and it will be interesting to see what the Mariners ask for this time. It should be noted that they changed GMs during the offseason. If the price is right, the Yanks would love to get their hands on another left with World Series experience.
Runners In Scoring Position
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
Vs. Red Sox
Tuesday at Rays, 7:08 p.m., Local TV (check your listings)
CC Sabathia (10-6, 3.67) vs. Scott Kazmir (4-6, 6.69)
Let's see Sabathia come out a give a dominant effort against a lefty in Kazmir who is having a rough season, but is capable of shutting down the Yankees.