Down by three in the fourth inning Thursday, the Yankees had no doubts.
"We expect to win every night," Mark Teixeira said.
And winning they have been with regularity.
Teixeira jump-started the offense with a two-run homer in the fourth inning and led the Yankees to a 6-3 rain-delayed victory over the A's at Yankee Stadium to move 2-1/2 games in front of the Red Sox in the AL East.
It was the Yankees' seventh straight victory coming out of the All-Star break and 20th in their last 25 games. Since Alex Rodriguez returned May 8, the Yankees are 45-22.
That's a whole lot of winning and this team is starting to develop the swagger of the championship teams that believed they would win each and every time they took the field.
Of course, we shouldn't ignore those two little annoying thoughts running around in the back of our mind -- you know the one from Anaheim and the other one from Boston. This roll is great, but we also know that the Yankees won't truly have their mojo back until they take care of business against the Red Sox and Angels.
But that's a concern for another day. The Yankees aren't playing the Sox and Halos right now. They are playing the A's.
CC Sabathia struggled early, but eventually settled down to give the Yankees seven more strong innings and yet another quality start.
The A's jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second when Nomar Garciaparra singled, went third on Kurt Suzuki's double and scored on Jack Cust's sacrifice fly. Bobby Crosby brought in the second run with a single.
Oakland tacked on another run in the fourth. Matt Holliday, who was traded to the Cardinals Friday, led off with double and scoring on a single by Suzuki.
That was all Sabathia would surrender. He allowed nine hits and struck out four, throwing 71 of 109 pitches for strikes. It was another good, strong, gutty performance from Sabathia. Certainly more than serviceable. The thing is that more is expected from him. We want to see the dominant ace who carried the Brewers to the playoff last year or won the AL Cy Young Award two seasons ago.
Don't get me wrong, no one is about to toss back this performance, but the Yankees do need to take some of the load off their bullpen and a dominant stretch by CC would go along way toward doing that.
Through the first three innings, it appeared the Yankees were once again going to struggle against a pitcher they had never seen before. This time, it was Vin Mazzaro, a rookie from nearby Rutherford, N.J.
But this time, the offense got things figured out, striking in the fourth. Johnny Damon led off with a single before Teixeira crushed a homer to right to cut it to 3-2. A-Rod followed with a walk and stole second. He scored one out later on Jorge Posada's double and Posada came around on Eric Hinske's single. Just like that the Yankees had a 4-3 lead and were on their way.
The Yankees finished off Mazzaro in the fifth. Derek Jeter walked to lead off and Damon followed with a single. Teixeira brought in Jeter with a double before Matsui walked with one out to load the bases. Posada singled to drive in Damon and make it 6-3, but that's all the Yankees would get as Robinson Cano and Hinske popped out against Craig Breslow, of Trumbull, Conn. (Gotta give props to my hometown guy.)
But with Sabathia done after seven, Joe Girardi still had a decision to make. He wanted to get Mariano Rivera a day off, so he needed to figure out how to get through the eighth and ninth to close out the game.
The answer, as it has been since June, was Phil Hughes, who pitched two flawless innings for his first save. Is there anything this kid can't do?
And so it was yet another win on yet another day.
There have been a lot of them lately.
Runners In Scoring Position
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
Vs. Red Sox
Friday vs. A's, 7:05 p.m., YES
Brett Anderson (5-7, 4.25 ERA) vs. Joba Chamberlain (5-2, 4.05)
Plain and simple, Joba must back up his brilliant start Sunday against the Tigers with another today. If Joba can get through seven strong innings and get the win, I think he'll be on his way to a brilliant second half.
NOTE: Apologies for the lateness of this post. It was a busy day in Hartford. OMG, indeed!