Nick Swisher homered to spark a four-run seventh and the Yankees rallied past the Jays 8-4 Wednesday in Toronto for their third straight victory to finish the trip at 5-4. The also moved 2-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East with their big, four-game showdown set to begin tonight in the Bronx.
Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira had RBI singles in the seventh and Damon added a ninth-inning homer that allowed Joe Girardi to give Mariano Rivera a day off.
Sergio Mitre, of course, failed to give the Yankees five innings, allowing three runs on eight hits and two walks in 4-1/3 innings before leaving with the team trailing, 3-2.
That forced Girardi to use his bullpen a bit with Alfredo Aceves (7-1, 3.58 ERA) pitching two innings, Phil Coke two-thirds of an inning, Phil Hughes one inning and David Robertson one inning. Hughes will not be available tonight, meaning Aceves or Coke likely will be called upon in the eighth.
But that's enough about last night. Now it's all about the Red Sox and one stat:
The Yankees are 14-5 since the All-Star break and have a nice lead in the division, but their inability to beat the Red Sox is hanging over this team and its fans, preventing us from truly feeling confident.
So, Yankees, it's time to get the job done. Go out there and take it to the boys from Beantown.
"We have to beat them at some point," Alex Rodriguez said. "This weekend is a good time to start."
Damn straight this weekend is a good time to start, but a few months ago would have been better.
In the eight games this season, the Yankees have been outhit, outpitched, outplayed and outmanaged despite entering each of the previous three series on hot streaks.
It's time to change that, and it starts tonight with Joba Chamberlain (7-2, 3.58) facing John Smoltz (2-4, 7.12).
This game is the key to this series.
Joba quite simply has been the best pitcher in baseball since the All-Star break, going 3-0 with a 0.83 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in his three starts.
But in order for him validate this stretch, he needs to go out there and beat the Sox tonight. A win would show he can out there against the best teams in baseball and stop them cold.
He needs to go out and just get it done.
Also, Smoltz is no longer that Cy Young-caliber pitcher he was in the 1990s and early part of this decade. He has been no more than a six-inning pitcher at-best. The Yankees' bats need to take advantage of this match up and give Joba at least a little help.
"You want to get that zero, that goose egg out of there," Girardi said. "We're going to be asked about that goose egg as long as it's there, so you want to get that out of the way as soon as possible."
Get that first win and you just sense the Yankees will be poised to do a lot of damage to the Sox, who are 8-10 since the break, haven't taken a series against a team over .500, may have had their confidence shaken and appear to have lost their swagger.
The thing is the Yankees and their fans can't get too wrapped up in the Red Sox's troubles. They always seem to be able to pick up their game against the Yankees, no matter how poorly they had been playing before hand. Count on the Sox playing well, which means the Yankees must match their intensity and pick up their play, too.
But, if they get that first win tonight, you just sense the Yankees will be the team with mojo that carries it through the next three games with A.J. Burnett (10-5, 3.89) going up against Josh Beckett (13-4, 3.27) Friday, CC Sabathia (11-7, 3.89) facing Clay Buchholz (1-1, 6.05) Saturday and Andy Pettitte (9-6, 4.35) taking on Jon Lester (9-7, 3.79) Sunday.
Get that first win tonight and you just sense the Yankees will take at least three of four and seize control of the division.
But the Yankees have the get that first win tonight.
They have to go out and just get it done ... tonight.
Runners In Scoring Position
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
Vs. Red Sox
Thursday vs. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., NESN, local TV (check your listings)