Martin’s 3-Run Homer Keeps Yankees Atop East

GAME 157

YANKEES 11, BLUE JAYS 4

The 2012 season has mostly been a house of horrors for Russell Martin, but the veteran backstop has caught fire in September – just in time for the Yankees’ stretch run for the American League East title. On Friday, Martin keyed another crucial victory with a big hit at just the right time.

Martin launched a three-run home run off Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor with two out in the sixth inning to turn what was a 3-1 lead into a comfortable 6-1 cushion as New York outscored Toronto to maintain their slim one-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the division.

With five games left to play the Yankees lowered their magic number to five to clinch their 13th A.L. East crown over the past 15 seasons.

The home run was the 20th of the season for Martin and it is a career high for him. Martin has also punctuated the month of September with six homers and 16 RBIs after driving in just 36 runs before the month started.

Martin’s blast handed a victory to Hiroki Kuruda (15-11), who held the Blue Jays to just two runs but he struggled over 5 1/3 innings, giving up 10 hits and two walks while striking out four batters. In winning his 15th game, Kuroda has established a new career high in victories in the majors, surpassing his high of 13 set in 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Yankee’ offense made Kuroda’s night somewhat easier by providing him with some early support against Blue Jays rookie right-hander Brad Jenkins (0-3).

With two out in the first inning Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano each stroked singles and Nick Swisher scored both with a booming double off the wall in center-field.

An inning later, Raul Ibanez opened the inning with a single and Jenkins then issued back-to-back walks to Martin and Eric Chavez. Derek Jeter then killed the bases-loaded, no-out rally by grounding into a double play, but Ibanez scored on the play and the Yankees held a 3-0 lead.

Meanwhile, base-running blunders by the Blue Jays cost them some runs early.

In the first inning, Brett Lawrie doubled to lead of the inning but he was cut down at second base when he strayed to far off the bag on a hard-hit grounder by Colby Rasmus to Swisher at first base. Swisher threw to Jeter to get Lawrie. One out later, a single by J.P. Arencibia likely would have scored Lawrie.

In the second inning, Yunel Escobar led off with a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Kuroda. But he also got caught too far off the bag when Kelly Johnson struck out and Martin nailed Escobar with a throw to Rodriguez. Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose followed with a single and double, respectively. Kuroda then walked Lawrie to load the bases but Kuroda escaped when he struck out Rasmus looking.

The Jays finally did cut the Yankees’ lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Rasmus got a measure of revenge against Kuroda by blasting a leadoff home run.

The Yankees, meanwhile, went to work to extend their lead off left-hander Brett Cecil in the sixth.

Cecil hit Cano in the left hand with his first offering of the frame and Swisher followed with a opposite-field single to left.

It then appeared Cecil might wriggle out of the inning when he registered consecutive strikeouts against Curtis Granderson and Ibanez.

However, Blue Jays manager John Farrell opted to bring the right-hander Frasor to face the right-handed-hitting Martin.

Martin battled all the way back from an 0-2 count to 3-2 by laying off some close breaking pitches before he belted a slider about a dozen rows into the left-field bleachers.

The Yankees then added another run in the inning off Frasor when Chavez drew a walk, Jeter singled and Suzuki drove in Chavez with an opposite-field single to left.

The Blue Jays drew a run closer and chased Kuroda in the sixth when Johnson slapped a one-out double down into the right-field corner and Davis advanced him to third with a bloop single to right. David Phelps came on for Kuroda to retire Gose on a fielder’s choice grounder as Johnson scored.

But the Yankees, already aware the Orioles had defeated the Boston Red Sox 9-1, then added single runs in the seventh and eighth before Chavez connected for his 15th home run of the season in the ninth inning off rookie right-hander Bobby Korecky.

The Blue Jays added to their run total when Adam Lind hit a two-run, opposite-field home run off Phelps in the seventh inning but it was much too little and much too late for the Blue Jays and their home crowd of 25,785 at Rogers Centre.

The Yankees improved their season record to 91-66, which is one game behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. The Blue Jays fell to 69-88 and they are tied with Red Sox for last place in the division, 22 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After the Yankees were shut out on Thursday, it was nice to see Martin come through with a clutch two-out home run that knocked the Blue Jays out of the game. Martin very quietly turned around his game after the All-Star break. At the break he was hitting .179 with eight home runs and 20 RBIs. Since then he is hitting a more respectable .241 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. Martin is not signed beyond this season and he would like to at least have a chance to stay with the Yankees. If he finishes strong he just may get that chance.
  • Swisher’s two-out, two-run double in the first inning gives him 92 RBIs on the season and puts him within striking distance of bettering his career-high 95 RBIs he set in 2006 in his second full season in the majors with the Oakland Athletics. Swisher also could be a free agent this winter, but the Yankees might be forced to let him go because Cano will become a free agent after the 2013 season and the Yankees want to re-sign him to a lucrative long-term deal while cutting payroll before the 2014 season.
  • Very quietly Chavez is turning in a great season as a role player for the team. He was 1-for-3 with a homer, two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored batting ninth as the team’s designated hitter. Chavez is 4-for-10 with two home runs and three RBIs in his last three starts. He is hitting .283 with 15 home runs and 36 RBIs coming off the bench this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kuroda won the contest but there has to be some concern about the way he has pitched in September. Kuroda entered the final month with a 12-10 record and an excellent 3.04 ERA. However, Kuroda is 3-1 with a 5.22 ERA in his five starts this month. He has pitched 212 2/3 innings, which is the most he has pitched since he threw 202 innings last season with the Dodgers. There is a question about him possibly wearing down before the postseason begins.
  • The Yankees might be considering using Phelps on Tuesday in a start against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium instead of struggling right-hander Ivan Nova. But Phelps was tagged for a two-run homer by Lind and he threw 24 pitches to get through the seventh inning. Phelps has to have sharp command in order to keep his pitch count down. Manager Joe Girardi will have a tough decision to make on Tuesday.
  • Jeter is showing signs of slowing down with the bat of late. He was 1-for-6 in the game and is 1-for 13 since his 19-game hitting streak was halted on Wednesday. He possibly could a use a day off to rest his bruised left ankle but with the division title on the line that seems unlikely.

BOMBER BANTER

Cano left Rogers Centre with his left hand wrapped in ice and he was headed to a Toronto hospital to have the hand X-rayed. Cano was struck by a pitch from Cecil as he led off the sixth. He remained in the game and came through with an RBI single in the eighth inning. It is unclear if Cano will miss any time due to the injury.  . . .  Mark Teixeira took six at-bats in the batting cage in Tampa, FL, on Friday and will play five innings in an Instructional League game on Saturday. Teixeira, who is rehabbing from a strained left calf, hopes to be able to return to the Yankees on Monday when the team opens its final series of the season against the Red Sox.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their final road series of the season on Saturday against the Blue Jays.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-3, 2.71 ERA) will make his third start since his return from the disabled list with a fractured left fibula. Pettitte is 2-0 and has been unscored upon in his 11 innings over his first two starts. He also is 13-9 with a 4.70 ERA in the last 10 seasons against the Jays.

Left-hander Ricky Romero (9-14, 5.76 ERA) will start for Toronto. Though Romero allowed four runs in his five-plus innings against the Orioles in his last start, he snapped a 13-game losing streak with a victory. He is 3-7 with a 4.76 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

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