Kenny Rogers started three games for the Yankees in the 1996 postseason and lasted just seven innings total while allowing 11 runs, but the Yankees won all three of those games on their way to the championship. Sergio Mitre hasn’t been nearly as bad in his four Yankees starts as Rogers was in the ’96 postseason, but given his 7.50 ERA, it’s amazing that the Yankees have gone 3-1 in games Mitre has started.
Mitre got off to a good start Wednesday night, striking out the first two men he faced, but he hung a pitch to Adam Lind which, fortunately, resulted in a mere single. Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells then delivered ground-ball singles that plated Lind and Alex Rios dropped a broken-bat single into shallow center to plate Overbay and give the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead.
The Yanks got that back in the third when Jerry Hairston Jr., starting at third base for DH Alex Rodriguez, led off with a walk and scored on singles by Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon. Jeter took third on the throw home, just beating out Overbay’s cut-off throw, the scored when Edwin Encarnacion double-clutched on a would-be double-play ball from Mark Teixeira, allowing Tex to beat the pivot throw to first.
Mitre and Jays rookie Marc Rzepczynski (pronounced zep-CHIN-ski, as it turns out) held the 2-2 tie in place until the bottom of the fifth, when Adam Lind crushalated a Mitre changeup to right field to make it 3-2 Jays. After Overbay followed with a single, Joe Girardi popped out of the dugout and took the ball from Mitre, who gave up three runs on eight hits and a pair of walks in 4 1/3 innings.
That’s how Joe Torre’s ’96 Yankees won those Kenny Rogers games. Torre got Rogers out quickly and let his bullpen and offense do their jobs. Wednesday night, Alfred Aceves relieved Mitre and retired the first five men he faced setting up a four-run top of the seventh by the Yankee offense.
Nick Swisher led off that frame with a game-tying home run into the Toronto bullpen. Robinson Cano followed with a double to the wall in right-center that bounced Rzepczynski in favor of deadline acquisition Josh Roenicke. After failing to get a bunt down on Roenicke’s high-90s fastball, Melky Cabrera got a curve and pulled it to second base to move Cano to third on an out. Hideki Matsui then hit for Hairston and chopped a single in front of Joe Inglett in left field to plate Cano with the go-ahead run. Roenicke then walked Jose Molina and Matsui and Molina scored on ensuing singles by Damon and Teixeira, thanks in part to Jays catcher Rod Barajas bobbling the throw home on Damon’s hit and allowing Molina to go to third.
Up 6-3, Aceves gave up a solo shot to Marco Scutaro in the seventh, then yielded to Phil Coke, who got the last two outs of the inning. After the Yankees plated another Cano double via a pair of fly balls to right (by Melky and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske), Phil Hughes worked a scoreless eighth. Johnny Damon then hit a leadoff homer off Brian Tallett in the top of the ninth, expanding the lead to four runs and giving the ninth inning to David Robertson, who pitched around a Scutaro single to nail down the 8-4 win.
With that the Yankees swept the Blue Jays, finished with a winning record on the road trip, and gained a game over Boston and enter this weekend’s four-game death match with a 2.5-game lead in the East and an active three-game winning streak. But don’t count your money when you’re sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.