Sweep of Blue Jays puts Yankees closer to the top

By Rich Mancuso

A three game sweep over Toronto has the New York Yankees feeling confident. And it should carry towards more momentum Friday night when the Baltimore Orioles come to Yankee Stadium for three more But the Blue Jays are a team the Yankees have to chase in the AL east and Thursday night they got closer to the first place Jays.

David Phelps continued to be a momentum builder on the mound, and the Yankees once again scored first and tacked on runs. The bullpen took over as the Yankees won their third straight, 4-2.

A week ago, the Yankees had that continued issue of situational hitting missing from the lineup. The captain Derek Jeter struggled, and Carlos Beltran one of their key off- season free agent acquisitions was coming off the disabled list. The past three nights in the Bronx, and against a powerful Toronto lineup, the Yankees looked like a first place team.

They are now tied in the loss column with Toronto, 1/1-2 games from first place. Does a chase for first place in mid-June have anything to do with this resurgence, or is this just the part of a long baseball season?

 “There is a lot of meaning to these games,” manager Joe Girardi commented. His team has won seven of their past nine games. “We all understand that, and we know they understand that. When you face each other 19 times, you look to try to catch people, put some distance between some people and win series."

The Yankees swept a series for the fourth time this season. This one, though, had significance with a stretch of 15 consecutive games against divisional opponents. The Orioles will present a challenge and Tampa Bay, in the cellar, always does. These were the first place Blue Jays who have gone 3-9 over their last 12 games, and been on top since the 22nd of May.

"Hey, if you're going to play in prime time, you've got to perform on the big stage and we didn't do it," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "We're fully capable of doing it. We just didn't do it. It'll be definitely good to move on."

The Blue Jays move on. They will have time to figure out a way to break a 16-game losing streak at Yankee Stadium. Their next stint in the Bronx is scheduled at the end of next month.

The Yankees are looking at the positive side of things. The past three games everything came together, something they projected themselves to do with their off-season spending spree that surpassed $450 million in free agents. Brian McCann, the catcher, who had a go ahead home run the night before, realized the significance of winning three against the front runners.   

“We were able to score some runs,” he commented. “Swinging the bat better…It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. We’re putting together better consistent at bats. It’s big to win games. Obviously when you play teams in your division, you want to win.”

McCann is swinging the bat better. “We’re playing better baseball than we were the past couple of weeks,” he said. Jeter has been getting on base, a .405 clip in his last nine games and Brett Gardner, 1-for-3, Thursday night is batting .366, 15-for-41 over his last ten games.

"Big series for us," Adam Warren said. The reliever earned his second save of the season after retiring two Blue Jays’ in the ninth. The closer David Robertson needed a night off after pitching the first two games of the series.

 "It's nice to kind of see our team click a little bit and play some good baseball,” said Warren

These are words being said by a Yankees team that was looking for answers last week. That included the final two games out in Oakland that did not go their way.  And, yes, everything is clicking, even with this contingency of a starting rotation because three quarters of the regulars are on the disabled list.

Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, and his 11-1 record, the manager is elated what he is getting from Chase Whitley and Vidal Nuno. Then there is David Phelps, (3-4) who tossed seven-innings and gave up two runs with a good back door cutter and curve, but allowed a home run to Melky Cabrera in the third inning.

“Refreshing to see guys like Chase (Whitley), one of the biggest things that motivated me,” Phelps commented.  The sweep, it’s huge. We gotta win games against them.”

 And winning games during this divisional stretch is what the Yankees did. Time will tell if this division will continue to be bunched with teams in September, and that also includes the Red Sox who may not be ready to give up their World Series crown.

We do know this though: Three games have sent a message that the Yankees intend to be a part of this equation by September.  

 Comment Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com  Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso