NEW YORK — Derek Jeter stood on the dugout steps, stone-faced as a statue, when Ichiro Suzuki approached after rounding with the bases with his first home run since last August.
Only when the Japanese star was inches away did the New York Yankees captain crack a wide smile and offer a fist bump.
Suzuki hit a go-ahead, three-run drive in the third inning against Mark Buehrle, and the Yankees overcame an early deficit to beat the Blue Jays 6-4 the night of July 25th for their 17th straight home win against Toronto.
“I was kind of expecting that,” Suzuki said through a translator, referring to Jeter’s reaction. “During batting practice, he always tells me, ‘Can’t leave,’ which means the ball doesn’t leave the ballpark.”
This time, Jeter altered his comment slightly — or so Suzuki thought. “I think he said, ‘Can leave,’” Suzuki said before laughing.
After months of injuries and mediocre play, the Yankees find themselves back in playoff position and in a much better frame of mind. New York won for the seventh time in eight games since the All-Star break and moved one game in front of the third-place Blue Jays in the AL East.
“It’s better than the alternative, but it really doesn’t mean a whole lot with 60 games to go,” Manager Joe Girardi said.
Jose Bautista homered twice to reach 20 for the fifth straight season. He also doubled and drove in four runs, but Buehrle couldn’t hold leads of 3-0 and 4-2. The All-Star left-hander dropped to 1-12 against the Yankees, including 10 straight losses over the past decade.
New York is 26-10 against Toronto since September 2012. The bottom four batters in the Yankees’ lineup combined to go 7 for 14 with four RBIs. “You walk in this stadium, you feel energy. It’s hard to really describe why, but it’s there,” said third baseman Chase Headley, acquired from San Diego on July 22nd.
Hiroki Kuroda (7-6) shrugged off a shaky start and allowed four runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings. David Robertson pitched the ninth for his 26th save in 28 chances, completing the bullpen’s two-hit, scoreless night. “With the stuff I had, I was struggling all day. But at the same time, I tried to hang in there,” Kuroda said through a translator.
Buehrle (10-7) started the season 10-1 but dropped to 0-6 with a 4.83 ERA in nine starts since beating Kansas City on June 1. He gave up six runs and nine hits in three innings, his shortest outing since June 6, 2010, for the Chicago White Sox against Cleveland. “That’s just frustrating,” Buehrle said. “A big game like this, we needed to come out and try and make a point.”
Toronto Manager John Gibbons called off pregame batting practice, hoping to change his team’s luck in the Bronx. And it seemed to work at first when Bautista hit a three-run homer over the left-field scoreboard on a 3-0 pitch in the first.
But New York closed in the second on Brian Roberts’ bases-loaded infield hit on a bouncer to third and Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly. Bautista hit a solo drive in the third — he’s 4 for 16 against Kuroda with four home runs.
Carlos Beltran’s solo drive and Suzuki’s first home run since Aug. 30 off Baltimore’s Miguel Gonzalez put the Yankees ahead. The homerless streak of 294 at-bats was the third-longest of Suzuki’s major league career. The 40-year-old entered in a 6-for-41 (.146) slide overall but is hitting .431 in his career against Buehrle (25 for 58).
Toronto’s Yankee Stadium skid, which started in September 2012, is the longest for a team at one opponent since Tampa Bay lost 18 in a row in Cleveland from September 2005 to July 2010, according to STATS.
Suzuki was happy to have any kind of positive number in his home run column. “Now that’s it’s not a 0, maybe Michael Kay will be easy on me,” he said playfully, referring to a Yankees broadcaster.