The Yankees played what Nick Swisher referred to as a “season-defining game” when they came back to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays 9-6 on Sunday. Phil Hughes struggled away from the Bronx once again, and after the fifth inning, the Yankees trailed 5-1. Suddenly, the offense came alive, and the Yankees rallied all the way back, scoring eight runs in the final four innings.
Hughes’ struggles on the road have been well documented this season, and Sunday was no different. The right-hander lasted just 4.2 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits and a pair of walks. Hughes struck out four Blue Jays, but also allowed a home run, the 35th that he has allowed this season. Hughes acknowledged that today was not one of his better performances on the season. “I didn’t throw the ball well and this could have really been a disaster,” said Hughes, who recorded just his third no-decision in 32 starts this year. “But the other guys battled back, scored some runs and got a win, which is all that matters.”
After Hughes left, things turned around for the Yankees as a team. Other than an Eric Chavez home run, they were unable to generate much on offense entering the sixth inning. Their first run of the comeback came courtesy of [Blue Jays pitcher] Henderson Alvarez, who threw a wild pitch with Curtis Granderson at the plate that scored Robinson Cano. After getting one in the sixth, the Yankees scored three runs in the seventh to tie the game at five.
Eduardo Nunez pinch-hit for Chavez to start the seventh inning, leading off with a single. With Nunez at first, Derek Jeter blasted a ground-rule double into right field, and the first run would score as Ichiro Suzuki laced a fly ball to center field for a sacrifice fly. Runners were on first and second after Alex Rodriguez walked, and Robinson Cano came through big. Cano lined a shot into right field, scoring Jeter and moving Alex Rodriguez to third as he wound up on second base with a double. The tying run would then score when Aaron Loup threw a pitch away, scoring Rodriguez before Nick Swisher ended the inning by lining into a double play.
With the game now tied, Joe Girardi called for the Yankees to play small ball. After a walk by Curtis Granderson and a single by Raul Ibanez to begin the inning, Russell Martin perfectly executed a sacrifice bunt, moving both runners into scoring position as the Yankees looked to take the lead. With Ibanez being the runner at second base, Girardi elected to use Brett Gardner as a pinch runner to get more speed on the bases. This move would prove to be essential, as Gardner would score on a single to right field just one batter after Granderson scored on an Eduardo Nunez sacrifice fly. The Yankees would score their final runs of the day an inning later, as Curtis Granderson brought home two runs on a bases-loaded single.
With their win on Sunday, coupled with the win by the Texas Rangers, a playoff berth for the Yankees has been locked up as they prepare to start their final series of the regular season against the Boston Red Sox. They remain tied with the Baltimore Orioles atop the American League East. If the Yankees and Orioles were to remain tied after 162 games, the division winner would be determined on Thursday in Baltimore. The two teams tied in head-to-head matchup, but the Orioles would get to host because of a better intradivision record.