Hughes keeps Yanks streaking

Hughes, Giambi lead Yanks in opener

TORONTO -- Manager Joe Torre sat within a cramped, concrete office at Rogers Centre on Tuesday, allowing himself a smile of temporary content. Finally, his long-held personal goal of 20 games over .500 had been achieved.

That significant marker of October premonitions, voiced for months by Torre in dugouts across America under far bleaker circumstances, finally came to light.

Jason Giambi hit a grand slam, Jorge Posada also homered and Phil Hughes turned in six strong innings as the Yankees won their sixth straight, downing the Blue Jays, 9-2.

"We're in a situation where we have our fate in our hands," Torre said.

The fifth-inning grand slam, Giambi's first home run since Aug. 26, chased Toronto starter Shaun Marcum and opened up a six-run advantage for the American League Wild Card-leading Yankees, who remained four games ahead of the Tigers and moved six in front of the fading Mariners.

"You've got too many veteran players that have been through a lot of situations to start counting," Giambi said. "Guys just keep the ball rolling, and you want to carry it through, hopefully, to the postseason. Right now, we're playing great baseball, and you don't want to change anything."

That was easy for Giambi to say. The slugger's 13th homer snapped a personal 2-for-28 slide and relieved a hearty amount of self-inflicted pressure from the midst of an extended struggle.

Giambi jokingly referred to the 1982 movie "An Officer and a Gentleman" as he described his angst, wondering aloud what his fate might have been had he not come through in the bases-loaded, one-out situation.

The outcome of the game was still very much in question as Giambi stepped to the plate; not so much as he watched the opposite-field drive clear the wall, making the 360-foot trot on the same diamond where he suffered a torn plantar fascia in late May, costing him two months of at-bats but leaving him fresher for the playoff push.

"I've been taking good at-bats, but I haven't gotten a hit," Giambi said. "That was a big one to get off my back in a big situation. Hopefully, I go forward, because I've been swinging the bat decent and getting robbed here and there. After a while, it gets frustrating."

"Jason knows what to do," said Johnny Damon. "He's been in these situations many times leading teams to the postseason. With Jason in the seventh hole, that just makes our lineup so much better."

Giambi's fortunes, and the Yankees', turned once more as Marcum left a high fastball up, his 90th pitch and the one that wound up ending the right-hander's night after yielding eight runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.

The Yankees' damage included a run-scoring wild pitch and Posada's home run -- his 20th, and his fifth this month, in what would be a candidate for the team MVP Award if Alex Rodriguez weren't far and away the runaway choice for league honors.

"It's all about adrenaline, this time of year. You're down inside 20 games to play and you've got something to play for."
-- Yankees manager Joe Torre

Later, in the eighth inning, Posada would need a two-minute breather as a foul ball wrenched the metal of his face mask. More typical respites would be preferable, but it's not as though there is ample time to rest.

"Nobody's fresh," Posada said. "You've just got to go out there and play these games. They mean a lot. You have to keep going out and doing it."

Damon had a two-run single in the second inning and also contributed a diving grab in left-center to aid the 21-year-old Hughes, who logged his first victory since Aug. 10 after battling early control problems.

After leaving the bases loaded in the first inning by getting Aaron Hill to hit back to the mound, thus escaping unscathed from two walks and a hit, Hughes flirted with trouble again in the second inning.

Vernon Wells appeared to have a big hit when he ripped a drive up the gap in left-center field, but Damon -- also running on fresher legs late in the season -- caught up to it, snaring the ball with a full-extension drive.

Hughes' luck would last just one more batter, as Russ Adams came through with a two-run single, but Hughes seemed to calm from there.

Acknowledging that he did not possess his best swing-and-miss stuff, Hughes focused more on pitching to spots and not trying to be too fine, inducing an array of grounders, popups and fly balls while striking out just one batter: Wells, the first he faced.

"I was still aggressive," Hughes said. "I wasn't going to try to nip every corner. I'm not going to change my approach just because my stuff isn't there. I'll still throw fastballs early in the count."

"He just settled in," Torre said. "He just seemed to relax. The last few innings were great."

Pitching well for the second consecutive start after taking a no-decision last time out vs. Seattle, Hughes threw 106 pitches. He allowed two runs (one earned), scattering three hits.

With the game well in hand, Edwar Ramirez recorded six outs -- five via strikeout -- and Ross Ohlendorf came on to make his Major League debut in the ninth inning, retiring Toronto in order while striking out the first man he faced, Lyle Overbay.

Ohlendorf, a starter who had recently been converted to a relief role, could be "very interesting" in the future, Torre said.

Indeed, it was a night for new beginnings. After taking nearly the entire season to get to the 20-games-over .500 mark, Torre said the new goal is now to fall beneath once more.

"It's all about adrenaline, this time of year," Torre said. "You're down inside 20 games to play and you've got something to play for."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.