Yankees outslug Jays, grab one-game East lead

Yankees outslug Jays, grab one-game East lead

Yankees outslug Jays, grab one-game East lead
NEW YORK -- The Yankees green-lighted their trade for Ichiro Suzuki hoping that the heat of a pennant race would recharge a stalled career, and games like this were exactly what they had in mind.

Ichiro continued a torrid tear with a home run and three RBIs, while Nick Swisher slugged his seventh career grand slam, leading the Yankees to a 10-7 victory over the Blue Jays on Thursday at Yankee Stadium for New York's fifth straight win.

"Baseball is a tough game. That's how I feel right now," Ichiro said through an interpreter. "I haven't changed my approach to the game, and that's why I mean it's a tough game: same routine, same approach, but different results."

Slipping on pinstripes is no longer an adjustment for Ichiro, who unabashedly calls New York City "my home." Indeed, lately everything seems to fit quite well; manager Joe Girardi said "it's going to be difficult" to sit Ichiro down the stretch, and the cheers raining down from the grandstands convey the public opinion.

"I think you could say that I'm surprised," Ichiro said. "But maybe when I was with the Mariners and in right field, I did try to communicate with those fans in right field, so maybe that helped out."

Ichiro hit safely in seven straight plate appearances going back to the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader sweep over Toronto, continuing his rush with a solo blast in the third inning before sparking New York's seven-run fourth inning with a two-run double off starter Aaron Laffey.

"I couldn't be more happy for him," Swisher said. "It just kind of seems like he's really driving the ball. The only thing stopping his balls lately are either the seats or the wall. It's been a great run for him and I want him to continue to keep it going."

The Yankees have won 10 of their last 14 games, logging their ninth series sweep of the season to move a full game ahead of the idle Orioles atop the American League East with 13 games remaining on their schedule.

"We need to continue to play good baseball because the other teams behind us are doing the same thing," Girardi said. "It's good to see. If you're going to heat up, this is the time of year to do it."

An eighth-inning rally against relievers Cory Wade and Joba Chamberlain created an opportunity for David Robertson's second career save, but the Yankees had plenty of cushion after the seven-run fourth, when they batted 10 men on three hits, three walks and an error.

Mike Lincoln served up Swisher's grand slam in relief of Laffey, marking Swisher's 21st homer and third grand slam of the season.

"In a situation like that, all you're really trying to do is just get one run in," Swisher said. "Obviously he gave me a good fastball, good part of the plate. You get the barrel on it and know Yankee Stadium here to right field definitely helps out a little bit."

The blast was the Yankees' 10th grand slam of the year, equaling franchise marks set in 1987, 2010 and '11.

"Give them credit; that's a deep lineup and they are explosive, as we saw tonight," Toronto manager John Farrell said.

Derek Jeter also stroked two RBI singles, extending his hitting streak to 14 games, and Swisher said that the Yankees' recent surge has restored some of the mojo that leaked away during a second-half swoon.

"It's just chill," Swisher said. "It's nice because I feel we're getting that inner confidence back that we lost there for a little bit. Regardless of whatever the situation is, whatever team we're playing, we feel like we're going to go out there and get the job done."

Yankees starter Phil Hughes turned in a so-so performance, completing five innings of four-run ball in a 102-pitch outing.

"Command was definitely an issue," said Hughes, who walked three and struck out nine. "Most nights I take a lot of pride in making guys earn their way on base. It was a struggle for sure and to not go deep in the game was tough. The bats stepped up big and gave us a nice lead to really help out."

Kelly Johnson nicked Hughes for a run-scoring double in the second and Moises Sierra was hit by a third-inning pitch with the bases loaded to force home a run. Sierra belted a two-run blast off Hughes in the fifth following a 10-pitch walk to Adam Lind.

In the fourth, Hughes became just the second Yankee to strike out four batters in an inning. A passed ball on catcher Russell Martin permitted Adeiny Hechavarria to reach first base with one out, but Hughes recovered to fan the side.

"There's some games when you deserve to win and you don't, and some games when you don't deserve to win and you do," Hughes said. "That's just kind of the way it goes. I've been a recipient of some run support, which is nice. It's nice to get wins, but it's better for a team to get wins, especially at a time when you really need them."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.