The New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, who began a three-game clash at Rogers Centre on Friday night, have both had their share of injuries this season.
The big difference is the Yankees have guarded their two-month perch atop the American League East standings like a junkyard dog patrolling the fence while the Blue Jays have quietly faded into the night.
The Yankees (66-46) became the latest team to pile on the Blue Jays (53-59), scoring twice in the second inning and adding three more in the eighth to secure a 10-4 victory before 41,610 spectators.
It was more of the same for an anemic Toronto attack that could muster nine hits in support of starter Ricky Romero (8-9), who allowed three of the New York runs (two earned) off four hits through seven innings.
Romero has now gone winless in his last nine starts as Toronto lost for the fourth straight outing.
While the Blue Jays added two relative unknown relief pitchers at last month’s trade deadline with an eye more toward 2013, the Yankees went out and traded for future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki from Seattle to help bolster their lineup for the present.
Ichiro, a right fielder by trade, lined up in centre against Toronto for the first time since joining the Yankees and has now been used by manager Joe Girardi at every outfield position.
The 38-year-old Japanese star said at this stage in his career he is willing to take on almost all new challenges.
“If they said they need me to play catcher I’d probably have to say no,” he said before the game.
Ichiro had five RBIs off two hits Friday night.
The staggering Blue Jays, coming off a dreary 2-8 road trip where they averaged just 2.4 runs a game, were not exactly efficient early on – a throwing error by catcher Jeff Mathis leading the way to the first of two New York runs in the second inning.
After Kelly Johnson belted his 13th homer of the season in Toronto’s half of the second, New York pulled ahead 3-1 in the third when Robinson Cano singled home Nick Swisher from second.
The Blue Jays’ injury woes have been well documented, their starting pitching ravaged through the loss of Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. The offence has also taken a big hit minus big boppers Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie among others.
Toronto manager John Farrell said the plight of his team will test his leadership and that of his coaches in the coming weeks.
“I think the worst thing we could demonstrate is a difference or a different approach in light of the challenges,” Farrell said. “The towel has not been thrown in by any stretch of the imagination.”
The Yankees can relate, losing a host of pitchers to injuries during spring training, including highly regarded right-hander Michael Pineda with rotator cuff issues.
Mariano Rivera, baseball’s all-time saves leader, soon followed Pineda to the sideline with a wrecked knee.
Speed merchant Brett Gardner has missed almost the entire season nursing a right elbow strain, and the Yankees are also without third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who isn’t expected back until later this month with a hand injury.
The Blue Jays have tried to fill the gaps by rushing young minor-league prospects like Anthony Gose, who came into the game with 19 strikeouts in 51 at-bats, into the big leagues.
The Yankees have been fortunate to be able to rely on veteran hands like Ichiro, Andruw Jones and utility infielder Jayson Nix, to help them over the bumps.
Steve Delabar, one of the pitchers Toronto acquired at the trade deadline, did not exactly have a strong home debut, coming on in the eighth, where he allowed three of the New York runs off three hits, including a homer by Mark Teixeira.