When they pen the requiems for the 2013 New York Yankees – and make no mistake: Wednesday’s 4-3 win aside, they’re in the hopper, all set to go – you can make a case it all began with a Grapefruit League game against J.A. Happ of the Toronto Blue Jays.
And almost ended against him, too.
It was Happ who fractured the forearm of Curtis Granderson in the Yankees second preseason game – here we are, months later, and New York has used a franchise-record 56 players.
Watch: Yankees rally to beat Jays
Resolved to being without Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez for much of the season, the Yankees found themselves needing replacements for the replacements’ replacements. And, on Wednesday, with their playoff chances in the uncertain right hand of Phil Hughes, the Yankees found themselves again facing Happ – a non-descript, finger-painting left-hander who’d given New York a further scare in a game on Aug. 27, when he sent star second baseman Robinson Cano to the hospital for x-rays after hitting him on the hand.
Happ was as good as he’s been this season, shutting down the Yankees on four hits and striking out a season-high seven until a Brendan Ryan double to lead off the eighth ended his night.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons turned the matter over to his bullpen – the only bulwark in this mess of a season – and by the time the Yankees took the field for the bottom of the eighth they were up 4-3, scoring their runs on five hits including a two-run, two-out, run-scoring double down the left-field line by Vernon Wells.
“It looked like things were going in the same direction as last night,” Wells said, referring to a 2-0 loss. “But then there was a four-pitch sequence and we were in the lead. Blink your eyes … and you have the lead.” Wells has nine RBIs in 15 games against his former team this season.
Blue Jays centre-fielder Colby Rasmus continued to make a case for a multiyear contract with his 22nd home run, a two-run shot that sent Hughes to the showers.
Rookie Ryan Goins, a late-season revelation in the field, added the Blue Jays’ third run with a solo homer off David Huff, his first major-eague blast.
Despite the win, the Yankees (80-72) still have a chance of finishing fourth in the American League East for the first time since 1992. (That’s so long ago, the Blue Jays used to win World Series back then.)
If it happens, Hughes will be one of the Yankees goats. As a free agent, he’d already pitched himself out of town and Wednesday’s 3 1/3-inning stint marked the fifth consecutive appearance in which he failed to make it out of the fifth inning. It was his 12th consecutive start without a win, the most by a Yankees pitcher in five seasons.
The teams will wrap up their three-game series Thursday, when the Blue Jays will honour all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera, who came into the game Wednesday with two out in the eighth and Rajai Davis on second base after a single and stolen base.
How desperate are the Yankees? It was the fourth time in seven games they asked Rivera to pitch more than an inning. Rivera was greeted with a standing ovation from the Rogers Centre crowd of 24,247 and it took three pitches for Brett Lawrie to ground out to end the inning.
Rivera survived singles by Adam Lind and Rasmus in the ninth for his 652nd career save and his 44th of the season – striking out J.P. Arencibia on three pitches with runners on second and third.
It is the highest total of any reliever in his final season. Rivera had been tied with Robb Nen and Jeff Shaw at 43.
While Rivera will be gone and the Yankees are in transition, the AL East in 2014 will still be the same – and among the many issues facing the Blue Jays in their end-of-season postmortem, the team’s inability to win within their division must surely be a topic of discussion.
The 69-82 Blue Jays are 25-41 within the division, and will finish with a losing record inside the East for a third consecutive season. The last time the Jays were this uncompetitive within the East was 1994 to 1997, when the club – which had won back-to-back World Series – embarked on its trek into the playoff wilderness.
The trek is still alive, with Arencibia in the lead, swinging away at the bushes and low-hanging branches. So are the Yankees’ playoff chances.