09/26/10 11:47 AM ET
Blue Jays out to spoil Yankees' fun
By Bailey Stephens / MLB.com
In other words, it's just about a done deal that the Bronx Bombers will punch another ticket to October baseball -- and soon -- but the hot Blue Jays have a chance to delay the celebration for a few games and are guaranteed to be amped up to play temporary spoiler to their AL East rivals.
The Yankees -- who reduced their magic number to one after winning their series finale against the Red Sox on Sunday -- are catching a hot Toronto team.
One more New York win or Boston loss will knock the Red Sox out of the postseason chase and clinch a playoff berth for the Yanks, who may find themselves celebrating at Rogers Centre very soon. Then again, a second successive AL East title and home-field advantage throughout the AL Championship Series are attractive achievements to shoot for, so don't expect any sort of letup north of the border.
"One game at a time," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "Keep trying to play good baseball and don't try to do too much. We have to stay within ourselves."
The Yankees did that on Sunday night, watching their legendary closer, Mariano Rivera, blow a save before coming back to tie the game in the ninth against Boston's closer, Jonathan Papelbon, en route to a victory.
Gearing up for October, anyone?
"It was a playoff atmosphere out there for us," Rodriguez said. "I'm not going to say it was a must-win, but it was a very important win for us. To come back was very important."
And now the Yankees will have to take care of business against the Jays, who won't figure to lay down at home. Toronto, with its homer-hitting bats in tow, has won four straight, having finished a sweep of Baltimore over the weekend. That's why Yankees starter Phil Hughes said the team needs to keep its focus intense.
"We know we still have to win these next games coming up," Hughes said. "It's not like we're a lock. To be honest, we'd like to win the division as well. We have to play these games and see what happens."
To secure the win for the Yankees on Monday, starter A.J. Burnett will need to figure out a way to do what pitchers have struggled to do all season against the Blue Jays -- keep them in the ballpark. This season, the Jays have had Burnett's number across three starts, during which he has gone 0-2 with a 7.27 ERA. In those outings, the Blue Jays launched five of the 22 homers Burnett has allowed this season.
But the Blue Jays haven't gone easy on anyone in that department. Toronto is three homers shy of matching its single-season club record of 244, set in 2000. That mark is tied for seventh in Major League history.
Yankees: Tighter pitching a priority
The Yankees got a quality start from Hughes on Sunday night, setting the club up for its dramatic victory. The start also turned the tide for the team's starting pitchers, who had allowed 34 runs over their previous four games. The starters allowed 10 earned runs in the first two games of the weekend series. To win their 28th World Series, the Yanks know their starters will need to begin pitching better in a hurry.
"It's simple -- it starts with our starting pitching," Rodriguez said on Saturday. "They set the tone for us. They always have, and that's the key to winning games. Starting pitching sets the tone, we play good defense, then we grind out some good at-bats and get timely hitting."
Blue Jays: Rzepczynski not his best at home
Against Burnett, the Jays will turn to Marc Rzepczynski, who is fresh off his first victory after enduring a six-start winless streak. The lefty has actually put up better numbers on the road than at Rogers Centre, where he owns a 6.15 ERA, but he has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his last three starts -- two of which came at home. Rzepczynski may be able to corral the Yanks, who have dropped seven straight games against left-handed starters.
The Blue Jays are 36-32 this season against the AL East. ... Toronto holds an 8-7 edge in the season series against New York. ... Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter saw his 14-game hitting streak come to an end with an 0-for-4 performance on Sunday. Jeter has 42 career hit streaks of at least 10 games, good for fifth on baseball's all-time list.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.