Ichiro Suzuki is streaking, and so are the New York Yankees.
Suzuki homered to start a comeback, then hit a go-ahead, two-run double in a seven-run fourth inning capped by Nick Swisher’s grand slam as the Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays 10-7 Thursday night to open a one-game AL East lead over idle Baltimore.
After struggling for much of the summer, the Yankees have won five in a row, their longest winning string since June 23 to 27.
"Having this momentum come at this point in the season, I think that’s the Yankees," Suzuki said through a translator. "And I think that’s what makes this team special."
Acquired from Seattle on July 23, Suzuki is hitting .321 since joining New York, including 9 for 12 with three doubles, a homer, four RBI and four steals in the three-game sweep of the Blue Jays. He’s batting .362 against lefties.
"Every time he comes up, the crowd gets electric," Swisher said.
Suzuki thinks he knows why.
"You could say that I’m surprised, but maybe when I was with the Mariners in right field, I did try and communicate with those fans in right field, maybe make some friends," he said.
While the Yankees have won seven of their past eight, so have the second-place Orioles. New York, which led the division by 10 games in mid-July, hosts Oakland this weekend while Baltimore is at Boston.
"When we go on these rolls a little bit, it just kind of feels like everyone just mellows out. It’s real quiet in here. It’s real chill. It’s not as hectic," Swisher said.
New York was down 2-0 before Suzuki’s solo home run in the third. He hooked a based-loaded double to right in the fourth on an 0-2 pitch, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead and extending Suzuki’s spurt to nine hits in 10 at-bats. That chased starter Aaron Laffey (3-6), and reliever Brad Lincoln loaded the bases with a walk to Jayson Nix. Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single for a 14-game hitting streak, and Swisher sent a 96-mph fastball into the right-field seats for his seventh career slam and third this season.
"I feel that we’re getting that inner confidence back that we lost there for a little bit," Swisher said. "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."
Phil Hughes (16-12) won his third straight start, allowing four runs and four hits in five innings with nine strikeouts. Hughes struck out Kelly Johnson with the bases loaded to end the third, then tied a major league record in the fourth by striking out four batters: J.P. Arencibia, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose and Brett Lawrie. Hechavarria reached on Russell Martin ‘s passed ball.
Backed by an 8-2 lead, Hughes also walked three and hit Moises Sierra with the bases loaded in the third. He allowed an RBI double in the second to Johnson.
"Changeup command came and went. Fastball was kind of all over the place," Hughes said. "It was a nice night to get a lot of runs because I definitely needed it."
Toronto trailed 10-4 before a three-run eighth against Cory Wade and Joba Chamberlain. David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth for his second save this season and first since May 8.
New York’s big fourth inning started when Martin walked and took second on a delayed steal, Curtis Granderson reached when Johnson fumbled his grounder to second for an error and Casey McGehee loaded the bases for Suzuki with a walk.
"That’s a deep lineup and they’re explosive, as you saw tonight," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said.
Toronto dropped to 66-82, ensuring the Blue Jays’ second straight losing season and third in four years. Laffey gave up five runs (four earned), five walks and two hits in three-plus innings, dropping to 0-4 with a 5.45 ERA in his last eight appearances. There were 13 walks, eight by Toronto pitchers, and Blue Jays batters struck out 15 times.
"It’s just one of those days that’s pretty disappointing," Laffey said.
NOTES: New York (86-63) matched its season high of 23 games over .500. … Former Yankees manager Joe Torre was on hand for a pregame tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, who died Aug. 6, accompanying the composer’s wife, Terre. Hamlisch was a friend of Torre’s and an occasional guest in his Yankee Stadium office. … The only other Yankees pitcher with four Ks in an inning was A.J. Burnett against Colorado on June 24 last year. … The Yankees have 10 slams this season, tying the team record set in 1987 and matched in 2010 and 2011. Swisher had slams April 21 at Boston and Aug. 13 vs. Texas.