The chants of ”Ich-i-ro” swelled in the eighth inning as the wiry batter with the slashing swing walked to home plate. With six hits already in this doubleheader, fans expected something special from the Japanese star.
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Surprising even himself, Ichiro Suzuki delivered.
Suzuki had a go-ahead single in the eighth inning to help the New York Yankees complete a doubleheader sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays with a 2-1 win Wednesday night that ensured they remained atop the AL East.
The 10-time All-Star’s performance helped New York win its fourth straight and guaranteed it will end the night with at least a half-game division lead, pending on the outcome of Baltimore’s game against Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners.
”I haven’t done anything different today so I don’t know what the difference was,” Suzuki said through a translator.
The 38-year-old Suzuki made a difficult catch with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of the opener to preserve a lead for Andy Pettitte in a 4-2 victory. He went 7-for-8 in the two games and stole four of New York’s seven bases in the finale.
”I came in the middle of the season and I always wanted to contribute, wanted to help in this pennant race and today is a great day that I was able to help,” said Suzuki, who was acquired in a trade from Seattle in late July. ”I’m very sad the day is over.”
He had three hits in the opener batting leadoff in place of Derek Jeter, who rested his sore ankle in the first game of the day-night doubleheader. Jeter started at shortstop for the first time in a week in the nightcap and got his 200th hit on Ricky Romero’s first pitch.
The single to center tied Jeter with Lou Gehrig for most 200-hit seasons for New York with eight.
Feeling nervous and out of sync at shortstop after the long layoff, Jeter was most impressed with Suzuki’s day.
”That’s tough to do,” Jeter said. ”Doubleheader. I don’t think I’ve ever done that in a doubleheader. I’ve been on the other side of it maybe an 0-for-8.”
Rafael Soriano closed both games, notching his 41st and 42nd saves, the first time he saved two in one day.
The Blue Jays, playing their first doubleheader against the Yankees since 1986, were without shortstop Yunel Escobar, who began a three-game suspension for wearing eye black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish during a game last weekend against Boston.
Toronto dropped to 66-81, guaranteeing it will not have a winning record this season.
With the score 1-all, Curtis Granderson was walked by Steve Delabar (4-3) to open the eighth. He moved up on Jayson Nix’s sacrifice and stole third. With two outs, Suzuki guided an opposite field hit to left for the lead. Suzuki stole two bases in the inning.
”It was just an unbelievable day,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Cody Eppley (1-2) got one out for his first win since April 27, 2011, for Texas against Toronto.
David Phelps followed Pettitte’s sparkling five-inning return to the mound from a broken lower left leg by pitching into the seventh. He gave up one run and three hits.
Romero remained tied for the Blue Jays record with 13 straight losses and walked five to up his AL-leading total to 99. It was his third game in which he allowed one run and didn’t win – two no-decisions.
”I had a good delivery,” Romero said. ”That’s one of the things I battled myself all year.”
Adeiny Hechavarria’s RBI single in the second after Phelps walked was just the 24th run Toronto has scored in Romero’s last 13 starts.
In the bottom half, Chris Stewart drove in a run with a double to left that bounced over the wall and prevented Suzuki from scoring from first. Suzuki had singled and Nix was thrown out trying to score on a strong throw by center fielder Colby Rasmus. Romero had walked two to set up the tying run.
Romero was finished after allowing seven hits in six innings. He struck out five.
In the opener, Pettitte (4-3) gave up four hits in his first start since a hot shot off the bat of Cleveland’s Casey Kotchman broke his left fibula on June 27.
”He gave us everything that we asked for,” Girardi said.
Pettitte struggled a bit with his command, walking two, but kept the Blue Jays from hitting the ball hard with a biting breaking ball. He put runners on in each of his first four innings and had a runner on third in the second through fourth innings. But he got timely groundouts in the second, third – a double play — and fourth to avoid trouble. Then had a six-pitch fifth to earn the win.
”My arm feels great. My break area feels great. I’m a hundred percent,” Pettitte said. ”Just real happy with how my arm is feeling. More than anything it’s my legs. I just got to get my legs back in shape.”
With the 40-year-old lefty on a 75-pitch limit, Girardi mixed and matched liberally, using six relievers.
Clay Rapada, Derek Lowe, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan held Toronto scoreless through seven innings. Then Robertson gave up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson and a run-scoring double to Omar Vziquel in the eighth.
Soriano relieved with two outs and runners on second and third. He walked Anthony Gose after a foul drive that landed about a foot foul down the left-field line. Rajai Davis followed with a sinking liner to left field that Suzuki caught, pulling the glove to his stomach to protect the ball.
”I’m glad I don’t have a big belly because if I did it might’ve hit the belly and popped out,” Suzuki said through a translator.
Toronto’s 45-year-old Vizquel had two hits to move past Babe Ruth for 41st on the career list at 2,874.
Robinson Cano had an RBI double and Granderson a sacrifice fly in the opener … Toronto’s Henderson Alvarez (9-13) allowed five hits in seven innings and struck out a career-high seven. … Toronto DH Edwin Encarnacion (sore right big toe) did not play in the either game. … To make room for Pettitte on the 40-man roster, the Yankees recalled RHP Dellin Betances from the minors and placed him on the 60-day DL.