The New York Yankees are back over .500 for the first time in more than three weeks. They hope to continue their recent surge against a division rival that might still carry some bad blood from the teams’ last meeting.
The Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays open a four-game series in New York on Monday in the first game between the clubs since their last set ended in controversy.
After losing eight of its last 10 games in June, New York (45-44) has won eight of 12 in July to move over .500 for the first time since it was 36-35 on June 22. The Yankees took three of four games at Tampa Bay over the weekend for their third straight series win.
Derek Jeter went 2-for-4 with his seventh home run of the season and drove in three runs to lead New York to a 7-6 victory in the finale on Sunday.
“It’s huge,” third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. “We have to feel like we want to win series - two out of three, three out of four. Anything else is not what we’re looking for.”
While the Yankees are focused on their recent hot streak, the Blue Jays (45-46) might be hung up on the ninth inning of the teams’ last meeting May 30. Rodriguez was on first base with two outs when Jorge Posada hit a popup to the left side of the infield. Rodriguez shouted at Toronto third baseman Howie Clark, who backed off at the last second as the ball dropped for an RBI single.
The Yankees scored two more runs in the inning en route to a 10-5 win, but not before Blue Jays manager John Gibbons came onto the field to argue with Rodriguez and Yankees third base coach Larry Bowa.
“That’s not Yankee pride right there,” Gibbons said after the game - the Blue Jays’ only loss in four contests against the Yankees this year. “That’s not the way they play. I thought it was bush league.”
Rodriguez didn’t seem concerned with the play.
“Honestly, I couldn’t care less,” he responded. “They have their opinions. We’re looking not to be swept.”
Toronto will look to avenge that loss after earning a split in a four-game series at division-leading Boston with a 2-1 win Sunday. The Blue Jays have played 14 of their last 17 games on the road, going 6-8 without a pair of back-to-back victories in that stretch.
“We have to win series,” center fielder Vernon Wells told the team’s official Web site. “It’s not a wasted trip, but we didn’t come here and do what we needed to do.”
Josh Towers (4-5, 5.07 ERA) gets the start for the Blue Jays, who have won each of the right-hander’s last four outings. Towers is 2-0 with a 4.63 ERA in that stretch, which includes his best start of the year.
He held Cleveland to three hits in eight innings on July 8, but didn’t receive a decision in Toronto’s 1-0 victory.
Towers is 2-7 with a 4.62 ERA in 12 career games - eight starts - against the Yankees. Jeter is 12-for-32 (.375) with a home run against him while Rodriguez, batting .167 (8-for-48) in his last 12 games, is just 4-for-23 (.174) with two homers.
Kei Igawa (2-2, 7.14) will start for New York in search of his first win since April 28. The rookie left-hander gave up eight runs in his next outing and was sent to the minors to work on his mechanics.
In three starts since his return to New York, he is 0-1 with a 6.19 ERA. He gave up five runs in five innings against Minnesota on July 5, failing to register a decision in the Yankees’ 7-6 victory. But manager Joe Torre made a special effort to watch Igawa’s latest bullpen session, and he liked what he saw.
“Hopefully, that carries over to Monday,” Torre said. “I’m looking forward to Monday.”
Igawa has never faced the Blue Jays.