The New York Yankees answered the skeptics who claimed their surge into playoff contention came against lesser teams by taking three of four games from the reigning American League champions.
Now the Yankees take to the road for a three-game series against the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels, hoping to keep the pressure on the AL East and wild card leaders.
The Yankees (70-54) have gone 27-11 since the All-Star break, including a 16-8 mark against Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Baltimore and the Chicago White Sox, plus a 5-2 record against Toronto, which is barely over .500. But New York, which begins a seven-game road trip with this contest, showed some championship mettle in taking the final three games of a four-game series against Detroit, capped by a 9-3 victory Sunday.
Johnny Damon went 3-for-4 with a solo homer and Wilson Betemit - playing shortstop as Derek Jeter got a rare day off - added four RBIs as New York closed within four games of Boston in the AL East and remained one-half game behind Seattle for the wild card.
“We have guys who understand this is crunch time, guys who know how to flip the switch,” said Damon, who is batting .360 (31-for-86) in his last 21 games. “Winning three of four from Detroit - that’s no small task.”
Rookie Phil Hughes (2-1, 4.44 ERA) now must try to slow down the Angels, who are fourth in the AL with a .283 batting average and sixth in runs despite being 28th in the majors with only 88 home runs.
The 21-year-old rookie right-hander did not register a decision Wednesday, when he was reached for three runs and five hits in a 6-3, 10-inning loss to Baltimore.
Both of Hughes’ wins have come on the road, where he has a 0.73 ERA in two starts after conceding just one run and four hits while striking out 12 in 12 1-3 innings. This will be his first-ever appearance against the Angels.
Los Angeles (72-51) wrapped up a 3-4 road trip after a 3-1 victory over the Red Sox on Sunday to salvage a four-game split of the series. Joe Saunders allowed one run in 7 2-3 strong innings, giving the Angels some positive momentum for the cross country flight prior to a stretch where it plays 17 of its next 20 at home.
The Angels have the best home record in the majors at 40-17, but trail the Yankees and Mariners for the most home wins with 41.
“We came from Toronto losing the series,” said Los Angeles closer Francisco Rodriguez, who bounced back from a blown save opportunity Saturday to notch his 31st on Sunday. “We wanted to either win or split this series so it was huge for us.”
Dustin Moseley (4-2, 4.84) tries again for his first win since re-joining the rotation on July 29. The right-hander worked in and out of trouble Wednesday at Toronto, but gave up two runs and nine hits in five innings of the 2-1 loss.
Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero went 8-for-17 in the series against the Blue Jays, and is hitting .305 in 49 lifetime games versus the Yankees, including .324 (24-for-74) with 23 RBIs in his last 19 games against them.