Four months ago, it seemed certain that the New York Yankees’ streak of nine consecutive division titles would come to an end. That’s not the case anymore.
The surging Yankees look to continue to move closer to the top of the AL East when they open a four-game home series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night.
New York (88-64) has won four straight and 12 of 14 to pull within 1 1/2 games of first-place Boston. It’s the closest the Yankees have been to first since trailing the Red Sox by one game on April 19.
“We’re right there and I mean we want to win it,” said Andy Pettitte, who earned his 200th win in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Baltimore.
The Yankees have won the East every year since 1998, but on May 29, were tied with Tampa Bay for the worst record in the division, 14 1/2 games back of Boston.
“Four months ago, nobody gave us credit. And now we’re close to winning the division,” said Mariano Rivera, who got his 30th save Wednesday.
New York, which owns a 5 1/2-game lead over Detroit for the wild card, was 5 1/2 games back of the Red Sox on Saturday but has gotten a big lift from Toronto, which swept three games from Boston to start the week.
The Yankees have won eight of their last 11 against the Blue Jays (77-75). After this series, New York closes out its season on the road with a three-game series at Tampa Bay starting Tuesday, followed by a three-game set at Baltimore.
Derek Jeter has helped power New York’s surge, batting .384 (12-for-31) with two home runs and five RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak. The Yankee captain, however, is 3-for-22 (.136) in his last six games against the Blue Jays.
Jeter and the Yankees will face a tough test in Toronto’s Roy Halladay (15-7, 3.82 ERA) as they try to continue their push for the division lead. Halladay is 10-4 with a 3.10 ERA in 25 games - 23 starts - against the Yankees, and 7-1 with a 2.15 ERA in his last 11 starts against them.
The right-hander had been struggling to earn a victory, going winless in five starts since Aug. 14, but gave up one run and five hits in seven innings of an 8-3 win over Baltimore on Saturday.
“That’s how the game is sometimes,” Halladay said. “You just kind of hang in there, don’t get carried away and get too frustrated with runs like that.”
Halladay pitched seven innings of one-run ball with three walks and six strikeouts in Toronto’s 3-2, 10-inning loss at Yankee Stadium on July 17. He’s 2-0 with a 0.42 ERA in his last three starts in The Bronx.
The right-hander, though, will be looking for his first road win since June 25, going 0-5 with a 3.92 ERA in eight starts during that span.
Halladay will be facing a slumping Alex Rodriguez on Friday, as the Yankees’ cleanup hitter went 0-for-4 on Wednesday and is 3-for-29 (.103) with no extra-base hits and 12 strikeouts in his last eight games.
The Yankees will counter Halladay with fellow sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang (18-7, 3.82), who looks to bounce back from a rough outing.
Matching up with fellow Cy Young contender Josh Beckett on Saturday, Wang allowed five runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 10-1 loss at Boston. The defeat snapped a five-start winning streak for Wang, who has not lost consecutive starts since his first two outings of the year - April 24 and 29.
Wang tries to get back on track at Yankee Stadium, where he has yielded one run and six hits over 14 1-3 innings in winning his last two starts. The right-hander is 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA in his last 10 home starts - the only blemish in that span coming against the Blue Jays.
Wang was pounded for a season-high eight runs and nine hits in a season-low 2 2-3 innings of a 15-4 loss to Toronto on Aug. 8. In his other start against the Blue Jays this season, he gave up three runs in 7 1-3 innings of a 3-2 defeat July 19. He’s 3-2 with a 4.74 ERA in six career starts against Toronto.
New York leads the season series with Toronto 8-6.