Already owners of the best record in the majors since the All-Star break, the New York Yankees delivered their best offensive performance of the second half in their last game.
New York (61-38) has taken over the best record in the AL by going 10-1 since the All-Star break. While their first week of the second half featured three wins by one run and three more by two runs, the Yankees were much more convincing in an 11-4 victory over the Rays (54-46) in the opener of a nine-game road trip Monday night.
Nick Swisher(notes) homered twice and drove in three runs, Derek Jeter(notes) had three hits and scored twice and Johnny Damon(notes) had three RBIs as New York recorded its highest run total since an 11-7 win at Atlanta on June 25.
“We wanted to make sure we took the first one,” Swisher said. “After the break, I think the one thing we stressed was come out of the gate good, and that’s what we’re doing. We feel confident, and I’ll tell you what, if we keep playing like this, it’s going to be a really, really, fun season.”
The strong night at the plate has to be encouraging, but the Yankees have had problems generating offense against Kazmir (4-6, 6.69 ERA).
The left-hander is 4-1 with a 1.49 ERA over his last seven starts against the Yankees, and 4-2 with a 1.45 ERA in eight career starts at Tropicana Field.
Jeter is 4 for 31 (.129) with nine strikeouts lifetime against Kazmir, and Alex Rodriguez(notes) is 2 for 21 (.095) with six strikeouts. Jorge Posada(notes) has struck out seven times in 22 at-bats against Kazmir, but he’s also delivered 10 hits (.455), including a home run and three doubles.
While Kazmir has handled New York well, he’s had a tough 2009 campaign. He’s 1-3 with a 9.50 ERA in seven home starts and 0-3 with a 7.50 ERA in seven outings overall since his last win May 9, a drought that included more than a month on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury.
Kazmir gave up five runs in six innings Thursday, not nearly good enough to keep up with Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle(notes), who pitched the majors’ first perfect game in five years to get the 5-0 victory.
The Yankees don’t expect to get a perfect game from Sabathia (10-6, 3.67), but they have to be confident in his ability to beat Tampa Bay. The left-hander is 7-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 12 career starts against the Rays, including 2-1 with a 3.77 ERA in six games on the road.
Sabathia gave up three runs and nine hits in seven innings of a 6-3 victory over Oakland on Thursday.
The Rays, 30-16 at home, have lost a season high-tying three straight at Tropicana Field after winning their previous nine there. They’re a season high-tying 7 1/2 games out of first place after never trailing by more than five games en route to winning the AL East and making an improbable run to the World Series last year.
Rays manager Joe Maddon concedes his team faces an uphill battle to repeat as division champions and return to the playoffs, but he knows the race is far from over.
“I hate to be disappointing. It’s just another game, and we have to come back tomorrow and play tomorrow,” Maddon said. “I don’t really apply the same amount of weight that other people do. I really believe in the one-day-at-a-time concept.”