A pair of superstars ensured the New York Yankees would begin play Thursday night with sole possession of the AL East lead.
The Yankees (85-63) took a one-half game lead over Baltimore in the East by sweeping Wednesday’s doubleheader. Ichiro Suzuki went 7 for 8 in the two games, delivering a go-ahead single in the eighth inning of a 2-1 win in the nightcap and a key catch in a 4-2 victory earlier that afternoon.
“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 raised his average 29 points in the twinbill to .317 since being acquired by the Yankees before the trade deadline. “I’m very sad the day is over.”
Jeter, who was given the first game off to rest his ailing ankle, notched his 200th hit of the season - the eighth of his career - in the first inning of the nightcap. He played shortstop for the first time since Sept. 12, and is hitting .390 (23 for 59) during a 13-game hitting streak.
Suzuki and Jeter will try to maintain their respective offensive surges to back Hughes (15-12, 3.96 ERA), who will try to win his third consecutive start.The right-hander had one of his best outings of the season last Thursday at Fenway Park, scattering five hits while striking out seven in 7 1-3 innings of a 2-0 win over the Red Sox.
“We can’t be thinking about scoreboard watching or worrying about every single game,” he told the Yankees official website after that victory. “We have to go out and win every game that we control.”
This will be the third time this year Hughes will pitch on six days’ rest, having gone 0-1 with a 3.09 ERA in the previous two. Hughes had one brutal outing against the Blue Jays - getting roughed up for seven runs and nine hits in an Aug. 12 loss at Rogers Centre - but went 1-1 in the other three starts this year while allowing five runs in 19 1-3 innings.
Toronto (66-81) assured itself of a second straight non-winning season and appears destined for its first losing year since going 75-87 in 2009. The Blue Jays have dropped six of eight and are 23-38 since the All-Star break as they have fallen into the AL East cellar.
Aaron Laffey (3-5, 4.55 ERA) has done little in two starts since rejoining the rotation, allowing five runs and eight hits in 8 1-3 innings without receiving a decision. The left-hander was reached for three runs and four hits in 3 2-3 innings - his shortest start this year - Saturday against Boston.
Laffey lost his only start against the Yankees this year, giving up a three-run homer among five runs overall in 5 2-3 innings of a 5-2 loss Aug. 11. He had a relief stint of 2 2-3 innings Aug. 27, serving up a two-run homer to Nick Swisher as his only hit allowed.
Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who has team highs of 40 homers and 102 RBIs, is 8 for 22 with four doubles and one homer versus Hughes but is uncertain for this game after sitting out Wednesday’s doubleheader with a sore big toe. Shortstop Yunel Escobar will complete his three-game suspension Thursday for wearing eye-black stickers containing a homophobic slur written in Spanish.
Yankees closer Rafael Soriano likely will not be available after throwing 32 pitches to record his 41st and 42nd saves Wednesday.