KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—The New York Yankees’ struggling starters are beginning to put it together—just in time for a big series against Boston.
After struggling with his mechanics the last few weeks, Javier Vazquez found his groove Wednesday and pitched New York to its second straight shutout.
“I got my confidence back a little bit,” Vazquez said after throwing seven impressive innings in a 3-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals. “Hopefully, I’ll get on a roll now.”
Derek Jeter homered and doubled twice, and Tony Clark also connected for the Yankees. They lead the AL East by four games over Boston and have a day off before beginning a three-game series against the Red Sox on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
“We’ve obviously got more work ahead of us,” manager Joe Torre said. “Going into the weekend, we feel good about ourselves, and it’s just a matter of who’s going to play better those games.”
Jason Giambi went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his second game back from the disabled list. He is hitless in his last 28 major league at-bats, the longest slump of his career.
Vazquez (14-9) allowed just three hits and four walks, striking out seven for his first win in six starts since beating Toronto 11-4 on Aug. 6. He was 0-3 with a 9.99 ERA in his previous five outings.
“When you struggle a little bit, you get away from what’s been successful,” he said. “I was trying to hit the corners too much, and I wasn’t aggressive enough.”
But Torre thought Vazquez might have been a little too aggressive during his winless streak.
“He didn’t try to do too much today,” Torre said. “There were times when he tried to throw it a little too hard, and he got wild.”
The Yankees posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since Aug. 27-28, 2002, at Boston, a big boost for a rotation that has struggled all season. Mike Mussina gave up only three hits and struck out 11 in eight innings of a 4-0 victory over the Royals on Tuesday night.
That gem came on the heels of New York’s 17-8 loss Monday. But now Kansas City has not scored in 19 innings.
“It doesn’t feel so much frustrating as it feels like it’s been this kind of season,” said infielder Desi Relaford, who went 0-for-3 with a walk. “We’ve just been really inconsistent.”
Jeter led off the game with a double and scored on Gary Sheffield’s groundout for a 1-0 lead, extending his hitting and scoring streaks to 11 games. That’s the Yankees’ longest scoring streak since Bernie Williams scored in 13 consecutive games in 2000. It also matched Jeter’s career high.
Jeter doubled in the third and led off the sixth with a long homer to left-center. He was at the plate in the top of the fifth when the game was halted for a 25-minute rain delay.
Kansas City starter Darrell May (9-18) had a season-high eight strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings but still added to his major league-leading loss total. He gave up three runs and six hits—five for extra bases—and three walks.
“That’s not the best,” May said. “But I feel like I couldn’t have thrown any better.”
The rain began falling hard at the start of the fifth inning, just before Clark’s one-out solo homer gave New York a 2-0 lead. Jeter was at the plate, with two outs and Miguel Cairo at first, when play was suspended.
Jeter didn’t see another pitch in the fifth. May picked Cairo off first when play resumed, but Cairo eluded the tag at second for a stolen base—only to be called out when he came off the bag and was tagged out by second baseman Ruben Gotay.
Jeter’s leadoff shot in the sixth cleared the fountains in left-center and bounced off the base of the Jumbotron at Kauffman Stadium, putting the Yankees up 3-0.
Jeter seemed nonchalant about the homer, estimated at 423 feet.
“I hit it pretty good,” he said with a shrug.
Torre, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to tell Yankees special adviser Reggie Jackson about it.
“Wait until Reggie hears about this,” he said. “He talks about putting it in the water. This one went over the water.”
The Yankees improved to 35-10 against left-handed starters. … Royals SS Angel Berroa went 0-for-4, snapping his career-long hitting streak at 16 games. … New York will make up an April 13 rainout against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at home on Sept. 23. To accommodate the makeup game, baseball moved up the start of the Yankees’ three-game series with Toronto to Monday, when New York had a day off. The series had been scheduled to start Tuesday. … Kansas City outfielder Matt Stairs signed a $1.2 million, one-year contract extension for 2005. … Kansas City is 1-8 in its last nine games against the Yankees.