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Swisher's slam helps Yankees beat Blue Jays

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- The Yankees often said they were not panicking during a month-long slump, and now they seem to have regained their confidence.

It helps when the Yankees can get brilliant performances from Ichiro Suzuki, who continued his recent tear with three RBIs in a 10-7 victory on Thursday that completed a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays.

Slumping Nick Swisher hit his seventh career grand slam during a seven-run fourth that proved vital when the Yankee bullpen made things interesting in the late innings. But he deflected any talk of his big hit to discuss the mood in the clubhouse and Ichiro.

Ichiro went 9-for-12 in the three-game series. He followed up his first four-hit game as a Yankee by driving in New York's first three runs and raised his batting average in pinstripes to .321.

"Baseball is a tough game," Ichiro said through an interpreter. "That's how I feel right now. I haven't changed my approach to the game. It's the same approach, same routine but different results."

"I'm so happy for him because he's a guy that came over here to this team to this organization and he's done everything that we've asked him to do," Swisher added. "He's done it with professionalism and he's done it amazingly. To be able to see him having all the success that he's having, I couldn't have been happier for him."

Swisher helped contribute to the mellow atmosphere of a winning clubhouse by hitting his first home run since Aug. 27. Before driving a 2-2 fastball from reliever Brad Lincoln over the right-field wall, Swisher had 10 hits in his previous 71 at-bats, including 23 strikeouts.

"In a situation like that, all you're trying to do is get one run in," Swisher said. "I was able to get a fastball over the middle of the plate and kind of get the barrel on it and you know Yankee Stadium, if you go to right field, that definitely helps out a little bit."

Swisher's third grand slam of the year gave the Yankees five straight wins for the first time since late June. It also gave them 10 wins in their last 14 games and a one-game lead over the idle Orioles in the AL East heading into a weekend series with Oakland.

"It's nice because I feel that we're getting that inner confidence back that we lost

there for a little bit," Swisher said. "Regardless of the situation, whatever team we're playing, we feel like we're going to go out there and get the job done. Anytime you have that sort of mindset, whether you go out and win the game or not, it definitely gives that added advantage going into the game."

Added manager Joe Girardi: "Real encouraged and we need to play good baseball because the other teams behind us are doing the same thing. So it's a good thing. If you're going to heat up, this is the time of year to do it."

Phil Hughes (16-12) capitalized on the offense to pick up his team-best 16th win. He struggled with command at times, allowing four runs and four hits while tying a season high with nine strikeouts.

"It was a nice night to get a lot of runs," Hughes said. "I definitely needed it."

Derek Lowe pitched two scoreless innings, and Cory Wade gave up three hits, including a solo home run to Kelly Johnson, while recording one out in the eighth. Two more runs scored in the eighth while Joba Chamberlain was pitching, although they were charged to Wade.

David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth for his second save.

Aaron Laffey (3-6) was charged with the loss for the Blue Jays, who have lost seven of their last nine and clinched their second losing season in seven years.

"Aaron had a tough time commanding the fastball on any kind of consistent basis and the number of walks indicated that," Toronto manager John Farrell said. "Seemingly anytime we score, they answered right back, and that's the biggest thing."

Laffey gave up two hits to Ichiro but otherwise held the Yankees hitless. He was undone by giving up a season-worst five walks, and he was charged with three runs in two-plus innings.

Hughes had nine strikeouts through four innings, one shy of his career high, but also reached 100 pitches when he allowed a two-run home run to Moises Sierra with two outs in the fifth.

The Yankees rallied from an early 2-0 deficit as Ichiro led off the third with his eighth home run and fourth since joining the team. It also was his eighth hit in his last nine at-bats.

In the Yankees' fourth, Russell Martin led off with a 10-pitch walk, stole second and advanced to third when second baseman Johnson's bobbled Curtis Granderson's ground ball.

Casey McGehee walked and Ichiro followed with a two-run double that knocked out Laffey.

The Blue Jays opened the scoring with one out in the second inning as Adam Lind scored on Johnson's double to left field that eluded Ichiro. Hughes avoided further trouble by striking out J.P. Arencibia and getting rookie Adeiny Hechavarria on a groundout.

Hughes encountered significant trouble with two outs in the third after hitting Colby Rasmus in the foot and giving up a base hit to Edwin Encarnacion that deflected off Jayson Nix's glove. He fell behind Lind 3-1 and walked the Toronto first baseman, prompting a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

Hughes allowed a second run by hitting Sierra in the lower back but used his curveball to strike out Johnson and leave the bases loaded.

NOTES: Yankee left-hander Andy Pettitte did not report any pain or difficulties following his return to the mound on Wednesday afternoon. "I feel good," Pettitte said. "It's good soreness in all the right spots. I was able to do my work and I'll probably run a little bit tomorrow and do my bullpen. I did my work with the bike today, so it's good." Pettitte had a 75-pitch limit on Wednesday, but on Monday in Minnesota, that is expected to increase to 85 or 90. ... First baseman Mark Teixeira (calf) took some swings in the batting cage below the Yankee dugout. He also said that he will play in instructional league games in Tampa on Monday. "I'd love to get in some games," Teixeira said. "That's why I'm going to Tampa because I need to be able to play in some games. Just being in game situations where I leg out a double, I dive in the hole on a groundball and run to first base. Those are needs I need to do in a real game situation because we can't try it out in a playoff game and have me blow out right away. That wouldn't be good for anybody." ... Encarnacion returned to the lineup after sitting out two games with a toe injury. ... Farrell said that he will sit down with Yunel Escobar before Friday's game with Tampa Bay. Escobar was suspended three games for writing an anti-gay slur in Spanish on his eye black last Saturday. "As this event unfolded, I think he began to get an understanding of the scope of it. That wasn't the case at the time,'' Farrell said Thursday. ''Otherwise, I'm hopeful he wouldn't have even thought of doing this. Unfortunately we're having to deal with it. Yunel and everyone else in this uniform has had to deal with it. And it hasn't made anybody happy. I can honestly tell you that.'' Escobar apologized during a 30-minute press conference Tuesday, saying he meant it as a joke.
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