Soriano's smash keeping Yankees rolling

Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Alfonso Soriano has felt comfortable in the past facing knuckleballs. He just had not run into knuckleballs thrown as hard as R.A. Dickey's.
It took two at-bats Wednesday for Soriano to get accustomed to Dickey's knuckleball, which often reaches the high 70s and occasionally hits 80 mph.
Once Soriano became comfortable, he drove the pitch over the left field wall for a tiebreaking, two-run home run with two outs in the eighth inning, lifting the New York Yankees to a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
"It's very hard," Soriano said. "I like to hit knuckleballs, but it's a little different because he throws hard ones. So the guys that I faced before, they throw knuckleballs but not that hard."
Soriano was referencing Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who often threw under 70 mph. Against Wakefield's softer pitches, Soriano was 12-for-38 (.316) with four home runs.
"I just tried to swing at a good pitch to hit," Soriano said. "The whole game, he (had) been throwing me knuckleballs, good ones, a lot of movement. Finally, the last one I got a good one to hit, and that's good to take the lead."
Soriano's ninth home run since re-joining the Yankees in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on July 26 lifted New York to its fourth straight win. The Yankees also have won 10 of their last 13 games and are within four games of the American League's second wild spot.
Soriano's opportunity arose after Robinson Cano singled to right field off Dickey (9-12), who to that point had allowed five hits and eight baserunners.
Soriano came into the decisive at-bat 2-for-8 off Dickey but hitless in 17 at-bats overall after winning AL Player of the Week honors. He batted .488 a week ago, which included a five-game stretch that saw him go 15-for-22 (.682) with five home runs and 18 RBIs.
That created a sense for Soriano and the Yankees that he might be due for a big hit, and when he saw the 1-1 knuckleball, he easily hit it over the left field wall.
"As soon as Cano got the hit, this is a chance now to do something impressive because every game is very important for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He was due. As hot as he had been, he was due."
Soriano's latest home run came on a night that saw the Yankees celebrate Ichiro Suzuki's 4,000th career hit, counting his time in Japan and the United States. Suzuki reached the milestone with a first-inning single to left field.
Play briefly stopped as teammates celebrated at first base before Suzuki bowed to the crowd.
"It was supposed to be a number that was special to me, but what happened tonight I wasn't expecting when my teammates came out to first base, it was very special, and to see the fans, I wasn't expecting so much joy and happiness from them," Suzuki said through a translator. "Not just the number, all the things that happened with it was very special."
"It's an amazing feat," Girardi added. "Obviously it didn't bother him. He wasn't thinking about it because he gets it out of the way pretty quick tonight. But it's just a testament to how hard he's worked, how long he's been in the game, how he stays healthy and the way he goes about his business. He's a great player. He's been a great player for a long time."
Soriano's home run made a winner out of David Huff (1-0), who highlighted his five scoreless innings with a nifty behind-the-back catch in the seventh on a sacrifice attempt.
"It's awesome, unbelievable," Huff said of Soriano. "That guy is unreal."
Huff came on after spot starter Adam Warren allowed two runs and four hits in three-plus innings. The Yankees projected him for 75 pitches, but he threw 61.
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth for his 37th save and first at home since July 28. After two blown saves, he helped himself with a key pickoff for the second out.
Besides Soriano's home run, the Yankees scored their other runs on Austin Romine's sacrifice fly in the second and Curtis Granderson's RBI single in the third.
Josh Thole homered and Munenori Kawasaki added an RBI single for the Blue Jays, who have dropped 12 straight games at Yankee Stadium. Toronto has lost four straight and eight of its last 11 games despite getting an eight-inning complete game from Dickey, who allowed four runs and six hits.
"Dickey was throwing great, four hits going into that last inning and really just that one big shot," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
NOTES: Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez spoke briefly on the field after taking batting practice and said he was no longer answering questions pertaining to the legal issues surrounding his 211-game suspension for a violation of baseball's drug policy. "We're in the middle of a pennant race. I want to put all the focus back on baseball," he said. ... New York SS Derek Jeter (calf) will start a rehab assignment Thursday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Jeter had a workout Wednesday after playing simulated games in each of the previous two days. ... Toronto placed OF Jose Bautista on the disabled list with a left hip flexor strain that caused him to leave Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader in the fourth inning. OF Moises Sierra was recalled to take Bautista's spot. ... Toronto 2B Macier Izturis, who sat out Wednesday, is day-to-day with a left ankle sprain. .... Toronto SS Jose Reyes was ejected for the third time in his career, and each instance has been for arguing balls and strikes. ... New York INF Jayson Nix fractured his left hand after getting hit by a Dickey pitch. Girardi said Nix would be out "a while."

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