Ichiro's first homer rallies Yanks past Blue Jays
New York scores two in second, four in third to dig out of early hole
NEW YORK -- If the Yankees are truly going to be players in this postseason chase, they'll need contributions from all corners of the clubhouse. That includes Ichiro Suzuki, their resident slap hitter, who happily reminded everyone Friday that he can still run into one when it counts.
Ichiro crushed a go-ahead three-run homer in the third inning, clearing the fences for the first time since last August, as the Yankees rallied for a 6-4 victory that continued to make Mark Buehrle and the Blue Jays feel like unwelcome visitors at Yankee Stadium.
"Every game from now on is going to be very important," Ichiro said through an interpreter. "Tonight was great, but we've got to go get them tomorrow. It's going to be a lot of tough games coming up."
The Yankees have won seven of eight games coming out of the All-Star break, tying their season high by moving six games over .500 at 54-48. New York jumped a game ahead of Toronto for second place in the American League East while claiming sole possession of the second AL Wild Card spot.
The Yankees did so by continuing to bat around the Jays, who have lost a franchise-high 17 straight games at Yankee Stadium dating back to 2012. It was also more of the same familiar feeling for Buehrle, who fell to 1-12 all-time against the Yankees.
"It's been good," said Carlos Beltran, who also homered in the victory. "We've been able to win games. The division is so tight right now that any inning counts. We're happy to be able to take the first one over Toronto."
New York produced six runs and nine hits in three innings against Buehrle, who is 0-10 with a 7.34 ERA in his last 10 starts against the Yankees; numbers that made manager Joe Girardi scratch his head for an explanation.
"I'm not really sure," Girardi said. "It's not like we've always scored a ton of runs off him; there's been some close games, and there's been games where we've come back. It's hard to say. He's a really good pitcher."
Making his 200th career start, Hiroki Kuroda shook off a troublesome beginning to the game and battled to give the Yankees 5 2/3 innings of four-run ball. He didn't have great command of his sinker, and Jose Bautista was in position to take advantage.
Bautista teed off on a fat first-inning 3-0 fastball for a three-run homer, giving Toronto a quick lead, then connected again for a solo shot off Kuroda in the third inning. Bautista is 4-for-16 lifetime vs. Kuroda, and all four hits have been homers.
"With the stuff I had, I was struggling all day, but at the same time, I tried to hang in there," Kuroda said through an interpreter.
Kuroda was happy to get some support from the offense. Brian Roberts legged out a run-scoring infield single, and Brett Gardner lifted a sac fly in a two-run second inning, and the Yankees rode homers from Beltran and Ichiro to produce a four-spot in the third inning.
"They just got good pitches to hit," Girardi said. "They got pitches up in the zone. Buehrle is the master at deception; getting you to chase, getting you to be anxious. We just did a good job of being patient and getting good pitches to hit."
For Ichiro, it marked his first home run in 294 at-bats, since last Aug. 30 off the Orioles' Miguel Gonzalez in the Bronx. It was also Ichiro's first extra-base hit since July 11.
"Hanging curveball," Buehrle said. "It's supposed to do that, but it doesn't help with that short porch out there."
Ichiro said that he was well aware of the stats; the zero in the homer column had made him a popular target for Derek Jeter, who may need to find another outlet for his pregame ribbing.
"He always tells me, 'Can't leave, can't leave,' during batting practice," Ichiro said, with a laugh. "Which means the ball doesn't leave the ballpark."
On this night, it did, and it helped Kuroda settle down. The right-hander retired six of his last seven hitters before exiting with two outs in the sixth, tossing 94 pitches while scattering eight hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
That set up the Yanks' bullpen, a strength all season, to be stellar once again. David Huff, Shawn Kelley and Dellin Betances combined for 2 1/3 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief, getting the ball to David Robertson for his 26th save in 28 opportunities.
"We're just clicking right now," Robertson said. "We're not exactly blowing teams out, but we're playing really good baseball."