Ichiro, New York Yankees Have an Almost Perfect Wednesday

Phil Watson@FurtherReviewCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: Ichiro Suzuki #31 of the New York Yankees makes a running catch in left field in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first game of a double header at Yankee Stadium on September 19, 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jason Szenes/Getty Images
Jason Szenes/Getty Images

But for more extra-innings magic by the Baltimore Orioles late Wednesday night in Seattle, this time in the form of Adam Jones’ two-run homer in the top of the 11th inning that gave Baltimore a 3-1 win over the Mariners, Wednesday was almost a perfect day for the New York Yankees.

Ichiro Suzuki went 7-for-8 in the Yankees’ doubleheader sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays, a 4-2 win in the opener followed by a  2-1 victory in the nightcap, and the Yankees came out of the long, long day with a half-game lead in the American League East.

For Ichiro, who helped save Game 1 with a basket catch in the eighth inning after Toronto loaded the bases, it was far and away his best day since coming to New York in a trade from the Mariners on July 23.

It’s one thing to add a lot of points to a batting average early in the season. Go 2-for-4 in the season’s second game after going 0-for-4 on Opening Day and, presto, you have a 250-point improvement to your batting average in one day.

It’s another thing to shoot your average up eight points in September after you already have 550 or so at-bats, but that’s what Ichiro did on Wednesday. Coming into the opener of the doubleheader, Ichiro was hitting .269. At the end of the night, he went to bed with his average up to .277. He’s now hitting .317 in 53 games as a Yankee.

But he was far from the only big story for New York on Wednesday.

Andy Pettitte made his anticipated return from the disabled list to start the opener and was magnificent. Expected to be limited to 70 or so pitches in his first game since June 27, Pettitte wound up being extremely efficient with the 75 he threw. He worked five shutout innings, allowing four hits, walking two and striking out three to pick up his first win since pitching 7.1 shutout innings in a 7-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on June 5.

According to ESPNNewYork.com, Ichiro became the seventh Yankee to have at least three hits in each game of a doubleheader. The others were Roy White in 1972, Matty Alou in 1973, Dave Winfield in 1983, Willie Randolph in 1987, Johnny Damon in 2006 and Derek Jeter in 2008.

In the nightcap, Jeter got his 200th hit of the season in his first game back at shortstop in a week. He had been limited to DH duty since bruising his ankle last week and sat out the opener. It is Jeter’s eighth season with 200 or more hits, tying Lou Gehrig for the most in Yankee history.

Closer Rafael Soriano continued to be the team’s late-innings workhorse, saving both games of the doubleheader. According to the New York Daily News, it was the first time in his career he’s turned that trick.

With the twin wins, the Yankees have won four straight and seven of their last 10. Unfortunately, that streak of better baseball has been accompanied by the Orioles winning four straight and seven of their last 10.

But with the Rays finally falling off the pace—Tampa Bay trails the Yankees by 6.5 games in the AL East race and is 5.5 behind the Oakland Athletics for the second wild-card position—it’s coming down to a two-team sprint to the finish in the division.

Baltimore has 13 games remaining, beginning Friday with a three-game series at Boston. Then they return home for four with the Blue Jays and three more with the Red Sox before finishing up at Tampa Bay for a three-game set.

New York, meanwhile, has 14 games left on its schedule. The Yankees close out their series with Toronto tonight then host Oakland for three over the weekend. Then it’s off to Minnesota for three and Toronto for four before returning home for the season finale, a three-game series against the irrelevant-in-the-race-but-dangerous-just-the-same Red Sox.