Yankees cruise to win against Rays

Yankees cruise to win against Rays

NEW YORK -- Offensively, things couldn't be much better for the Yankees. But with the playoffs all but on the calendar, the postseason rotation is still a mystery.

The Yankees beat the Devil Rays, 8-4, on Wednesday, but starter Cory Lidle was tagged in his second straight start, leaving the door open for the No. 4 spot.

Lidle went four innings while giving up nine hits and four earned runs. He gave up two solo home runs in the first inning and RBI singles in the fourth and fifth before being relieved by Brian Bruney, who ended up with the win.

Lidle has allowed 10 earned runs over 5 2/3 innings in his past two starts. He gave up six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Orioles on Sept. 8, and five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Angels on Aug. 26.

Sandwiched between those starts was a scoreless six-inning gem. That's the way Lidle's time with the Yankees has been since being acquired at the July 31 trade deadline: turbulent.

"It's a long season," Lidle said. "Throughout the season, you have the high times and the low times. Right now, I'm not locating up to my capabilities."

While starters often hide from the press after being hit around, Lidle stood at his locker after the game just waiting for the media onslaught. He laughed and joked even though his left knee was wrapped after absorbing a comebacker in the fourth, and getting hit hard. He said the injury didn't affect him although manager Joe Torre put him on a short leash afterwards.

But while the injury and the location on his pitchers were first discussed, Lidle knew what question was coming, "Have you thought about trying to earn the No. 4 spot in the postseason rotation?"

"I answer this every single time. No," Lidle said. "I'm not going to change one thing. I've just got to keep pitching."

"I don't think it's a matter of proving myself," he said. "I think they know what I can do. Now it's just a matter of doing it. Once I do it, everybody is going to say, 'OK, he's back.' Right now, I'm not locating the ball. I just feel I'm a little off. I'm not worried."

Torre also downplayed the significance, saying he's going to keep the rotation the same and make the decision of who's pitching in the postseason when the time comes.

"I think everyone wants an opportunity to start in the postseason," Lidle said. "I've started in the postseason before. As long as I get everything running, I know I can pitch well in the postseason. It's not a matter of if I wonder if I can't, it's just a matter of me getting my mechanics right and getting back on track."

On the other side of the ball, the Yankees don't need many adjustments. A night after Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu carried them, Robinson Cano went 2-for-3 with five RBIs and Alex Rodriguez was 3-for-4 with a monstrous homer.

"We've played good baseball all year, but the team is playing better now," Cano said. "[On Tuesday] it was Bobby [with seven RBIs], today it was me, the other day it was A-Rod. We don't really have two guys on the team. Everybody is doing their thing."

Lidle surrendered a home run to Rocco Baldelli to lead off the game and another to Carl Crawford 10 pitches later, putting the Yankees behind, 2-0, in the first.

The Yankees battled back in the first, plating three runs with only one hit against Devil Rays starter Jason Hammel. It's their second straight, big first inning as they tacked on nine runs to start Tuesday's game.

Johnny Damon drew a leadoff walk and Derek Jeter extended his hit streak to 22 games with a single. The hit streak is the longest since Don Mattingly hit safely in 24 straight games in 1986.

Abreu walked to load the bases for Rodriguez, who hit a chopper up the third-base line that was dropped on a bare-hand try by B.J. Upton, allowing Damon to score. Jason Giambi plated another run with a fielder's choice groundout and Cano brought home the third with a sacrifice fly.

The Yankees pounded out another three runs in the third. A-Rod blasted a two-out solo homer into the black batters' eye, No. 33 of the season.

"Wow. He crushed the ball," Cano said. "I would like to hit one of those."

Giambi followed with a single and Cano reached for a low-away-pitch and pulled it over the right-field wall to put the Yankees ahead, 6-2. Cano added a two-RBI double in the seventh to give him five RBIs on the night and put the Yankees up, 8-4.

"We don't have a soft spot in the lineup," Torre said. "Now with Matsui in there, we don't have any shortage of productive people. We have a lot of good energy right now."

Bruney relieved Lidle with no outs in the fifth and a runner on first. He got six straight outs to keep the Yankees ahead, 6-4, going into the seventh. Mike Myers and Scott Proctor handled the seventh and eighth and Kyle Farnsworth closed out the ninth, keeping the Rays scoreless over the final four innings.

"With [Mariano Rivera] down, somebody has to step up," Bruney said. "Tonight, everybody did."

Bruney, who was called up seemingly just for the Red Sox series when Lidle was put on the bereavement list and the Yankees bullpen was drained, now has his goals set on winning a World Series. He has an .071 ERA in 11 games this season.

"I don't know where [general manager Brian Cashman] found this guy," A-Rod said. "This guy is unbelievable. He's just fun to watch. He throws 94-to-98 and just doesn't care. He has been a great shot in the arm for us."

The Yankees have won five straight games and have whittled their magic number down to seven with a Boston loss. They are 11 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League East.

But at this point, their division lead is only a number. The Yankees' playoff picture is most important. And with Lidle's outing Wednesday, that picture is a little more unclear.

Ryan Mink is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.