Hours after he'd stated his desire to remain in consideration as one of the game's top table setters, Johnny Damon took a step in the right direction toward that goal, slugging the 22nd leadoff home run of his career and sixth as a Yankee. He wasn't surprised by the big frame that ensued.
"It seems that way on every team I've been on," Damon said. "When I go, so do we."
Jason Giambi had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly, Josh Phelps had a two-run single and Robinson Cano added a run-scoring double in the frame, part of a four-hit night for the New York second baseman, as Litsch was chased after just two-thirds of an inning.
The outburst was needed, Derek Jeter explained, as the Yankees had fallen into the cellar of the American League East and are in the midst of watching their October hopes fade.
"We don't have the luxury of not playing well," Jeter said.
Making his third Major League start, right-hander Tyler Clippard watched the barrage from the dugout and vowed not to let that early advantage slip away.
"Every time your team puts runs on the board, whether it's one or 10, you want to go out there the next inning and put them back in the dugout," Clippard said. "It's definitely a big deal to go in there and shut them down quick."
Clippard fared better than his fellow 22-year-old, Litsch, but experienced struggles of his own, which could prove costly. With Roger Clemens set to be promoted and added to the Major League roster next week in Chicago, the Yankees plan to decide by Friday which young pitcher will be bumped back to Triple-A; Clippard and rookie Matt DeSalvo, who lost Monday, are the leading candidates.
But Clippard couldn't afford to worry about that scenario Wednesday as he handled the Toronto lineup for five innings, showing flashes of promise but also signs of needing seasoning.
Alex Rios blasted a two-run homer to put the Jays on the board in the third inning and John McDonald hit a solo shot in the fourth off Clippard, who allowed three runs and four hits, walking five and striking out three.
"We know he's probably not quite ready, but he doesn't stop competing," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He doesn't get excited out there. He doesn't get frightened. He keeps coming at you, which is pretty impressive for a kid 22 years old."
The game featured a milestone for Damon, who singled to left field in the second inning against reliever Brian Tallet for his 2,000th career hit, and a breakout performance for Cano, who tied a career high with four hits, including three doubles and a run scored.
"I have to do what I did last year -- start getting on base, get some hits and help the team win," Cano said.
Melky Cabrera's sixth-inning RBI single off reliever Josh Towers provided an additional run, but the Yankees' offense was mostly silenced through the middle innings after the first-inning barrage, while Toronto kept clipping against the Yankees' bullpen.
Matt Stairs drew the Blue Jays within one run in the seventh, slugging a two-run home run off reliever Brian Bruney, but Scott Proctor escaped the inning by recording two outs.
When reliever Kyle Farnsworth worked into trouble, little-used Mariano Rivera came on to fulfill his job description and pitch out of a dangerous spot in the eighth inning.
Summoned from the bullpen with two outs and two on in the eighth, Rivera induced Lyle Overbay to chop into a broken-bat forceout before picking up a four-out save, boosted by four bonus runs in the top of the ninth inning to help the 37-year-old closer breathe a bit easier.
The save came in Rivera's first attempt since May 3 and just his fourth of the campaign overall, an unthinkable statistic as May turns into June for the Yankees. At this point last season, Rivera already had 11 saves on his way to a total of 34.
"I believe it," Rivera said. "This is baseball. Things like that happen. They never happened before, but they happened now. You just have to deal with it."
With the Yankees grasping at desperation to end a month-long slump that had seen them lose 18 of 23 games leading into Wednesday's game, Rodriguez saw fit to refer to schoolyard tactics in the ninth inning. Rodriguez ripped a clean two-out single to center off reliever Scott Downs, scoring the Yankees' seventh run.
Jorge Posada followed with a sky-high popup to the left side of the infield, and as Rodriguez passed third baseman Howie Clark, Rodriguez made a verbal sound -- Rodriguez said he said, "Ha," while Clark insisted he heard, "Mine" -- in the ear of the infielder.
Thinking he'd been called off, Clark backed away from the ball, which dropped for a run-scoring single. Jason Giambi followed with a two-run single to center that put the game on ice for the Yankees, who open a three-game series at Fenway Park on Friday.
"Hopefully we can enjoy the off-day and have a little more fun with it," Torre said. "That's what we've been lacking here."