Trailing midway through a Monday afternoon contest against Toronto, the Blue Jays were on the verge of tacking on more runs.
That was the time when things usually started to go south for New York. A lot has changed, though, since the last time the Yankees traveled north of the border.
Instead of folding up the tent, the Yankees received a gutty effort from left-hander Andy Pettitte, who kept New York in the game just long enough for his offense to pound out four runs in the sixth inning en route to a 5-4 victory against the Jays.
"When we weren't winning games regularly, you're not consciously [doing this], but you sit there and hope something doesn't go wrong," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "Now, we have a lot of confidence, and hopefully we can continue to build on it."
Coming into the Jays series on May 28, things couldn't have gone much worse for the Bombers. They were on a three-game losing streak and found themselves 12 1/2 games out of the American League East and 7 1/2 games out of the Wild Card.
Everything seemed to be going wrong. But the team has stuck together, and now finds itself in the thick of the AL playoff race. The Yankees are 19-7 since the All-Star break, and Monday's win over the Jays moved them into a virtual tie with the Detroit Tigers for the AL Wild Card lead. The Tigers later won to push New York a half-game back.
"When you think back to that time," Pettitte said, "everybody was continuing to scratch their heads and say, 'This team is way too good to be playing as bad as we are.' It's nice to know we didn't start pointing fingers; we didn't get on each other. We knew that we had a good team. It was a matter of just getting everybody rolling."
After scoring one run in the top of the third, New York quickly fell behind in Toronto's bottom half of the inning. Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas gave Toronto the lead with a two-run double to the gap in left-center.
Two innings later, the Jays were threatening again with runners on second and third and nobody out. After striking out right fielder Alex Rios, Pettitte surrendered an infield single to Vernon Wells that extended the Jays' lead to 3-1. Toronto had the meat of their order due up and found itself in a position to put the game out of reach.
Pettitte wasn't about to let that happen, though. The 35-year-old southpaw got back-to-back strikeouts on Troy Glaus and Thomas to stop the bleeding and give his team's offense a chance to fight back.
"That was the game," said Pettitte, who finished with three earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. "That was the inning right there. I'm thankful I was at least able to pull it together, to get out of that and hold it to three runs and give us a chance. That's all you want to make sure you're doing, especially when the guys are swinging the bats as good as they are."
It turned the momentum back in New York's favor, but it's also something Torre has grown accustomed to over the years with Pettitte.
"That was one of those innings where Andy shines," Torre said. "The game slows down for pitchers like that, in that situation. Some other guys maybe speed up a little bit and have trouble getting through it, but Andy just kept everything right there and got huge outs."
Toronto starter Jesse Litsch cruised through the first five innings of the game, allowing just one run, but he was pulled after allowing the first two Yankees batters to reach base in the sixth. The Jays brought in left-handed reliever Scott Downs (1-2), and then all of a sudden, the Yankees' bats came to life.
Hideki Matsui hit an RBI single to left field, but the big blow came on a two-run double by Robinson Cano. The Yankees second baseman is now hitting .456 (41-for-90) over his past 23 games, with nine doubles and 25 RBIs. Cano was also named the AL Player of the Week, along with the Rays' Carl Crawford, for the second time in three weeks.
"Robby's been swinging the bat as anyone in baseball over the last month or so," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
If New York's trip to Toronto in May was considered rock bottom, its trip in August could easily be one of its highest points of the season.
Entering Monday's action, the Tigers had lost nine of their last 10 games and have seen their AL Wild Card lead almost completely evaporate. The Yankees, on the other hand, have won six games in a row and are peaking at just the right time. Torre's seen it all before, though, and the manager who is in his 12th season with New York said the playoff race is the last thing on his mind right now.
"We have our eye on the team we're playing," Torre said. "That's the only thing we concern ourselves with at this point and time. If we win enough games, then you'll earn what you're supposed to earn."
Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less