The need for quality starting pitching at the big league level is ever-present, and for a club that had finally finished one turn through the rotation with nary a clunker, losing a key part of that construction would be a difficult burden.
The Yankees' hearts and minds seemed filled with hope that Chien-Ming Wang's injury suffered running the bases on Sunday would remain just as the preliminary diagnosis taken on site revealed -- a sprained right foot. Anything more would sour the 5-1 trip significantly.
"Our pitchers were on a roll and we were swinging the bats and playing well on the trip," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "When you win five out of six, you're excited about the direction you're heading. It's very unfortunate."
The slip Wang's foot made on the grass near third base was about the only misstep the Yankees made all afternoon. New York tied its season high with an eight-run sixth inning, a frame made possible because the lineup spent the early part of the game working Astros ace Roy Oswalt for 72 pitches through three innings.
Oswalt had escaped damage in the second inning by striking out the last three batters in the Yankees order, getting out of a two-on, no-outs jam, but his luck ran out in the third. Hideki Matsui started the inning with a two-out double before Oswalt walked the next three batters in order, forcing in the first run of the game with a free pass to Jorge Posada.
Benched on Saturday after enduring a lengthy skid, Robinson Cano stepped in and blooped a two-run double down the left-field line, part of what would end up as a three-RBI day. Cano also had a pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth inning on Saturday and suddenly has three hits in his last five at-bats after enduring an 0-for-17 skid.
"Honestly, since Oakland, I feel like something's going on," Cano said. "I've been swinging at good pitches. When you're missing your pitches, you've got to hit the pitches that are pitched. Hopefully from now on everything changes."
Later, Girardi would point to the third-inning rally as the turning point of the game, with the Yankees' having sufficiently depleted Oswalt's stamina to set up future events.
"We're doing the things that we need to win games," Girardi said. "We've won some close ones, and we got some big hits when we need it."
With Wang working a scoreless five innings -- helped by a terrific Alex Rodriguez play in the third inning to rob Miguel Tejada of an RBI -- the Yankees erupted for eight in the top of the sixth, matching a season high for runs in a frame also accomplished on May 23 vs. Seattle. Wang was hobbled scoring on Derek Jeter's two-run single through the right side. The hit chased Oswalt, but the Yankees kept pounding.
Rodriguez rudely welcomed reliever Wesley Wright with a three-run homer, his 12th, giving Rodriguez 1,540 career RBIs and moving him past Joe DiMaggio (1,537) on baseball's all-time list. The home run was also Rodriguez's 185th as a Yankee, tying him with Paul O'Neill for 16th place on the club's list.
Posada completed the Yankees' damage in the frame with a long two-run homer, his third. Oscar Villarreal gave up the last two runs in the New York eighth, and Johnny Damon -- wielding his new ash lumber -- logged his fourth hit in the ninth.
"We've been swinging the bats," Jeter said. "When you have guys that are hitting one through nine and having good at-bats, we're tough to pitch to. We saw a lot of pitches today and made Roy work extremely hard. That's what we try to do -- be patient, get pitches to hit and hit them hard."
The relief quartet of Ross Ohlendorf, Edwar Ramirez, LaTroy Hawkins and Dan Giese each picked up an inning in relief, eyeing a much-needed day off on Monday.
The blowout victory was the Yankees' ninth win in 12 games, moving them four games above .500 (37-33) for the first time this season.
"We've been playing well," Jeter said. "It's almost like one of those times where you wish we played tomorrow and didn't have a day off. It's a good road trip for us and we're going to be home quite a bit now, the next month or so. We need to continue to play well."