Travis Hafner's HR, triple help Yankees come back against Blue Jays

Yankees' Kevin Youkilis congratulates Travis Hafner on his Yankees' Kevin Youkilis congratulates Travis Hafner on his three-run home run in the fourth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. (April 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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Travis Hafner was asked what was going through his mind Saturday as he raced around the bases for the go-ahead triple in the seventh inning of the Yankees' 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays at the Stadium.

There was the adrenaline rush of hitting a ball so far to centerfield that even speedy Rajai Davis could barely get his glove on it with a Willie Mays-style over-the-shoulder attempt. There was the roar from a crowd of 40,258 as the screaming fans fixated on Hafner, all 6-3, 240 pounds of him, sprinting around second.

So what was it? What was that singular, overriding thought flooding Hafner's brain circuitry with the Stadium on emotional overload?

"Tired," he said.

In reality, Hafner could have stopped at second. The Yankees had tied the score at 4 earlier that inning on Robinson Cano's one-out double and an RBI single by Vernon Wells. With two outs, the Blue Jays called on lefthanded reliever Brett Cecil to face Hafner. Evidently, manager John Gibbons didn't learn much after seeing Hafner launch a tying three-run homer into the Yankees' bullpen off lefthander J.A. Happ in the fourth.

This decision yielded a similar, if uncommon, result. Hafner had 12 triples in his 12-year career but only two since 2007. This one was lucky No. 13.

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"That was the first one I've ever seen," said CC Sabathia, Hafner's former teammate with the Indians. "He was fired up. That was pretty cool. This is the Pronk of old."

As opposed to an old Pronk, which is what the skeptics said the Yankees were getting when they signed him to a one-year, $2-million contract as an exclusive DH. Joe Girardi joked that Hafner didn't even need to bring a glove to spring training. But to a certain degree, he is rethinking his strategy of using him only against righthanded pitchers.

Hafner is a career .256 hitter against lefties with an .804 OPS, but Girardi began this season believing he could rest him in those situations and go with Ben Francisco. But Francisco has been terrible in that role, which is what prompted Girardi to roll the dice with Hafner this time.

The payoff was huge. Hafner drilled his sixth homer, and first off a lefthander since July 13, 2012. He credited a few adjustments he's made at the plate for this recent success against lefties, but Hafner knows that increasing his workload, even as a DH, has its risks. "I think I will get some more starts," he said. "But I know they have my best interests in mind, too."

No one is happier to see Hafner in the lineup than Sabathia (4-2), who needed everything Hafner could muster. Sabathia said he "was kind of all over the place" in the first two innings and was fortunate to retire the first seven batters in order, but he lasted eight innings.

Despite plenty of solid swings against Sabathia, whose velocity crept more consistently into the range of 91 to 92 mph, the Jays' two homers were just solo shots by Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie. That allowed the Yankees to rally from deficits of 3-0 and 4-3.

"He just competes," Girardi said. "That's what he does. He finds a way to get the job done."

As do the Yankees, who again shuffled their roster before the game. With Francisco Cervelli and Ivan Nova on the disabled list, they summoned Austin Romine and Vidal Nuno from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Neither had to be used, but Romine couldn't have been much worse than Chris Stewart, who gave the Jays a run in the fourth with a passed ball and subsequent error, as he dropped the ball after tagging Edwin Encarnacion. In the end, it didn't matter.

The Yankees won their third straight to improve to 13-5 since a 1-4 start. And not one of their injured stars -- Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson or Mark Teixeira -- has played for even a minute. Hafner has done his share of the heavy lifting.

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"It's huge having him," Wells said. "We've got to keep him healthy -- with the rest of the guys we still have left."

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