There were any number of variables -- big, little and completely confusing -- that went into the Yankees' 5-3 win over Toronto on Thursday. But the most significant might have been Curtis Granderson's leadoff home run to tie the score in the bottom of the fifth inning because of what it represented.
For the longest time in a season marred by injuries to one star player after another, the Yankees didn't recognize themselves. They were reduced to playing small ball because of the absence of their sluggers, with the exception of Robinson Cano.
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But Granderson and Alex Rodriguez now are back in the middle of the lineup with trade acquisition Alfonso Soriano, and the difference is plain.
Toronto's J.A. Happ had a 1-0 lead in a pitching duel with Andy Pettitte after the Blue Jays' J.P. Arencibia homered in the top of the fifth, but Granderson immediately put things on an even keel with a bomb into the second deck in rightfield.
"It does because you figure you can get back into games pretty quickly,'' manager Joe Girardi said of the increased firepower. "It was more difficult before. It seems like you can look up and down the lineup and there's guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark. It's a different feel.''
With the pressure vented, the Yankees added another run on a disputed play in the fifth followed by three more in the sixth, taking a 5-1 lead on a two-run single by Eduardo Nunez and an RBI groundout by Chris Stewart.
The Yankees moved to within 3 games of idle Oakland for the second American League wild-card playoff berth with their fifth straight win and 10th in the past 12 games.
It was a long day thanks to a 3-hour, 32-minute rain delay before the game started, but the Yankees brought a little momentum with them as they headed to Tampa Bay for a big series against the team holding the first AL wild-card berth.
"Each day you're able to make up a little ground, it seems more attainable, and that's good for the guys in that room,'' Girardi said. "We had a really good vibe in the beginning of the season, but we went through some tough times. But it's back.''
With Happ (3-3) opening with three perfect innings, Pettitte (9-9) had to be on his game to keep it close. He got out of the fifth with an inning-ending double play and completed the sixth with a strikeout on his 100th pitch.
"We knew this was going to happen,'' Pettitte said of the surge. "It was just a matter of when. You hope it's not too late. And it's not too late . . . It obviously does feel good to know the guys are starting to pop some balls out of the ballpark and we're able to get some quick runs like that.''
It doesn't hurt to get a little lucky, either. After Granderson's homer in the fifth, the Yankees loaded the bases with one out before Vernon Wells hit a sinking liner that centerfielder Rajai Davis caught in the webbing of his glove. The umpires delayed making a call while Nunez tagged up and scored from third. Stewart then was tagged out at second, but crew chief Ted Barrett later said replays showed it should have been ruled a catch and an inning-ending double play. In either case, Nunez would have scored.
With their 10th straight win over the Blue Jays, the Yankees took a 12-1 series advantage against Toronto this season. They are only 6-7 against Tampa Bay and haven't won a season series against the Rays since 2009, but they are in position to change that. Their next nine games and 26 of their final 35 are in the division.
Granderson said the "belief is there'' with the power hitting variable restored. "You can't necessarily rely on it,'' he said, "but knowing you have that is a great thing.''