TORONTO -- Not that the Yankees needed reminders of the stakes, but there, on an electronic scoreboard in left-center, was a constant one.
The Orioles, back in action after an off day Thursday, were pounding the woebegone Red Sox early to the tune of 6-1, soon to be a final score of 9-1.
But the Yankees took care of business themselves. With Hiroki Kuroda tip-toeing his way out of jams and Nick Swisher and Russell Martin providing big hits, the Yankees beat Toronto, 11-4, Friday night at Rogers Centre.
The Yankees are a game ahead of the Orioles with five to play. "Really doesn't affect how you go about your business,'' Martin said of the Orioles' score. "Obviously, we want them to lose as much as possible, but they don't seem like they want to give in. So it's going to be coming down to the wire, I think.''
The Yankees, who had nine two-out RBIs, rebounded after slumbering through a 6-0 loss the night before. "Sometimes you kind of come out flat, and I thought yesterday we didn't have a lot of energy,'' Swisher said. "Today we definitely came to the ballpark ready to go.''
Kuroda (15-11), who had allowed four runs in four of his previous five starts, gave up two runs and 10 hits -- matching a season high -- in 51/3 innings.
Swisher's two-out, two-run double got the Yankees going in the first and Martin's two-out, three-run homer in a four-run sixth helped blow the game open. It was his career-high 20th homer, and in his last 19 games, he is hitting .299 (20-for-67) with six homers and 16 RBIs. Eric Chavez added a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth.
"Just trying to make a bad season a bit better,'' said Martin, who has continued to put a horrid first half in which he hit .179 with a .300 on-base percentage behind him. "But we're just playing to win at this point, so anything I can do to help the team win, that's my main focus.''
Kuroda pitched to 11 men in the first two innings but escaped without giving up a run, stranding five runners with the help of some alert defense.
After Brett Lawrie led off the Toronto first with a double, Swisher fielded Colby Rasmus' grounder, saw Lawrie straying too far off the base and fired to second to nail him. That might have saved a run, as J.P. Arencibia singled with two outs.
Even after Martin picked off Yunel Escobar at third a split-second after Kelly Johnson struck out, leaving the Blue Jays with two outs and none on in the second, they loaded the bases before Kuroda caught Rasmus looking to end a 28-pitch inning.
Kuroda said he "didn't feel 100 percent'' but didn't really elaborate. "I don't think it was fatigue,'' he said. "It was something mechanical.''
Kuroda said he didn't have the same movement on his pitches and added that it's something he has to work on. As for his physical status, he said, "I feel fine.''
Rasmus hit his 23rd homer in the fifth to bring the Blue Jays within 3-1, but Martin delivered his three-run homer and Ichiro Suzuki added an RBI single to make it 7-1. Adam Lind's two-out, two-run homer off David Phelps in the seventh made it 8-4, but Ichiro doubled and scored on Robinson Cano's two-out infield single in the eighth to give the Yankees a 9-4 lead.
Notes & quotes: Cano was taken to the hospital after the game for X-rays of his left hand after being hit by a pitch in the sixth inning. "He was able to stay in the game, so I think he's OK,'' Joe Girardi said . . . One day after playing a simulated game, Mark Teixeira (left calf strain) had six at-bats in a live BP session and ran the bases. "He ran better, said he felt better,'' Girardi said. He added that Teixeira, who will play in a five-inning simulated game Saturday, "probably'' won't rejoin the Yankees until, at the earliest, Monday, when they start a three-game series against the Red Sox at the Stadium . . . Girardi said Ivan Nova, coming off consecutive bad starts, still is in line to take his next rotation turn Tuesday . . . Andy Pettitte, who has pitched a combined 11 shutout innings in two starts since coming off the DL, starts Saturday afternoon. Girardi hopes Pettitte can get "up around 95 pitches.'' . . . The first inning ended oddly, with Curtis Granderson sending a liner back to Blue Jays pitcher Chad Jenkins, whose glove popped off his hand when the ball smacked into it. He caught the glove for the strangest L-1 most had ever seen . . . Girardi likes the excitement of having an extra wild-card team but not necessarily the ramifications for the wild-card teams. "I'm not a fan of just a one-game playoff," he said. "I think teams work too hard to get to that point for it to be based on one game."With David Lennon