Manufacturing runs -- i.e. "small ball" -- is all well and good, and probably is something the Yankees are going to have to do if they reach the playoffs.
Muscle-flexing is more their speed. They used both approaches to perfection in one big inning Sunday in a 6-4 win over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
Russell Martin capped the Yankees' five-run third inning with a three-run home run. But it was what came before that second-row blast to right that gives the Yankees hope that they can be more than a homer-or-nothing offense.
The Yankees used walks, stolen bases and a sacrifice bunt to score the first two runs of the inning and put pressure on rookie Matt Moore before Martin went deep. For the game, they scored six runs and had five hits.
"When we get small ball and Bronx ball going back and forth, it's a good thing going for us," Nick Swisher said.
Hiroki Kuroda (14-10, career high in wins) allowed four runs and struck out 10 in six innings as the Yankees took two of three and remained one game ahead of the Orioles, who later defeated the Athletics, 9-5, in Oakland. The Rays, who went 1-5 in their road trip to Baltimore and New York, fell five games behind.
Kuroda, who struck out six in the first two innings, allowed four hits -- including a dribbler that went for an infield single and a bad-hop two-run single on a potential double-play ball, both in the Rays' three-run sixth.
Moore (10-11) also struck out the side in the first and one more batter in the second. But it all fell apart in the third for the 23-year-old lefthander. "He was unable to control the running game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "and that put a lot of pressure on us defensively."
Eduardo Nuñez, starting at shortstop again with Derek Jeter as the DH, walked to open the third and easily stole second, his first of three steals in a two-inning span. Jeter lined an RBI single to right-center and took second when B.J. Upton's throw home was too high to be cut off. Swisher sacrificed Jeter to third, Maddon brought the infield in and Alex Rodriguez hit a hard ground single up the middle to make it 2-0.
After a wild pitch, Robinson Cano walked as A-Rod stole third base. It was his team-leading 13th steal in 14 tries. After falling behind 0-and-2, Martin then hammered a 3-and-2 pitch over the short porch in right for his 17th homer and a 5-0 lead.
"Just trying to think small," A-Rod said of the approach. "We had probably the best offensive inning we've had all year . . . That's as good as it gets for us. Hopefully, we can feed off that."
Two batters after the homer, Moore threw a 95-mph pitch behind Curtis Granderson's head. Plate umpire Paul Emmel warned both benches, which drew the sustained ire of Maddon, who was ejected. Granderson walked and reached third on Moore's errant pickoff throw but was stranded there.
After Ben Zobrist homered on Kuroda's first pitch of the fourth, Nuñez helped manufacture a run in the bottom half. He hit a grounder that reliever Brandon Gomes booted for an error, then easily stole second and third. Jeter walked, and one out later, Rodriguez hit a long sacrifice fly to right -- almost another three-run homer -- to make it 6-1.
"I call it 'small ball,' " Joe Girardi said. "Everyone wants to call bunting small ball. But I think it's more than bunting. It just brings an element that you can create runs, and that's really important for clubs."
The Rays came back with three in the sixth, with two runs scoring on a bad-hop single by Evan Longoria that jumped over Rodriguez's glove. If not for the hop, it could have been a double-play ball. Kuroda got a double play from the next batter, Matt Joyce, as a run scored to make it 6-4.
Boone Logan, David Phelps, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano (40th save) got the final nine outs, sending the Yankees into their last day off of the regular season on a high note.
"We've talked about playing better baseball," Girardi said. "And we're starting to do that. It's extremely important this time of year."