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When the Yankees traded for Ichiro Suzuki this summer, the common refrain was that he was a diminished player who would fill a complementary role.
That's been mostly true, but we got a glimmer of the old Ichiro over the last three games and he proved that he's still capable of carrying a baseball team from time to time.
A day after going 7 for 8 in a doubleheader sweep, Ichiro added two hits and three RBIs to a strong Yankees offensive performance in a 10-7 win over the Blue Jays.
That win extends the Yankee win streak to five games and leaves them as winners of 10 of their last 14. It's not quite time for a sigh of relief in the Bronx -- division leads need to be bigger than one game for such things -- but it's about time to ratchet things to ratchet down the level of alarm from "What the hell is going on here?" to "Why can't we shake these Orioles?"
It's not exactly a week in Tahiti on the comfort level scale, but it's a lot better than the crisis mode that was the Yankee existence a few weeks ago. Give Suzuki some credit for that.
Just about every time the team needed a hit to either spark a rally, plate a run or keep things moving, Ichiro provided it by going 9-of-12 over the three games. It looked a lot like the guy who took the league by storm in Seattle a decade ago and his play sparked the Yankees on Thursday night.
His first strike was a solo homer in the third that got the Yankees on the board after the Jays jumped out to a 2-0 lead and then he kept things percolating with a two-run double in the fourth that pushed the Yankees into the lead. Those hits seemed to loosen things up at the Stadium, as the Yankees poured it on with seven runs in the fourth to flip the game into their favor.
The Yankees were able to relax enough to take the walks being offered by Toronto pitchers, setting up their teammates with chances to drive home enough runs to put the game out of reach nice and early. Nick Swisher stopped thinking that September is the same thing as October long enough to hit a grand slam, his first homer since late August, and the only thing that could stop the Yankees was a meltdown by the pitching staff.
They almost got one. Phil Hughes wasn't as strong as he's been in recent starts, struggling with his command while allowing four runs in five innings, and the bullpen nearly handed things over in a disastrous eighth inning of work by Cory Wade and Joba Chamberlain.
Toronto couldn't push through, though, and the Yankees were able to shake hands at the end of the ninth inning one more time. Now they hand the ball to CC Sabathia on Friday night in hopes that Ichiro's week of vintage play rubbed off on an ace who has pitched like anything but since his latest return from the disabled list.
If Sabathia can keep the ball rolling, we might just get a relaxing day or two before the end of the regular season and the start of the even more tense postseason. And if not, that's okay too.
Summer's over and, as Ichiro illustrated over the last three games, it is time to get to work.