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Yankees tell stars to give it a rest

Manager Joe Girardi gave some big names the day off Sunday in Rogers Centre and the New York Yankees largely played a classic end-of-a-trip special in a 3-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

No Derek Jeter, no Curtis Granderson, no Mark Teixeira. Robinson Cano at designated hitter. No marquee relievers and no shot for Mariano Rivera's record-setting 602nd career save.

But Girardi knew exactly what he was doing. This was short-term pain for long-term gain.

The Yankees have been on the road for the last 10 days -- stretching from Baltimore to Anaheim to Seattle and finally Toronto -- and rain has made a mess of their schedule. They have no more off days the rest of the season, so Girardi needed to force some rest on his team.

The Yankees went 4-6 on the trip but have still managed to build a 4 1/2 -game lead in the American League East with just 11 games to play. The magic number is seven for clinching their 12th division title in 17 years of the three-division format.

The Yankees have a makeup game today at 1 (YES, Radio 1230 AM) against Minnesota. Then they host surging Tampa Bay for four games, including a split doubleheader Wednesday, and the reeling Red Sox for three before finishing the year with three more in Tampa. Barring any more rain, they will finish with 33 games over the final 32 days.

And don't forget that this road trip was preceded by a rain-delayed home game against Baltimore that didn't end until 2:15 a.m. and a matinee that followed that 11 hours later.

"This has been a tough road trip, a really, really tough stretch," Girardi said. "We were able to get some guys a little rest and hopefully our guys can come out and feel good [today]. This has been a really tough stretch, starting with playing until 2:15 in the morning. It's just been brutal."

The infield Sunday from left to right went Alex Rodriguez, Ramiro Pena, Eduardo Nunez and Eric Chavez. Chris Dickerson was in left field. Two guys named Raul Valdes and George Kontos pitched in relief. It seemed like Tampa in March, not Game 151 in the midst of a pennant race.

The Yankees managed just five hits, three by Nunez, and three were infield singles. Only one man got past first base in the final eight innings, that coming on Nunez's one-out double in the ninth. Toronto starter Brandon Morrow (10-11) matched his season high with eight innings and struck out eight.

Even Jeter, who hates sitting out games, admitted Girardi's idea was sound.

"We don't have too many [days off] anyway and we're finished with them now," Jeter said. "At that point of the season, any opportunity to get us some rest is good."

The Yankees suffered four walkoff losses on the trip, including Wednesday night's 12-inning affair in Seattle. After that one, they got to the airport at midnight, landed here at about 6:55 a.m. Thursday -- and immediately got into the vaunted morning rush hour traffic jam of Toronto's Gardiner Expressway. They didn't get to their downtown hotel until 8:45 a.m. At least they didn't play that night.

Now that they're headed home, the Yankees need to clean up some issues. Their baserunning continues to be atrocious and their starting pitching is wafer thin. Pitcher Freddy Garcia gave up two homers for the third straight game, both to Toronto's Adam Lind, and has a 10.66 ERA in his last three starts.

"We are fortunate," Girardi said. "We've got to go home and play better, there's no doubt."

Garcia (11-8), who went 10 straight starts in July and August without being taken deep, seems to be running low on fuel as the season winds down.

"They just hit the ball. I tried to make good pitches and I was not able to do that," Garcia said. "That's why I've been giving up home runs. Hopefully, next time I stop the home run derby."

No matter what happens in the division race, the homestand will inevitably be most remembered for Rivera's record save, no matter when it comes. Folks in the Bronx got to witness Jeter's 3,000th hit in July and now figure to see another magic moment.

"I don't know what it will feel like," said Rivera, who has admitted to hoping he sets the record at home. "I'll tell you when it happens. I'll give you my best answer."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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