NEW YORK — Marcus Thames is making the most of every opportunity to play, a big reason the New York Yankees are rolling right along without several injured All-Stars.
Thames launched a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning and New York beat the Toronto Blue Jays 7-5 on Saturday to set a season high with its eighth straight victory.
"Huge home run. Big time for us. Marcus has been a huge addition to this club," manager Joe Girardi said.
With the best record in baseball but only a slim AL East lead over Tampa Bay, the Yankees won for the 14th time in 18 games and improved to 6-0 on their 10-game homestand.
Robinson Cano had a two-run single and New York, still missing ailing sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher, overcame a shaky return to the rotation for Javier Vazquez – who wasn't happy about being yanked in the fifth.
"It could've been a better outing, but the fact I got taken out early, it wasn't good," Vazquez said.
Jason Frasor (3-4) retired his first two batters in the seventh before Cano singled. Thames drove an 0-1 pitch to the back of the Blue Jays' bullpen in left-center for his 11th home run, stopping a 1-for-14 skid.
It was the latest clutch homer for Thames, a part-time player who hit six homers in a span of five starts that ended with Monday night's victory over Oakland. The Yankees, also missing injured pitcher Andy Pettitte, are 21-3 without Rodriguez this season.
"I've always said, if I'm hitting 'em when we're down 10-1 and I hit a two-run homer, it doesn't mean anything. I'd rather hit 'em when there's something on the line, to help us win a ballgame," Thames said. "I know what to expect when I get out there and I've just got to make sure I'm ready to play."
Lyle Overbay homered and drove in three runs for the Blue Jays in his second game back after missing five with post-concussion symptoms. John McDonald also went deep, increasing Toronto's total to a major league-best 205 homers.
Jose Bautista, who leads the big leagues with 43, was ejected by plate umpire Ed Hickox for arguing a called third strike on a full-count pitch with two on and none out in the seventh. Bautista barked about all three breaking balls from Joba Chamberlain that were called strikes. On the third one, which appeared to be outside, the slugger snapped into an animated protest and was tossed.
"You look at the replay. I mean, they're human. They're not going to get every pitch right, but I wish they got the right one on that one because it was a big situation," Overbay said.
Chamberlain (2-4) then induced a double-play grounder from Vernon Wells and wound up with his first win since May 14 against Minnesota.
Bautista didn't want to say much about the call, but he did think his strikeout was a momentum-changer.
"Definitely. That's why I said it was unfortunate that it happened when it happened," Bautista said. "We had more chances. That wasn't the only one. We could have scored more runs at 10 points in the game and we didn't."
Kerry Wood worked a perfect eighth and Mariano Rivera a one-hit ninth with two strikeouts for his 29th save in 31 chances.
His velocity down, Vazquez was demoted to the bullpen last month following five straight winless starts. He had two solid outings in long relief, including a win Monday night, and was handed the ball Saturday for his first start since Aug. 21.
The right-hander was effective at times, striking out six in 4 2/3 innings, with a fastball in the upper 80s (mph) and a good breaking ball. But he walked four and gave up two home runs – both in the second inning.
"He did OK," Girardi said, reiterating that Vazquez would make his next start. "My plan is for him to stay in the rotation. I can't tell you what's going to happen. There are no guarantees in this game."
New York tied it at 3 in the third. Derek Jeter grounded an RBI double over third base, ending a 3-for-35 slide, and Cano hit a two-run single off starter Mark Rzepczynski.
Brett Gardner had an RBI groundout in the fourth and another run scored on Rzepczynski's wild pitch.
For the second consecutive day, Girardi pulled a starter who led 5-3 in the fifth and was one out shy of qualifying for a win. In both cases, Overbay was coming up with two runners on.
In the series opener, left-hander Boone Logan struck out Overbay and the Yankees went on to win. This time, Overbay lined a two-run double into the right-field corner off right-hander Dustin Moseley to tie the score 5-all.
"I thought it was time to make a change," Girardi said. "I was going with the fresh arm."
Moseley was warming up after a leadoff walk in the third, but Vazquez struck out Bautista and Wells to get out of the inning.
Toronto SS Yunel Escobar (stiff back) missed his sixth consecutive game. … Yankees OF-DH Austin Kearns is day to day with a sore thumb. … Rodriguez (strained calf) is eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday. Swisher (stiff knee) also hopes to be back in the lineup for the series finale.
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