TORONTO -- OK, so it's only the 77th game of a 162-game slog, and it came at the end of a brief road trip that still ended 1-2, and it took them five pitchers to get the last nine outs of the game over a first-place team that has looked anything but convincing lately.
Still, the Yankees' 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays Wednesday night at Rogers Centre had the feel of a big win, if only because it averted the horror of getting swept and returning to New York for this weekend's series with the Boston Red Sox wallowing in the despair of a season-high five-game losing streak.
So it really didn't matter much if the offense sputtered again, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and muffing golden opportunities to blow the game open in both the fifth and seventh innings.
And it didn't matter that Joe Girardi was working his bullpen as if it were the seventh game of the World Series, or that he needed his closer, David Robertson, to give him five outs to nail it down.
As Girardi pointed out, the Yankees offense got enough to win, and as for the bullpen, tomorrow is not just another day, but an off-day.
So the Yankees can go into this weekend against the Red Sox not only rested, but relieved that in three days here they had not completely undone what they had accomplished a week ago at Yankee Stadium, where they swept the Blue Jays to cut their lead in the AL East to 1 1/2 games. Now, they return home 2 1/2 games back. And if, as Girardi likes to say, "It's not what you want," it's also a lot better than it might have been.
"We needed this one," said Mark Teixeira, whose two-run homer in the third inning provided enough for Hiroki Kuroda to even his record at 5-5. "Especially going into the off-day, stop the bleeding a little bit. Just a good all-around team win."
Tuesday night, of course, was a debacle, an error-strewn 7-6 Yankees loss after which Teixeira was calling for the fans to be given their money back. Tonight was a comparatively clean game that Teixeira felt was worth every penny paid for admission.
"No refunds tonight," he said. "Pay full price."
Teixeira also knocked in the Yankees' final run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the seventh inning -- Girardi called him "an RBI machine" after the game -- but despite that being just the first out of the inning, the Yankees could push no one else across as Carlos Beltran struck out and Brian Roberts flied out to center.
"I felt like we had a chance to break it open," Girardi said, "But we got enough and our pitchers did the job."
Kuroda, who had not won since May 28, did his best Masahiro Tanaka impression early, giving up a first-pitch home run to Jose Reyes leading off the first, and worked with men on base in all but one of his 6 1/3 innings. But he held the line at three runs -- Yankee nemesis Melky Cabrera knocked in two with a fifth-inning single -- and then gave way to a procession of Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton and Adam Warren, each of whom worked 1/3 of an inning before Girardi decided to go to Robertson with one out in the eighth.
“I knew I could, because he hasn’t worked in a week," said Girardi in an oblique reference to the unhappy fact that the Yankees haven't needed a closer since June 17. The last time Robertson worked, on June 18, was a non-save situation in a 7-3 Yankees blowout over the same Toronto Blue Jays.
"To be honest with you I felt better today than I have the last few games," said Robertson, who retired all five batters he faced and struck out three of them. "I've been staying sharp just playing catch and getting the feel of the baseball coming out of your hand right. We hit a little bit of a rough patch there and we needed to pick up a win."
Now, the Yankees head home for a series against the Red Sox that is sure to be somewhat subdued, because it is not only not a battle for first place, but the Red Sox are stragglers in the division, eight games below .500 and eight games behind the Blue Jays.
"They’ve had their struggles just like us," Girardi said. "They’ve had good streaks and bad streaks, and you never really understand completely why it happens. They’ve lost some tough games just like we have, but we know they’re still extremely dangerous. I think with the parity in our division I think no matter what two teams are playing in our division it takes on huge importance."
"Huge" is definitely too strong a word for this weekend even if it is the Red Sox, and maybe even too much for Wednesday night. It's too early for that kind of hyperbole, especially against a team as flawed as the Blue Jays.
But "big"? That seems to fit, and quite nicely.
NOTES: Toronto may be atop the divison, but the Yankees have now won six of the nine games between the two teams, 3-3 here and 3-0 at home ... Teixeira homered in two of the three games here and has homered in three of his last five ... Derek Jeter, who will be 40 by the time you read this, is hitting .321 (18-for-56) over the last 14 games ... Robertson is movin' on up on the Yankees' all-time appearances list. This was his 365th appearance, tying Waite Hoyt for 12th on the list.