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TOR@SEA: Iwakuma fans 13 in win over Blue Jays

While the Yankees haven't been at their best over the past two weeks or so, the Mariners have been playing perhaps their best baseball of the season. The two clubs are on different ends of their respective division spectrums -- the Yankees lead the American League East, while the Mariners are in last place in the AL West -- and each has a benchmark to reach in Sunday's rubber match at Yankee Stadium.

Losers of their past two series, the Yankees can win their first set since they took two of three from the Mariners in Seattle in late July. Meanwhile, the Mariners can make it nine victories in 10 games after taking Saturday's contest, 1-0, behind an absolute gem by ace Felix Hernandez.

The first pitch Sunday in the Bronx is slated for 1:05 p.m. EDT. It's the last meeting of the year between the two clubs.

Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will attempt to follow in Hernandez's footsteps on Sunday as he makes his first start at Yankee Stadium. Iwakuma is riding high after by far his best game since moving into the Mariners rotation just before the All-Star break, striking out 13 in eight innings of Monday's 4-1 victory against the Blue Jays.

"He came out of Spring Training as our long guy and we didn't use him much, but he was still able to get comfortable with the big leagues," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "He was a great worker even when he wasn't pitching. He had a couple stretches there where he went a couple weeks without pitching, but he did his work and kept getting stronger. And when he did get in there, he'd pitch for two, three, four innings, which I think was helpful for him.

"Then, as we started using him more frequently, we found out he was a little more resilient than we'd anticipated, and then his stuff just started playing up. His slider was more crisp, his splitter [broke] later, his fastball had a little more on the end of it. Then we started using him in more primary situations and saw that he handled that. And the next thing you know, he's in the rotation. It's been a very consistent climb for him."

For the Yankees, it will be Freddy Garcia on the hill after he labored through six innings in his last outing against the Orioles on Monday. But he pitched well the last time he saw the Mariners in that July series, working into the eighth inning and allowing three runs on five hits over 7 1/3 frames against his former club.

Garcia struck out eight and walked none in that game.

"I started to always make my pitch, and they gave me a favor -- they started swinging the bats real aggressive," Garcia said of that outing in Seattle. "For me, when that happens it's good, because I can locate all my pitches and get the job done more easy."

Yankees: Robinson rolling
Second baseman Robinson Cano has hit safely in 32 of his past 36 games dating back to June 24, including a career-best 23 in a row from June 24-July 20. He's hit safely in 85 of 106 games this year, and leads all Major League second basemen with 24 home runs and 63 RBIs.

Cano's next homer will tie Tony Lazzeri (169) for the most by a Yankee whose primary position was second base.

• Sunday is the Yankees' final game on a nine-game homestand that included series losses against the Red Sox (1-2) and Orioles (1-2). They are in the middle of a stretch of 20 straight days without a scheduled day off, extending through Aug. 22. New York will head out for a seven-game road trip (Detroit and Toronto) on Monday.

Mariners: Seattle sluggers
Over their last nine games, the Mariners are hitting .279 (81-for-290) with 41 runs scored, 20 doubles and seven home runs. Seattle has recorded 10 or more hits in four of those contests.

• The Mariners have won four of their past five series after not earning a series victory in seven consecutive sets before that. They had one four-game split and dropped six rubber games between series wins.

Worth noting
• Seattle is 13-5 in Saturday games, but it is just 7-9 in Sunday contests.

• Ichiro Suzuki has a season-high 11-game hitting streak, all since he joined the Yankees, with exactly one hit in each game.

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