On Wednesday night, Cecil turned in eight solid innings and defeated the team he cheered for throughout his childhood, helping the Blue Jays to a 6-3 victory at Rogers Centre. Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells aided Cecil's effort by driving in four runs and ending a double shy of a cycle.
The Blue Jays (66-60) took two out of three in the latest set with their American League East rival, improving to 7-5 against the Yankees this season. Cecil boasts two wins and a no-decision in three outings against New York this year, and the 24-year-old lefty has fashioned a tidy 1.64 ERA in those starts.
Cecil admits that he gets a little more geared up to face his former heroes.
"I've watched some of these guys play for years and years," Cecil said. "I think maybe a little extra comes with facing them, but like I've said all year, I just go out there and face every team the same way, no matter who it is."
Truth be told, Cecil did not have that same attitude a year ago.
As a rookie last season, Cecil was called upon to face the Yankees on July 5 in the Bronx. The pitcher admits to being a bit intimidated at the time and the results -- seven runs allowed in just 3 2/3 innings -- served as evidence. Overall last year, Cecil posted an 11.25 ERA in eight innings against the Yankees.
"When I faced them last year in their place for the first time," Cecil said, "I found out the day before. So, it's not even like I could get ready for the emotions that I knew I was going to have facing that team. I think it's a lot different now."
Is it ever.
Including the Yankees (78-49), who are tied with the Rays for first place in the division, Cecil is now 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA against AL East opponents this season. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston sees a more confident pitcher -- one who knows he can excel on the big league stage.
"He's probably pitched as well as anybody on this club all year," Gaston said. "I keep thinking and saying that I think this kid, he belongs here. He feels like he belongs here and he's got some confidence going."
Cecil has been told by teammates that he has matured a lot mentally in the past year.
"I take a lot of pride in hearing stuff like that," he said.
Cecil opened Wednesday's outing with a seven-pitch confrontation with Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who first won a World Series with New York when the pitcher was 10 years old. On the seventh pitch, Jeter swung and missed, striking out to set an early tone for Cecil's eight strong innings.
"I shouldn't say I'm surprised," Cecil said, "but I am when I get him out."
After Cecil set the Yankees down in order in the top of the first inning, Wells got things rolling for the Blue Jays' offense in the home half. With two outs, Wells sent a pitch from New York's Phil Hughes to the wall in right-center field for a triple, scoring Fred Lewis to put the Blue Jays ahead early, 1-0.
"I was quite exhausted after the first at-bat," Wells said with a smirk. "I'm too old to be hitting triples in the first. Luckily, I was able to help the team a little more after that."
Wells, who scored on a passed ball in the first, later launched a two-run home run off Hughes (15-6) in the third inning to push Toronto to a 4-0 lead. The blast -- No. 23 on the season for Toronto's center fielder -- ended a drought of 71 plate appearances and 64 at-bats without a home run for Wells.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth inning, Wells drove home another run with an infield single -- a hit that chased Hughes from the contest. In the sixth inning, Wells stepped into the box against Yankees reliever Javier Vazquez, needing a double to become the first Toronto player to hit for the cycle since Jeff Frye in 2001.
Wells flew out to the warning track in left field.
"You're thinking about it," said Wells, referring to hitting for the cycle. "But I just got a ball off the end of the bat in my fourth at-bat. Maybe next time."
Wells' performance, combined with a fifth-inning home run from second baseman Aaron Hill, was more than enough to overcome the two runs Cecil surrendered and the one run New York tacked on in the ninth. Cecil, who scattered seven hits and struck out five, improved to 11-6 on the year with a 3.80 ERA.
With every win Cecil notches over the Yankees, the more they become just another team to the left-hander. When he is on the field, Cecil knows he can't afford to view them as the club he cheered for as a kid growing up in Maryland.
"You've got to forget about all that stuff," Cecil said. "That's my job now."
That does not mean Cecil's parents will take the photograph down.