NEW YORK—Sensing the season’s dwindling days, the N.Y. Yankees opened their penultimate homestand by falling behind on Masahiro Tanaka’s seventh pitch of a sunny Labor Day afternoon.
But Jacoby Ellsbury turned the deficit into a lead on R.A. Dickey’s third offering of the day, and New York remained on the periphery of contention for a post-season berth with four weeks to go.
Ellsbury drove a 73 m.p.h. knuckleball over the short right-field porch for a two-run homer, then added an RBI single to lead the Yankees over the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 yesterday and keep New York 3.5 games back in the AL wild-card race.
“It’s almost imperative,” said Brett Gardner, who singled one pitch ahead of Ellsbury’s seventh homer.
“At this point, we have to win every series the rest of the way,” he stressed.
“We’ve got to play well, and two-out-of-three is the worst-case scenario for us.”
Starting a 10-game homestand that includes four games against Tampa Bay and three versus the L.A. Dodgers, New York (71-65) matched its season high of six games over .500.
AL East-leading Toronto (77-60), which remained one game ahead of Boston after the Red Sox fell 2-1 to San Diego later yesterday in interleague play, had been 9-3 against the Yankees this year and won seven of the prior eight matchups.
The Jays jumped in front when Devon Travis doubled and Jose Bautista singled in the first (both on 0-2 counts).
“I felt like I was all over the place,” Tanaka said through a translator.
Tanaka (12-4) gave up three hits in the first but only one run—helped when Bautista got thrown out at the plate on a grounder.
He then settled down to win his fifth-straight decision.
Gardner took a strike in the bottom half and singled to centre before Ellsbury drove a high knuckler 351 feet.
“You just try to anticipate it falling back in the zone,” Ellsbury noted.
“Last time he threw me a fastball, I hit a triple.”
Ellsbury added an RBI single in the third before rookie Travis Austin hit his second double of the game in the fourth—a drive off the wall in left-centre that drove in two runs for a 5-1 lead.
Tanaka allowed two runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings, leaving after a lead-off walk and a fly ball by Dioner Navarro that 6’7” Aaron Judge caught against the top of the right-field wall.
Jonathan Holder, who made his big-league debut Friday, got an out but walked his next two batters.
Edwin Encarnacion then hit a two-run, opposite-field single to right off Ben Heller for his third hit.
But Tommy Layne—New York’s third-straight rookie reliever—retired pitch hitter Russell Martin on a looping ball to second baseman Starlin Castro.
Dellin Betances, the Yankees’ sixth pitcher, got three straight outs for his ninth save.
Dickey (9-14) allowed five runs and seven hits in four innings on a blustery afternoon—his second shortest start this season.
He is 0-6 in his last nine starts at Yankee Stadium.
“I had a lot of movement on it,” Dickey said of his knuckler.
“Sometimes this game’s a matter of centimetres, you know, one that gets off the barrel, doesn’t get off the barrel and it’s popped out to right field.”
Elsewhere in the AL, Kansas City dumped Minnesota 11-5, Baltimore beat Tampa Bay 7-3, L.A. topped Oakland 10-7, Detroit downed Chicago 5-3 (11 innings), Seattle clobbered Texas 14-6, and Houston upended Cleveland 6-2.
Over in the NL, Chicago beat Milwaukee 7-2, New York blanked Cincinnati 5-0, Philadelphia downed Miami 6-2, Washington shaded Atlanta 6-4, St. Louis doubled Pittsburgh 12-6, Colorado whitewashed San Francisco 6-0, and L.A. dumped Arizona 10-2.