NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka tossed seven scoreless innings and Dustin Ackley hit a two-run homer as the Yankees avoided the sweep with a 5-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
The victory pulled New York within 3 1/2 games of the Blue Jays for the top spot in the American League East. It also snapped Toronto's seven-game winning streak at Yankee Stadium, which was the longest in franchise history.
Tanaka allowed four hits and didn't walk a batter while striking out seven en route to the quality start. He retired 12 consecutive batters from the third until the seventh and allowed just three runners to reach scoring position. Tanaka improved to 5-2 with a 2.23 ERA in seven career starts against the Blue Jays.
"I had a sense of having some of the better stuff earlier on in the game," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I think my confidence grew little by little by getting out of the first, second and third inning."
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey took the loss for Toronto after he allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks over 7 2/3 innings. He surrendered two runs in the second, and the big blow came in the fourth when Ackley took him deep to right field for his seventh home run of the season. It was Dickey's first loss since July 9 and snapped his personal seven-game winning streak.
The Yankees desperately needed a victory after dropping the first three games of the four-game series. New York was at risk of falling a distant 5 1/2 games back of Toronto with another loss, but instead the 3 1/2-game deficit will give them an opportunity to make another push before the end of the season. The two teams will meet for the final time from Sept. 21-23 at Rogers Centre.
"Shoot, we played good, it was a good series," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We came in here feeling good and we won three of four, you can never complain about that. We went for it today, tough day for both sides to play. I think everybody was beat up, tired, but yeah, we feel good leaving here."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Tanaka pulls through: The Yankees explicitly said that their pitching needed to be better if they were going to salvage a game off of the Blue Jays, and on Sunday, they got just what they needed from Tanaka. He was pitching on regular four days' rest after throwing 104 pitches in his last outing. The right-handed ace was dominant, throwing 76 of his 108 pitches for strikes. More >
Pillar picked off: Toronto's scoring opportunities were few and far between against Tanaka, but one of their lone chances was squandered in the top of the second. Kevin Pillar hit a one-out double to the gap in left-center field, but he was then promptly picked off second by Tanaka. Pillar simply strayed too far from the base and the quick turnaround throw got him following a close play at the bag. Second-base umpire Dale Scott originally called Pillar safe, but it was later overturned on replay. Toronto went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position against Tanaka.
"He can cut you up pretty good and I thought he was hitting the corners all night long," Gibbons said of Tanaka. "You say not overpowering, but his fastball plays harder than it really does because he has such a good split and a slider so that fastball looks a heck of a lot better than it's reading on the gun, that's for sure."
Ackley finds success: Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sunday that he wanted to play Ackley at first base in favor of Greg Bird because Ackley has experience facing the knuckleballer Dickey. Ackley proved Girardi's decision a smart one, going 2-for-2 with a sacrifice fly in the second, a two-run shot in the fourth and a single in the seventh.
"To be honest, nothing crazy. I think the simpler approach the better," Ackley said of his approach to knuckleballers. "I think sometimes guys try to get too big or try to see the knuckleball. I think a lot of times you've just got to go up there and first one you see over the plate, you just take a good swing on it. Today he was throwing a lot of knuckleballs into guys and kinda tying some guys up. I mean, that's how he's had success."
"I felt like that was a way I could contribute today. We were having a tough time off Tanaka, he threw the ball really, really good today, so when they got a little bit of a lead I thought to myself, 'Let's save the 'pen. They'll have two days to rest and we'll be feeling strong going into Atlanta.'" -- Dickey, on pitching 7 2/3 innings to save a tired bullpen after Saturday's doubleheader.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Jose Bautista's double in the first inning extended his on-base streak to 22 games, which is his longest of the season. He also has at least one hit in 10 straight games against the Yankees.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: The Blue Jays will enjoy an off-day on Monday before opening a three-game Interleague series against the Braves on Tuesday in Atlanta at 7:10 p.m. ET. Left-hander Mark Buehrle (14-7, 3.72 ERA) will make his return after having his last outing bumped back a few days following a cortisone shot in his left shoulder. Buehrle has made just one start this month, allowing five runs over 3 1/3 innings against the Red Sox on Sept. 7.
Yankees: The Yankees will travel to Tropicana Field for the first game of a three-game set against the Rays on Monday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Getting the nod to start is CC Sabathia, who is 13-14 with a 3.83 ERA in 37 career starts against the Rays. In his most recent outing, Sabathia took the no-decision after striking out five over 4 2/3 innings against the Orioles. He gave up four hits and three runs (one earned).