Jays flex their Russell, increase AL East lead

Jays flex their Russell, increase AL East lead

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays took a stranglehold of the American League East lead as right-hander Marcus Stroman tossed seven efficient innings and Russell Martin hit a three-run homer to secure a 4-0 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

Toronto moved 3 1/2 games ahead of New York for first place in the division, thanks in large part to the Blue Jays winning the season series between the two clubs, 13-6. The Blue Jays' magic number to clinch the division dropped to eight with 10 games left in the regular season. With Kansas City edging Seattle, 4-3, in 10 innings, Toronto remained 1 1/2 games behind the Royals for the top record in the AL.

Stroman's scoreless start

New York's shot at the division crown took a major hit, but with 11 games left on its schedule, the race is far from over. The Yankees were still able to maintain their four-game lead for the top AL Wild Card spot after the Angels defeated the Astros, 6-5, earlier in the night. New York's magic number to clinch a Wild Card berth is seven.

"I'm ready, I'm excited -- I put in a lot of work this offseason," said Stroman, who missed the first five months of the season following surgery. "I'm just happy to be here competing with my brothers, and I pitch with a lot of emotion. Everyone around me gets me fired up. This is a great camaraderie, and the team that we have so it's exciting."

Martin broke things open in the bottom of the seventh with a three-run shot to right, but it was Stroman who kept the Blue Jays in the game for most of the night. Stroman allowed five hits and walked one, recording five strikeouts, as he continues to dominate in his return from right knee surgery. In three starts since he has been back, Stroman has allowed four runs over 19 innings.

Stroman on win over Yankees

Right-hander Ivan Nova was nearly as strong for the Yankees, holding Toronto scoreless into the sixth inning. Nova retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth but walked Martin before handing things over to New York's bullpen, which allowed the inherited runner to score on Kevin Pillar's single. Nova was charged with the one run on four hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings.

"We have to play extremely well," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They're very good, and they've played well. You look at what they've done in the second half -- we're going to have to be almost perfect."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Martin leaves his mark: Martin gave the Blue Jays some much-needed breathing room in the seventh with his drive to left off Yankees reliever Andrew Bailey. According to Statcast™, Martin's 21st homer of the year was projected to travel 381 feet from the plate, and it left his bat at 101 mph. The 21 home runs by Martin this season tie his career high, previously set in 2012 with the Yankees.

"The park is sold out, the crowd is electric -- it makes those moments stand out even more," said Martin. "If the crowd wasn't as loud, it wouldn't feel the same. Definitely a good feeling for me. I know the boys enjoyed it." More >

Yanks strand a pair: The Yankees were not able to mount much of an attack against Stroman until the seventh, when Carlos Beltran worked a one-out walk and Chase Headley lined a two-out single to center, with Pillar's strong throw pinning Beltran at second. That brought up Dustin Ackley, who had doubled in the fifth inning off Stroman. Ackley made good contact but couldn't cash pinch-runner Slade Heathcott from second, as Pillar charged in and snagged a sinking liner.

Stroman escapes jam

"At the end of the night, we just weren't able to get any runs across," Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said. "You've got to score a couple of runs if you want to beat these guys. I thought we pitched a good game against them; we just didn't do our job offensively."

Pillar comes through: The Blue Jays were struggling to score runs and found themselves 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position this series when Pillar stepped to the plate in the sixth. With runners on the corners and two outs, Pillar came through with a single up the middle on the first pitch thrown by Yankees reliever Caleb Cotham. Martin scored to give Toronto a 1-0 lead after his two-out walk sparked the initial rally.

Pillar's RBI single

"Nova had good stuff today -- his fastball was moving a lot, his breaking ball was sharp," Martin said. "Really, I was just trying to fight that at-bat, win that at-bat. I ended up getting that walk, and we had some good ABs behind me. Pillar with the huge hit to give us the lead, and that helped us breathe a little bit better."

Helping hands: Stroman cruised through the first four innings but did find himself in some minor trouble in the fifth. With a runner on first, Headley hit a bouncer to first that was handled by Justin Smoak, whose throw to second was wide of the bag. Shortstop Ryan Goins managed to stretch and make the play while maintaining contact with the bag, and he had enough poise to throw to first. The throw was bounced, but Smoak was there to make a difficult pick to complete the double play. It was a case of both fielders helping each other on the same play, and it may have saved a run, as Ackley later doubled but was stranded at second.

Smoak, Goins turn two

QUOTABLE
"He had them on for a couple of innings. I guess he has soft hands; he can't handle it. But having that guy waiting at the top step after every inning is definitely motivating. He's the man, and I'm just lucky to be on his team." -- Stroman, on Blue Jays ace David Price wearing batting gloves in the dugout in preparation of Stroman's aggressive high-fives

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Left-hander Brett Cecil tossed a scoreless eighth to increase his streak of innings without an earned run allowed to 28. Of Cecil's last 21 outs, 16 have been strikeouts.

WHAT'S NEXT
Yankees: The Yankees will open a four-game series against the White Sox at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, beginning New York's final homestand of the regular season. Right-hander Michael Pineda (11-8, 4.10 ERA) will try to follow up on a solid Subway Series outing, as the Yanks attempt to solve left-hander Chris Sale (12-10, 3.47 ERA), who has struck out an AL-best 259 batters in 194 2/3 innings. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.

Blue Jays: The Blue Jays will enjoy an off-day on Thursday before opening a three-game series against the Rays on Friday night at Rogers Centre. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (10-11, 4.05 ERA) will take the mound opposite Jake Odorizzi (8-8, 3.38 ERA) as Toronto begins its final home series of the regular season. Dickey is 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA since the All-Star break.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.