NEW YORK -- The Baby Bombers deserve plenty of credit for powering the Yankees back into the postseason chase, but Masahiro Tanaka's late-season surge might just be the most meaningful development taking place in the Bronx.
Tanaka stepped into the ace role again on Saturday as he recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts without a walk as the Yankees grabbed their seventh straight win with a 5-1 victory over the Rays.
"I feel that we're on a really good roll," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I think we have younger guys up, and the new guys are providing positive energy into the clubhouse and the team. I think that has a lot to do with it."
The 27-year-old Tanaka saved his best work for the second half, helping a Yankees club that remains one game off the pace for the second American League Wild Card spot. Tanaka scattered five hits over 7 1/3 innings, improving to 5-0 in his past six starts as the Yankees moved to three games behind the Red Sox in the AL East.
Chris Archer matched Tanaka through the first five frames, but Jacoby Ellsbury and Sanchez broke up the duel with back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning. Ellsbury launched a two-run home run to right field, his eighth homer, and Sanchez homered for the second consecutive day with a solo shot into the left-field bullpen.
Archer was saddled with his 18th loss despite holding New York to three runs and four hits over seven innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Claiming ownership: Ellsbury is a career .559 (19-for-34) hitter off Archer, marking the most hits Archer has allowed to any batter in his career, and he delivered a timely blast on Saturday with a line drive to the right-field seats. Sanchez followed with a well-struck drive that nearly went into the left-field loading dock; the rookie has homered in back-to-back games after a mini-drought of 10 homerless contests.
"The game of baseball is about making adjustments -- they're going to make adjustments, I've got to make adjustments, and it goes back and forth," Sanchez said.
Tanaka time: The Yankees improved to 22-7 in games when Tanaka starts, as the right-hander has embraced his responsibility as the leader of the pitching staff. Tanaka had his sharp stuff working early, striking out two batters in each of the first four innings. He lost the shutout in the eighth, and a hit-by-pitch prompted manager Joe Girardi to call upon Adam Warren, who plunked the first batter he faced. Warren then got Evan Longoria to hit into a double play, ending the inning.
"It took a lot of pitches to get out of those [first] few innings, so obviously, you want to be more efficient," Tanaka said. "As the game went on, I thought that I would be able to get some more quick outs, and that's exactly what happened. I guess I can say I'm really satisfied with how I was able to get deep into the game." More >
Missed opportunities: The Rays had two early chances against Tanaka, stranding a runner at second with one out in the first and with two outs in the second. Then they had Logan Forsythe at third with one out in the sixth. Forsythe held when Longoria lined hard to Rob Refsnyder in right, and Brad Miller bounced to first to end the threat.
"We were kind of snakebit a little bit today on both sides of the ball," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
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Sanchez is one of five players in Major League history to hit at least 13 home runs in his first 35 games, joining Wally Joyner, Mike Jacobs, Kevin Maas and Wally Berger (13 each).
The Yankees unsuccessfully challenged a call in the eighth inning, as Forsythe was confirmed to have been hit in the jersey by Tanaka's final pitch of the afternoon.
WHAT'S NEXT Rays: Right-hander Matt Andriese (6-7, 4.58 ERA) will make the start in the series finale at Yankee Stadium on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Andriese is looking to snap a winless streak after going 0-7 with a 6.11 ERA covering his past 15 appearances, including eight starts. He's 0-2 with a 7.53 ERA in four career outings vs. the Yankees, two of them starts, including an 8-4 loss at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 13.
Yankees: The Yankees are 4-0 when Luis Cessa (4-0, 4.07 ERA) starts, and the young right-hander will try to make it 5-for-5 when New York goes for the sweep on Sunday afternoon. Cessa is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA since being moved to the rotation, and he limited the Blue Jays to two runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings his last time out.