Joe Girardi didn't downplay the significance.
"It would be big," the Yankees manager said of the possibility of sweeping the Blue Jays. "This is the team we're chasing right now."
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Maybe not for long.
Led by David Phelps and, though not an especially exciting offense but an efficient one, the Yankees completed a three-game sweep of the visiting Blue Jays with a 6-4 victory Thursday night.
The Yankees (38-33), who have won nine of their last 13 and start a series with the Orioles (37-34) Friday night at home, pulled within 1½ games of the Blue Jays (41-33), who lost their 16th straight at the Stadium.
"It was great to win against them, they're in first place," said Carlos Beltran, who drove in two runs. "Being able to take three out of three really means a lot to us."
Phelps (3-4, 4.13) followed his brilliant outing last Friday in Oakland (he threw 62/3 scoreless innings against the powerful A's) with a standout effort against the just-as-powerful Blue Jays, allowing two runs and six hits in seven innings. He threw a season-high 115 pitches and had seven strikeouts with two walks.
"His backdoor cutter was a big pitch and his curveball was as sharp as I've seen it," catcher Brian McCann said.
Girardi planned to stay away from Dellin Betances and closer David Robertson because they had been used so much of late.
Adam Warren entered with one out in the ninth and picked up his third career save. He replaced Matt Thornton. Shawn Kelley allowed a two-run homer to Edwin Encarnacion, his 21st, with one out in the eighth.
"When our bullpen's been as good as they are, tonight was a night I could pick them up," Phelps said. "I definitely had that in the back of my head . . . It was one of those days where everything felt pretty good."
Phelps got out of trouble in the first inning, aided by what he, and Girardi, called the "biggest" play of the night.
After Jose Reyes popped out, Melky Cabrera singled, which extended his hitting streak to 19 straight against his former team, and Jose Bautista walked. With Encarnacion at the plate, Phelps stepped off the rubber and tried to pick Cabrera off second. Phelps and second baseman Brian Roberts thought they had Cabrera but second-base umpire Jordan Baker signaled safe. Girardi challenged and it took replay central in New York 38 seconds to reverse the call.
"You've got one of the best hitters in baseball at the plate, first and second and one out," said Phelps, who struck out Encarnacion looking. "It's huge."
The Yankees then gave Phelps, 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA in his previous four starts at the Stadium, a 1-0 lead against Toronto starter Drew Hutchinson.
Hutchinson (5-5, 3.86), who allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings, walked two in the second with Kelly Johnson's sacrifice fly making it 2-0.
The Blue Jays tied it in the third when Reyes singled and scored on Cabrera's 11th homer. The Yankees took the lead in the third as Ellsbury led off with a single, stole second and scored on Carlos Beltran's sacrifice fly. Beltran's two-out RBI double in the fifth made it 4-2.
"We're all kind of bunched together," Girardi said of the AL East standings. "There's a lot of meaning to these games."