CLEVELAND - The Yankees knew the deal well before Thursday night's first pitch.

Toronto already had posted its 11th straight victory. Win, and the Yankees would fly an hour northeast of here and enter this weekend's series with the Blue Jays a half-game behind.

A loss would be their sixth straight and put their AL East deficit at 11/2 games.

"I think today's important," Joe Girardi said beforehand. "Is it the end of the world? No, but I think it's a pretty important game."

There were some tense moments late, but the Yankees rose to the occasion, at least offensively, earning an 8-6 win over the Indians in front of 23,076 at Progressive Field.

"It was big," Alex Rodriguez said. "We needed that."

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The outcome put the Yankees in a better mood entering the weekend at what is expected to be a hostile, raucous Rogers Centre, which is sold out for all three games.

Righthander Ivan Nova, who flew ahead to Toronto late Thursday afternoon, gets the start Friday night against David Price.

"One hundred percent," Brian McCann -- who hit a three-run homer with two outs in the first inning Thursday night -- said of looking forward to the challenge ahead. "Down the stretch, this is what you put all the hours in for. This is fun. It's going to be a competitive race."

The Yankees (62-51) -- who had scored nine runs and batted .157 (37-for-236) in the previous seven games -- had 10 hits Thursday night, including a solo homer by Stephen Drew in the second that made it 4-0. The oft-criticized second baseman had two hits, two RBIs and four runs scored, and Brett Gardner had three hits and three RBIs.

"When you play 162 games, there's going to be times where you struggle and you don't hit, and it happened to us this past week," McCann said. "We have a deep lineup that can hurt you. Tonight was good to get back on track."

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Said Drew: "This is a good offense . . . It was just a matter of time."

The beneficiary of the run support was Nathan Eovaldi (12-2, 4.26), which was no surprise. He entered the game with the second-highest support in the majors, 7.42 runs per game.

Eovaldi, who was 6-0 with a 2.87 ERA in his previous nine starts, wasn't quite that sharp, allowing four runs, seven hits and three walks in 51/3 innings.

"I just felt like my timing was a little off today," he said. "My timing was inconsistent."

Adam Warren came on with two on and one out in the sixth and induced a double play. Justin Wilson allowed two singles in the seventh and gave way to Dellin Betances with two outs. He loaded the bases and threw a wild pitch that made it 7-5 but struck out Abraham Almonte to end the inning.

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Given an 8-5 lead by Gardner's third hit, Betances allowed a leadoff double in the eighth but no more. Andrew Miller, who blew a save for the first time this season Tuesday night, allowed Yan Gomes' RBI single in the ninth but earned his 25th save.

The Yankees jumped on Trevor Bauer (9-9, 4.35), who allowed six runs and seven hits in 31/3 innings. Ellsbury led off with a single and Gardner drew a walk. Two outs later, McCann golfed a 2-and-1 fastball just fair down the rightfield line for his 20th homer and a 3-0 lead.

"Seems like that's more runs than we've scored in a week," Girardi said. "It changes the mood, obviously."