A series many thought might be the beginning of the end for the Yankees has been something entirely different.
"They're flying high right now," general manager Brian Cashman said of the Blue Jays on the eve of this three-game set against Toronto, which entered Friday with 11 straight wins and a half-game lead over the second-place Yankees. "We're the hunter now. They're the hunted. The roles are reversed."
It didn't take long for them to reverse back. Behind Masahiro Tanaka's complete game and homers by Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees earned a second straight win over the Blue Jays on Saturday, this one a 4-1 decision in front of 46,630 at Rogers Centre.
"I think guys live for this time of the year. It's what we focus on when we put our club together is to get to this point and have an opportunity," said Joe Girardi, whose club had lost nine of 13 before winning its third straight game. "We've [gone] through some good times and bad times this year but . . . it's a group that knows how to fight back, and they've done that."
The Yankees (64-51) increased their lead over the Blue Jays (64-54), who swept a three-game series in the Bronx last weekend, to 1½ games.
"They went to our home and they took three out of three. Right now we have the opportunity to do that," said Beltran, who homered for the second straight game to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the first inning. "Being able to take the first two is huge for us."
The Yankees will send Luis Severino to the mound Sunday afternoon against Drew Hutchison as they attempt to complete a sweep of their own.
Tanaka (9-5, 3.56) allowed five hits, walked three and struck out eight. He escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the fifth with only minimal damage, allowing a sacrifice fly by Josh Donaldson that tied the score at 1-1.
Teixeira's 31st homer, on a changeup from Marco Estrada (10-7, 3.20) with two outs in the sixth inning, snapped a 1-1 tie. "Once I hit that home run, I had a feeling he was going to keep it up," Teixeira said of Tanaka.
Teixeira then gave him an even larger cushion, following Beltran's double with an RBI single in the eighth. John Ryan Murphy doubled and scored on Jacoby Ellsbury's single in the ninth.
Beltran, who pinch hit a three-run homer in the eighth Friday night that Teixeira called "one of the biggest home runs of the year for us," quietly has put together a good season after a horrible April. He entered the day with a .297/.360/.515 slash line and .874 OPS since May 1 and improved upon that by going 2-for-3 with a homer and a double.
"I feel good at the plate, I'm seeing the ball good, I feel calm," Beltran said. "I'm laying off bad pitches. The past couple of days, I've gotten some good pitches in the strike zone."
Tanaka's most impressive work came in the fifth, when Toronto loaded the bases with none out and brought Donaldson and his 31 homers to the plate. Tanaka, who already had walked two in the inning, fell behind 2-and-0 before retiring Donaldson on a sacrifice fly, striking out Jose Bautista and getting Edwin Encarnacion to pop to second to get out of it. "The key to the game," Girardi said.
Tanaka said through his translator that he felt "today was one of the most important games" he's pitched as a Yankee. "My mindset was I wanted to go as deep into the game as possible," he said, "and I'm really satisfied I was able to do that."