Jays continue to flex muscles against Yanks

The Blue Jays are not exactly breathing down the Yankees’ necks, but Toronto has certainly made its presence felt in the American League East race this weekend at Yankee Stadium. As recently as July 28, the Yankees had a seven-game lead in the division. After Saturday’s 6-0 loss to the Jays, the Yanks’ spread is down to 2 1/2 games.

Yes, they are four games up on Toronto in the loss column, which is one consolation, but they have been no match for the Jays’ muscle. The recent offensive slump continued against lefthander David Price, whom they had beaten up twice earlier this season (30.86 ERA in 2 1/3 innings) but who was flawless Saturday with seven brilliant innings (three hits, three walks, seven strikeouts).

The Yankees suffered their fourth shutout loss of the season and ended a stretch of nine non-losing series. They had not lost a series since June 29-July 1 when they dropped two of three games to the Angels at Anaheim. The Yanks are 2-6 against the Jays this year and have lost the first three series between them. There is still plenty of baseball left for these clubs against each other. They will meet up again next weekend at Toronto and seven more times in September.

“There is a long way to go,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi noted after the game. “I called this an important series before it started, but we have two months to go so you can’t get overly concerned about two games.”

Nevertheless, Girardi added that Masahiro Tanaka needs to come up big Sunday against Toronto righthander Marco Estrada as well as an offense that has disappeared during this homestand. Since exploding for 13 runs against the Red Sox to open the homestand five days ago, the Yankees have scored four runs in their past 37 innings and none in their past 17. They are hitless in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position over the past four games, three of them losses.

Ivan Nova was coasting along for five innings matching Price in putting up zeroes until it all came apart in the sixth. Two walks around a single by Jose Bautista, who won Friday night’s game with a 10th-inning home run, filled the bases for Justin Smoak, who belted a 0-1 pitch to right field for his first career grand slam.

Girardi had Adam Warren in the bullpen but counted on Nova’s sinker to get a much-needed ground ball, but the two-seamer had lost its effectiveness by then. Newcomer Troy Tulowitzki was 0-for-7 in the series before he connected in the seventh off Bryan Mitchell for a solo home run.

An error by second baseman Brendan Ryan led to an unearned run in the eighth on a two-out, RBI infield single by Russell Martin, the only one of Toronto’s eight runs in the series that was not the result of a home run.

An 0-for-4 by Mark Teixeira ended his stretch of 24 consecutive games in which he reached base. The Yankees had only five base runners in the game and failed to homer for the first time in 13 games.

Emphasizing the obvious, Girardi said, “We have to start swinging the bats.”

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