Beltran thrives in playoff atmosphere

No matter what happens Sunday, the Yankees are guaranteed to depart Toronto in first place in the American League East. They assured themselves of that by following Friday night’s exhilarating come-from-behind victory with a thoroughly commanding triumph Saturday that let the Blue Jays know they are in for a fight.

Masahiro Tanaka, in what was probably the most important start of his brief career in North America, gave the Yankees precisely what they needed Saturday with a route-going performance, his first complete game of the season and fourth of his career. The Yankees beat Toronto at its own game with home runs by Carlos Beltran (No. 12) and Mark Teixeira (No. 31) doing in Marco Estrada, who had shut them out for 6 1/3 innings last Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

This series has been a turnaround set for the Yankees, who have out-homered the Jays, 3-0, and beat two of the pitchers who shut them down last weekend.

Another sellout crowd at Rogers Centre of 46,630 had little to cheer about as the Yankees increased their lead in the division to 1 1/2 games (three in the loss column). The large crowds have conveyed a playoff atmosphere, which may be why Beltran has played so huge a role in the first two games.

After all, Beltran is among the greatest postseason players in major league history. In 51 postseason games and 180 at-bats, Beltran has batted .333 with 45 runs, 13 doubles, one triple, 16 home runs, 40 runs batted and 11 stolen bases. His OPS (on-base average plus slugging percentage) in postseason play is an incredible 1.128.

It began back in 2004 when a late-season trade sent him from Kansas City to Houston where he hit eight home runs in 12 games combined in the National Leage Division Series and NL Championship Series.

Mets fans glumly recall that Beltran took a 3-2 breaking ball from then rookie Adam Wainwright for the final out of the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals, who went on to win their first World Series in 24 years in a five-game victory over the Tigers. What Mets fans tend to forget is that Beltran batted .296 with three homers and four RBI against St. Louis.

Playing for the Cardinals in 29 postseason games over the 2012 and ’13 seasons, Beltran hit .306 with nine doubles, one triple, five home runs and 21 RBI. He finally got to the World Series in 2013 and hit .294 with three RBI, but the Cards lost in six games to the Red Sox.

If the Yankees can get to postseason play this year, they can thank Beltran for what he has done the past two games. His three-run, pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning Friday night off Aaron Sanchez was a game-winner, and Beltran got the Yankees off on a positive note Saturday with a first-inning solo homer off Estrada.

Beltran’s homer Friday night was the Yankees’ first go-ahead, pinch-hit homer when trailing in the eighth inning or later since Jorge Posada hit a pinch-hit three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth Sept. 9, 2009 against the Rays at Yankee Stadium. The previous Yankees player to hit a go-ahead pinch-hit homer on the road in the eighth inning or later was Don Mattingly July 24, 1994 at Anaheim, a three-run shot that erased a 4-2 deficit.

Beltran, who also doubled Saturday, extended his hitting streak to 10 games during which he has batted .375 in 32 at-bats. During Beltran’s 16-game on-base streak (since July 26), he is batting .346 with 10 runs, six doubles, five home runs, nine RBI and eight walks in 60 plate appearances.

It was still a 1-0 game in the fifth when it appeared the game was getting out of hand for Tanaka. He loaded the bases on two walks sandwiched around an opposite-field single by 9-hole hitter Ben Revere with the power portion of the Jays’ batting order coming up.

The crowd got excited when Josh Donaldson lifted a high fly to left field but had to settle for a game-tying sacrifice fly. Tanaka bore down to strike out Jose Bautista on a nasty splitter and retire the equally dangerous Edwin Encarnacion on a soft infield fly.

Tanaka’s effort was rewarded the next inning when Teixeira, getting a day off the field as the designated hitter, lauched a home run to right field. Rookie Greg Bird played first base and got his first major-league hit, a single to left in the eighth, after Teixeira got his second RBI on a single that scored Chris Young, pinch running for Beltran, who had doubled with one out. John Ryan Murphy doubled and scored on a single by Jacoby Ellsbury in the ninth.

Tanaka was masterful the rest of the way as he set down 15 of Toronto’s last 16 batters to give a weary bullpen a needed blow.

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