Results tagged ‘ Edwin Encarnacion ’

Late-inning bullpen breakdown strikes Yanks again

The situation had reached the level that just scoring a run would be considered a moral victory for the Yankees. At this stage of the season, however, they need more than moral victories. They need out-and-out Ws, yet another late-inning breakdown Sunday on a trip that has turned into a train wreck stretched their losing streak to four games and dumped them 5 1/2 games out of the second American League wild card position.

The Yankees, who had been shut out in their previous three games, ended a 33-inning drought in the seventh Sunday at Toronto when Didi Gregorius belted his 19th home run of the season that tied the score at 1.

Jose Bautista, who had homered off Michael Pineda in the fourth inning, struck again in the eighth, another damaging inning for Dellin Betances in recent appearances. A leadoff walk to Josh Donaldson proved critical, particularly since Betances’ long stride to the plate makes him vulnerable to stolen bases. Last year’s AL Most Valuable Player wasted no time swapping second and then got to third on a risky crossing on a slow ground ball to the left of second base by Edwin Encarnacion.

That brought up Bautista, who lined a single to center that put the Jays ahead once more. Dalton Pompey ran for Bautista, and he stole second base as well with two out by taking advantage of another Betances shortcoming, throwing to bases. Betances stepped off the rubber as Pompey broke for second but instead of running directly at Pompey the reliever made one step toward the runner and tossed the ball behind him, to first baseman Mark Teixeira, who had no chance to keep Pompey from stealing second.

The steal did not result in a run as. Betances struck out Troy Tulowitzki, but that play explained why manager Joe Girardi had to pull Betances from the game when he began the bottom of the ninth with another walk, this time to Melvin Upton Jr., losing him after being ahead 0-2 in the count.

At that point, Betances was protecting the Yankees’ first lead in 36 innings. Blue Jays closer Jose Osuna blew the chance for his 36th save and was done in on three two-strike singles and a sacrifice fly. Osuna was ahead in the count 1-2 to Teixeira, 0-2 to pinch hitter Billy Butler and 1-2 to Mason Williams and gave up hits to all three. Ronald Torreyes put the Yankees ahead with his fly ball to right-center.

So Betances had a chance at a winning decision in the ninth, which has been his inning since Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller were traded, but the 6-foot-7 righthander has been shaky the past nine days with only one save against a blown save and two losses.

The walk to Upton whom Girardi thought Betances had struck out during the at-bat promoted the manager to make a move. Girardi simply could not allow Upton, a speedy runner, an easy path to second base with Betances on the mound. The skipper called on Tyler Clippard, who ended up losing the game for the second day in a row.

After failing to get down a sacrifice bunt on two tries, Kevin Pillar punched a single to right field that sent Upton to third base. More successful at bunting was Ezequiel Carrera, the 9-hole hitter, on a safety squeeze that worked with Upton crossing the plate.

Clippard worsened matters with a shovel pass in an attempt to get Upton that eluded catcher Gary Sanchez that put the trail runners on second and third. It also forced the Yanks to walk Donaldson intentionally to create a double-play situation with Encarnacion, who showed why he is leading the league in RBI with a bouncer to the right side for the game-winning single.

The 4-3 loss was as deflating as the Yankees have had all year, and they have had several just on this trip, which ends Monday night, in which they have lost eight of 10 games and may have removed themselves from serious contention. They are 5 1/2 games behind the Orioles for a playoff berth and also trail the Tigers by four games, the Mariners by three and the Astros by 2 1/2. The Yankees have even put themselves within catching distance of the Royals, who are only a half-game behind them.

It is getting awfully tight in the AL East

After playing .500 ball (3-3) on their trip to Kansas City and Baltimore, the Yankees got off to a strong start on the next to last homestand of the season. A 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays kept the Yankees 3 1/2 games behind the Orioles for the second wild card playoff berth and also moved them to 5 1/2 games of first place in the American League East.

That is still a lot of ground to make up with 26 games remaining in the regular season, but all but three of them are against teams in their own division, including six against the Blue Jays, whose hold on first place is teetering. The Red Sox, who had a late afternoon game at San Diego, were in position to tie Toronto for the division lead, and the Orioles are only two games back. It is getting tight in the division in the final month.

After doing the near impossible by failing to get a single extra-base hit in three games over the weekend at hitter-friendly Camden Yards, the Yankees broke out of that spell Monday at Yankee Stadium.

Jacoby Ellsbury ended the 27-inning, 89-at-bat extra-base hitless streak with a two-run home run in the first inning off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey that erased a 1-0 Yankees deficit. That was the first of three hits in the game for Ellsbury, who did not start in Sunday’s series finale at Baltimore.

Rookie first baseman Tyler Austin doubled leading off the third and scored on a one-out single by Ellsbury. Austin got another double with two out in the fourth, and that one sent home two runners and essentially ended the day for Dickey, who got the final out that inning but did not return for the fifth.

The return of extra-base power provided sufficient support for Masahiro Tanaka, who improved his record to 12-4. Although he told reporters after the game that he did not have his best stuff, Tanaka allowed only two runs over 6 1/3 innings. He did give up seven hits and three walks, but the Blue Jays were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position against him and 2-for-9 for the game.

Toronto also ran into some outs. Catcher Gary Sanchez threw out Melvin Upton Jr. trying to steal second base in the fourth. Jose Bautista inexplicably tried to go from first to third on a single to left by Edwin Encarnacion the next inning and was easy prey for Brett Gardner for the third out.

The Yankees sweated through the seventh inning when the Jays loaded the bases on three walks, one by Tanaka and two by rookie Jonathan Holder. Encarnacion’s third hit of the game was a single to right off another rookie, Ben Heller, that scored two runs. Tommy Layne, the Yanks’ fourth pitcher of the inning, prevented further damage by retiring pinch hitter Russell Martin on an infield fly.

Tyler Clippard retired the side in order in the eighth, and Dellin Betances did the same in the ninth for his ninth save in 10 tries since becoming the closer July 31. Betances has allowed only two earned runs in 30 1/3 innings (0.59 ERA) at the Stadium this year.

In 21 appearances since the All-Star break, Betances has given up two earned runs in 22 innings (0.82 ERA) with eight hits allowed, 10 walks and 34 strikeouts. He leads major-league relievers in K’s with 114. Betances led all relievers in strikeouts the previous two seasons with 131 last year and 135 in 2014. This is the first season in Yankees history in which three pitchers had at least nine saves apiece. Andrew Miller, now with the Indians, also had nine, and Aroldis Chapman, now with the Cubs, had 20.

Three walks were unusual for Tanaka, considering that he walked only one batter total in six August starts covering 39 innings. The Japanese righthander is 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA over his past six starts and has won five consecutive decisions for the first time since May 25 through June 17, 2014. Tanaka, who has a career record of 6-3 with a 2.34 ERA against the Blue Jays, is 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA in nine starts totaling 59 innings against AL East clubs this year.

The Yankees have scored exactly five runs in five of their past seven games and nine of 15 since Aug. 20.

Bullpen breakdown costs Yanks chance to advance

There was a time until last month when the Yankees might have easily put away Tuesday night’s game even after the Blue Jays had cut a 6-0 deficit to 6-4 in the sixth inning. Yankees manager Joe Girardi could have turned to his No Runs DMC formula of having Dellin Betances come on in the seventh, Andrew Miller in the eighth and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.

That setup became history when the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs and Miller to the Indians to acquire needed prospects to help bolster the farm system and bring promise to the future. The Yankees brought Adam Warren back to the organization from the Cubs in the Chapman deal. Warren had pitched very well since returning to the Yankees until Tuesday night when he experienced a nightmare of an eighth inning that propelled the Blue Jays to a come-from-behind 12-6 victory.

If only it had kept raining back between halves of the fifth inning when a severe thunderstorm halted play for 42 minutes. With the Yankees ahead 5-0 at the time, it would have been an official game had the rain not subsided. The Yankees actually added to their lead when play resumed on a two-out, RBI single by Didi Gregorius, who had also driven in their first run with a home run (No. 16) in the first inning. That pushed the shortstop past Brian McCann for the club lead in homers.

Speaking of the long ball, rookie catcher Gary Sanchez whacked two home runs, a solo shot in the second and a three-run bomb in the fourth.

All that offense looked safe in the hands of Michael Pineda, who pitched five scoreless innings with four hits allowed, no walks and two strikeouts in sinking his season ERA below 5.00 (4.89) for the first time all year. Pineda was victimized by the storm as Girardi had to go to his bullpen which was not up to the task. On a night when they were primed to beat Toronto and with Baltimore also losing, the Yankees lost a major opportunity to gain ground in the American League East standings and wild-card chase.

Anthony Swarzak was stung by home runs to Troy Tulowitzki, who was 4-for-5, and Russell Martin, in the sixth as Toronto closed to 6-4. But it was the eighth inning that was a true disaster.

Warren entered the game having pitched 11 shutout innings since rejoining the Yanks. He was in trouble from the beginning as Josh Donaldson won a 12-pitch duel in drawing a leadoff walk. Edwin Encarnacion then tied the score with his 34th home run, a tracer’s bullet to left field.

One out later, Tulwotzski singled for his fourth hit and Martin cranked his second homer of the game. Chasen Shreve came on and faced five batters, all of whom reached base (two hits, two walks, one hit batter) and all but one scored. Michael Saunders’ double to drive in the eighth run of the 47-minute half inning meant that the entire lineup reached base during the frame, which is not something you see every day.

The Yankees hope they never see it again.

Yankees starting to growl in dog days

The Yankees are trying to convince their American League East rivals that they are not out of contention. The Yanks made a very convincing argument Monday night in a 1-0 victory over the first-place Blue Jays.

OK, maybe convincing is overstating it a mite. The Yankees had a miserable night of it with runners in scoring position (2-for-18) and left 14 runners on base. It was their highest number of runners left on base in a 1-0 victory since July 4, 1925 when they stranded 15 against the Philadelphia Athletics. But in games like this, pitching becomes paramount, and pitching the Yankees got.

One night after Luis Severino struggled against the Rays, another young pitcher, Chad Green, had a terrific outing. The righthander flirted with a perfect game into the fifth inning when he lost it but pitched out of a jam to maintain the one-run lead.

Troy Tulowitzki broke up the perfecto bid with a single to left field. Darrell Ceciliani then ripped a double into the right field corner, which put Green into trouble for the first time. He handled it with authority by striking out Justin Smoak and Melvin Upton Jr.

That was the only inning the Blue Jays reached base against Green (2-2), who retired the side in order in his other five innings. He got three strikeouts apiece in three innings and totaled 11 in his six innings. The Yankees got 1-2-3 innings from Tyler Clippard in the seventh and Adam Warren in the eighth before Dellin Betances (fifth save) walked the wire in the ninth.

A leadoff walk to .155-batting, 9-hole hitter Josh Thole and a one-out single by Josh Donaldson gave Toronto runners on the corners with one out and the dangerous Edwin Encarnacion (33 home runs, 97 RBI) at the plate. Encarnacion made solid contact on the first pitch, but his hard ground ball to third baseman Chase Headley was turned into a game-ending, around-the-horn double play.

Talk about walking the wire, R.A. Dickey did the same in his five innings of work. The knuckleballer gave up four hits and four walks but repeatedly worked out of danger. The Yankees had the first two batters on base in both the first and second innings and could not get them home.

They finally broke through in the fourth when Aaron Judge followed two walks with a double to right-center. Judge is the first player in Yankees history to get an extra-base hit in each of his first three career games.

The Yankees posed another threat in the fifth when Headley led off with a double, but Dickey (8-13) once again turned them away. Against the Toronto bullpen, the Yanks failed to capitalize on bases-loaded situations in the sixth and the eighth. They had three at-bats with runners in scoring position in six different innings and were successful only twice with one of the hits failing to drive in a run.

The victory put the Yankees 5 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, although they remained 4 1/2 games behind for the second wild-card berth as the Red Sox also won in Cleveland. Still, the addition of the new, young talent has had an uplift on the field and in the clubhouse. The Yankees are showing some bite in the dog days of August.

Memorial Day weekend a draw for Yankees

The Memorial Day weekend was a push for the Yankees as they went 2-2. They took two of three games from the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and dropped the opener of a three-game set at Rogers Centre in Toronto Monday night. The road has been kinder recently to the Yankees, who have won seven of their past nine games away from home after having lost 12 of their first 16 road games.

The Blue Jays series continues tonight on the last day of May with one of the month’s hottest pitchers starting for the Yanks.

CC Sabathia gets the call opposite fellow lefthander J.A. Happ, who beat the Yankees last Thursday at Yankee Stadium despite Sabathia having allowed two unearned runs, two hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in seven innings. Happ was equally tough with seven innings of one-run, three-hit, three-walk, five-strikeout pitching.

Sabathia leads the major leagues in earned run average this month with 0.45 for pitchers with a minimum of 20 innings pitched and has the lowest WHIP (0.75) in the American League in May. Sabathia’s season ERA of 2.83 is the latest in a season he has held an ERA that low since Aug. 6, 2011 when it was 2.81 ERA after 25 starts. In last Thursday’s start, CC was the first Yankees starter to take a loss without allowing an earned run since Shane Greene Sept. 9, 2014 against the Royals.

The lefthander has pitched six or more innings and allowed three or fewer hits in each of his last two starts. With 2,610 career strikeouts, Sabathia is tied with Chuck Finley for 23rd place on the all-time list. In 22nd place is former Yankees pitcher David Cone at 2,668.

Yankees pitchers have held both right fielder Jose Bautista and designated hitter-first baseman Edwin Encarnacion homerless through a combined 58 plate appearances this year after the pair banged 21 home runs (in 284 plate appearances) off them over the previous two seasons. Bautista (13) and Encarnacion (8) ranked first and tied for third, respectively, in homers against the Yankees over the 2014 and ’15 seasons (2014-15).

The Yankees will stop in Detroit Thursday for a 7:40 p.m. game to make up a game that was postponed April 10 because of the geniuses at ESPN who thought scheduling a Sunday Night Baseball game in Detroit in early April was a smart idea. This will be the Yankees’ first one-game series since Aug. 25, 2014 at Kansas City, when they made up a June 9, 2014 rainout at Kauffman Stadium. That make-up game preceded a scheduled six-game road trip, which coincidentally included three-game series at Detroit and Toronto. In that makeup game, RHP Michael Pineda – who will also start Thursday night at Comerica Park – allowed one run over six innings in the Yankees’ 8-1 victory over the Royals

Yankees waste solid effort from Sabathia

It is tough to lose a two-hitter, but that is what happened to CC Sabathia Thursday. The lefthander gave up only two singles through seven innings, which marked the eighth consecutive game in which the Yankees’ starting pitcher lasted six or more innings.

That was the good part. The bad part is that Blue Jays lefthander J.A. Happ was just as stingy in limiting the Yankees to one run in seven innings. A home run with two out in the first inning by Starlin Castro accounted for the Yankees’ scoring in a 3-1 loss that allowed Toronto to jump ahead of them in the American League East standings.

The Yankees stayed out of last place in the division but fell two games under .500 in dropping two of the three games in the abbreviated home stand against a club that has had more than it share of turmoil lately. Losing the series stunted much of the momentum derived from a 5-2 trip to Phoenix and Oakland. The Yankees will spend the next 10 days on the road again with stops in St. Petersburg, Fla. (three games), Toronto (three), Detroit (one), and Baltimore (three). Only the rainout makeup game against the Tigers will be outside the AL East, so there will be plenty of chances for the Yanks to gain ground in the standings.

It hurt to waste so strong an effort by Sabathia, whose record fell to 3-3 butt whose ERA shrunk to 2.83. Neither of the two runs off Sabathia, who struck out seven batters, walked one and hit one, was earned because of an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius, whose defense has been inconsistent (eight errors in 42 games).

Gregorius booted a hard grounder by Devon Travis with one out. Sabathia retired Darwin Barney on a fly to center but loaded the bases by yielding a single to Jose Bautista and walking Josh Donaldson. Edwin Encarnacion lashed a single to left to score the two runs that gave the Jays the lead for what turned out to be for good.

Sabathia kept the Yankees in the game after that with four hitless innings, but the Yankees could not muster much of an offense against Happ and two relievers. Chase Headley and Gregorius singled with one out in the fifth before Austin Romine grounded into a double play. In the eighth against righthander Gavin Floyd, Jacoby Ellsbury batted for Romine and led off with a single. He reached second on an infield out but was stranded as Aaron Hicks flied out and Alex Rodriguez struck out.

Rodriguez was back from his two-game, injury-rehabilitation assignment at Double A Trenton and in the lineup as the designated hitter for the first time since he went on the 15-day disabled list May 4. A-Rod was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Carlos Beltran, who had been the Yankees’ hottest hitter as a frequent DH in Rodriguez’s absence, was back in right field and had a brutal day at the plate (0-for-4, all strikeouts). He is now hitless in his past nine at-bats. Romine played first base in place of Mark Teixeira, who had an injection in his ailing neck and will be out of the lineup for several days. Relief pitcher Chasen Shreve was placed on the DL because of a sprained left shoulder.

The Blue Jays scored an insurance run in the ninth off Aroldis Chapman, who was not in a save situation and gave up three singles.

Thursday marked Sabathia’s 10th career start of seven or more innings pitched and two hits or fewer without allowing an earned run and his first since April 5, 2011 against the Twins (seven innings, two hits). With his seven strikeouts, Sabathia raised his career total to 2,610, surpassing Hall of Famer Tom Glavine (2,607) and tying Chuck Finley (2,610) for 23rd place on the all-time list.

Bird likes those ducks on the pond

Take heed all you sluggers that refuse to bunt against the shift, especially leading off an inning in a tie game when getting on base is the priority.

It works!

How delightful it was to see Brian McCann push his ego aside and drop a bunt to a practically empty left side of the infield for a leadoff single in the 10th inning Tuesday night. It was a rally starter for the Yankees, and they cashed in later in the inning on a three-run home run by Greg Bird off relief pitcher Mark Lowe.

There was a playoff atmosphere at Rogers Centre where the Yankees got back to 2 1/2 games behind the firt-place Blue Jays in the American League East with the 6-4, 10-inning victory before a packed house of 47,992. Bird’s homer quieted the crowd, which woke up momentarily in the bottom of the 10th on a home run by Edwin Encarnacion.

Bird has homered in three straight games and has 10 homers and 28 RBI in 34 games. The rookie first baseman also doubled. Of his past 17 hits, 13 have been for extra bases (eight home runs and five doubles).

Put people on base in front of Bird and watch out. He is batting .370 with four doubles, eight home runs and 26 RBI in 54 at-bats with runners on base compared to .164 with three doubles, two homers and two RBI in 67 at-bats with the bases empty.

It sure would be nice if the Yankees had Masahiro Tanaka available to pitch Wednesday night in the series finale, but the Japanese righthander was scratched because of a hamstring injury with Ivan Nova taking his place against Toronto’s Marcus Stroman.

Luis Severino was not the least bit overwhelmed starting an important game against a team he had faced twice previously and beat him up 11 days ago at Yankee Stadium (six earned runs, six hits, two home runs in 2 1/3 innings).

The rookie did give up the 2-0 lead the Yankees gave him in the first inning, but he held the AL’s most potent lineup to three hits. The 2-3-4 sluggers Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — each with more than 30 home runs this season — were a combined 0-for-7 with two walks.

One of the walks was to Donaldson, who scored the tying run in the sixth on a two-out single by Justin Smoak. The other run off Severino was a solo homer in the third by Kevin Pillar.

Bautista did more damage with his strong right arm than anything else. He killed two Yankees rallies with outfield assists. The right fielder gunned down Dustin Ackley at third base in the seventh on a play that was overturned by a replay challenge after the original call was that the runner was safe.

Even more dramatic was Bautista’s throw in the ninth inning that got Chris Young at the plate. The Yankees had runners on second and third with none out, but the double play foiled things and after a walk to Brett Gardner Alex Rodriguez flied out.

An insurance run or two there would have been a big help in the bottom of the ninth for Andrew Miller, who blew a save for only the second time in 36 opportunities this year when he gave up a one-out home run to Dioner Navarro. The Blue Jays went on to load the bases with two out against Miller, but he struck out Donaldson as the game went into extras.

The Yankees attacked Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada early by scoring twice in the first inning. The suddenly-hot Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double and scored on a one-out single by McCann that also sent Rodriguez, who had walked, to third base. Carlos Beltran got A-Rod home with a sacrifice fly. Beltran got an even bigger RBI in the eighth with a solo homer off Liam Hendriks before the ninth-inning turn of events.

Ellsbury doubled twice and is batting .440 in 25 at-bats during his six-game hitting streak. Since the start of 2013, Ellsbury has hit safely in 23 of 25 games at Rogers Centre and reached base on a hit, walk or hit by pitch in all but one. In a 12-game hitting streak at Toronto dating to June 24 last year, Ellsbury is hitting .431 with eight runs, four doubles, two triples, two home runs and eight RBI in 51 at-bats.

Blue Jays lefthander David Price, the winning pitcher Monday night over the Yankees with seven shutout innings, lowered his AL-leading ERA to 2.34. He has won 13 games since June 1 and is 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA since being traded to Toronto from Detroit. Price, who was 9-4 with the Tigers, is one of four pitchers since 1893 to win at least eight games and had winning records for two different teams in the same season. The other three all pitched for the Yankees during their careers: Hank Borowy, traded by the Yanks to the Cubs in 1945; David Cone, traded by the Blue Jays to the Yanks in 1995 and Bartolo Colon, traded by the Indians to the Expos in 2002. Colon, now with the Mets, pitched for the Yankees in 2011. Since 1980, four other pitchers won at least eight of their first 10 starts with the new team after being acquired by an in-season trade: Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 for the Cubs, Doyle Alexander in 1987 for the Tigers, Randy Johnson in 1998 for the Astros and CC Sabathia in 2008 for the Brewers. The latter three pitched for the Yankees during their careers: Alexander in 1982 and ’83, Johnson in 2005 and ’06 and Sabathia since 2009.

Wild card looms as AL East slipping from Yanks’ grasp

Scoreboard watchers among Yankees fans may want to pay more attention to what the Rangers, Twins and Angels are doing than to the Blue Jays. Toronto’s doubleheader sweep Saturday left the Yankees 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Jays in the American League East. There is still plenty of baseball left — 21 games for the Yankees, including three at Toronto in two weeks — but more and more it appears their path to postseason play may have to be through the wild card.

Texas and Minnesota are actually closer to the Yankees in the wild card race than the Yanks are to Toronto in the AL East. They have the wild-card lead by three games over the Rangers and four over the Twins. The Angels are six games back of the Yanks.

As if there were not enough baseball in store at Yankee Stadium, the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader went into extra innings. The second game also took more than four hours to complete due to a 33-minute rain delay.

The lone star of the day for the Yankee was Brett Gardner, who was 4-for-9 with three home runs and seven RBI. Two of the homers and six of the RBI were in the nightcap, a 10-7 loss in which the Yankees fell behind by six runs early and cut the deficit in half twice only to fall short.

In what was a home run derby in the opener for much of regulation, the winning rally for Toronto in the 11th inning was a quiet one. The Blue Jays batted around with 10 hitters coming to the plate and only two balls were put into play. Nevertheless, Toronto came away with four runs and a 9-5 victory.

It turned out to be perhaps the ugliest inning the Yankees played this year. After Andrew Miller pitched two scoreless inning with four strikeouts but the Yankees failed to score, Bryan Mitchell started the 11th and loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter. The hit by pitch came between the walks and on a 1-2 pitch to Cliff Pennington, who had flubbed two sacrifice attempts.

After Mitchell struck out Dioner Navarro, Yankees manager Joe Girardi brought in Chasen Shreve, who had a nightmare of an outing — a walk to pinch hitter Russell Martin, a single to Ben Revere, the only hit of the inning, and two more bases-loaded walks to Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. The crowd of 46,278 was stunned.

The Yankees got the home run derby started against Blue Jays started Marco Estrada with solo shots by Gardner in the first and Chase Headley in the second and a two-run, opposite-field blast by Alex Rodriguez in the fourth.

Michael Pineda blew a 4-1 lead as the Blue Jays, who hit five home runs Friday night, tied the score in the fifth on a leadoff homer by Revere and a two-run bomb by Edwin Encarnacion following a walk to Bautista, who had homered in the fourth.

Bautista crushed his second homer of the game leading off the eighth against Betances, a booming drive to dead center off the Monument Park screen to put the Jays in front for the first time in the game. The Yankees tied the score in the bottom half on an RBI single by Brian McCann, but with the bases loaded Headley and Greg Bird could not get the ball out of the infield.

The situation did not improve much for the Yankees in the second game, a rain-soaked affair in which Ivan Nova struggled mightily with his control and put them in a 6-0 hole in the second inning.

Pennington, pressed into duty with the injury to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, smashed a three-run homer that inning. Nova also gave up five other hits, hit two batters and threw two wild pitches before he was mercifully removed.

Toronto takes Round 1 by a knockout

The Blue Jays applied some pressure on the Yankees with a five-homer, 11-5 victory Friday night in the opener of the four-game showdown series at Yankee Stadium. By increasing their lead in the American League East to 2 1/2 games, Toronto put the Yanks in a position of having to win the final three games to knock the Jays out of first place before leaving town after Sunday’s game.

The Blue Jays swept the Yankees in a three-game series at the Stadium in early August and have won five straight games, 10 of their past 15 and 14 of their past 22 games in the Bronx. Toronto, which has an 80-60 overall record, is 35-14 since the All-Star break and 27-9 since the beginning of August. The Jays trailed the Yankees by eight games in the standings July 28 and have made up 10 1/2 games since then.

Luis Severino had his first rough outing for the Yankees. In his first six starts, the rookie righthander did not allow more than three runs in any of them and only a total of two runs in his past three starts covering 18 1/3 innings.

It was a much different story this time as the Blue Jays banged Severino around for five runs and five hits, including four for extra bases, in the first inning. The Yankees were down, 5-0, before about half the people in the Friday night crowd of 40,220 had taken their seats or David Price had taken the mound.

Severino was in trouble immediately as Ben Revere led off with a double, and Josh Donaldson, expanding his AL Most Valuable Player credentials, followed with a home run (No. 38) into the left field bleachers. Severino struck out Jose Bautista but then gave up three straight hits — a double to right-center by Edwin Encarnacio, an RBI single to left by Troy Tulowitzki and a two-run homer to right by Justin Smoak.

Severino seemed to have settled down when he struck out Donaldson and Bautista to strand Revere at second base, but in the third he walked two batters, threw a wild pitch and allowed an RBI single to Russell Martin that prompted manager Joe Girardi to go to his bullpen.

Martin did even more damage in his next two at-bats with a couple of home runs, a solo shot leading off the fifth against Andrew Bailey and a two-run blast in the seventh off Chasen Shreve. Encarnacion also went deep with two out in the fourth off Chris Martin, who was recalled from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre prior to the game.

The five home runs were emblematic of the bludgeoning Toronto bats have done to AL pitching this year with 197 homers in 140 games.

The large lead proved beneficial to Price, who was not overwhelming and lasted only five innings. The lefthander gave up two hits, six hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in improving his overall record to 15-5 with a 2.46 ERA. Price is 6-1 with a 2.28 ERA in eight starts totaling 55 1/3 innings since being traded to the Blue Jays from the Tigers.

Four of the Yankees’ runs were driven in by Didi Gregorius with a two-out single off Price in the third inning and a three-run homer off LaTroy Hawkins in the sixth that cut the margin to 9-5 and had Yankees fans cheering for a change. Martin’s second homer and the fact that the Yankees made their last nine outs in succession spoiled any chance for a comeback..

Early fireworks spark Yanks-Jays showdown

Pitchers have a chore negotiating their way through the first four batters of the Toronto lineup as Nathan Eovaldi was the latest to experience Friday night. Three of the hitters reached base in the first inning and the other came within inches of a home run.

Still, Eovaldi was fortunate to escape the inning with only one run, the result of Josh Donaldson’s 30th home run of the season. The previous batter, leadoff hitter Troy Tulowitzki, threatened to go yard, but Brett Gardner caught the ball on the warning track near the left field corner.

Pitching carefully to slugger Jose Bautista, Eovaldi walked him on a full count. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a double down the left field line, which sent Bautista to third. Eovaldi survived the gauntlet and got out of the jam by retiring Justin Smoak on a fly to shallow left and Russell Martin on a grounder in front of the mound.

For the second time in three nights, the Yankees had to contend with a knuckleball pitcher. Former National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey started for the Jays. The Yanks had only one run and four hits in eight innings Wednesday night in a 2-1 loss to the Red Sox and Steven Wright.

The Yankees were obviously hoping that having faced a knuckleballer so recently might have been to their advantage, although manager Joe Girardi was not so sure.

“There are all kinds of theories on that,” Girard said. “The difference in speed. It’s really hard to say. I’ve seen where you face a knuckleballer and had a ton of success and then you do poorly the next day against the guy. Or vice versa: you do poorly against the knuckleballer and hit the next guy. It really comes down to if the pitcher is making his pitches.”

Mark Teixeira, who was 0-for-3 against Wright, matched Donaldson with his 30th home run leading off the second inning. It took more than three minutes for the dinger to become legit because Toronto manager John Gibbons requested a review based on a contention that a fan had obstructed with left fielder Ben Revere’s view of the ball by extending his hands over the wall. Replays showed that the fan never touched the ball, however, and Tex could touch ’em all.