TORONTO — Dramatic home runs. Tension-filled late innings. A sellout crowd treated to high drama.
Blue Jays fans have waited years for meaningful September baseball to be played at Rogers Centre and the crowd of 47,992 was treated to a dandy Tuesday as the Yankees went back and forth with Toronto in a rollicking matchup loaded with playoff-like energy.
Greg Bird delivered the knockout blow for New York with a three-run homer in the 10th inning to put even more sizzle into an American League East division race that is far from over. With Brian McCann and Slade Heathcott aboard, Bird lined a 2-2 pitch from reliever Mark Lowe over the right-field wall for his 10th homer of the season.
Andrew Miller (3-2), who blew the save after giving up a game-tying homer to Dioner Navarro in the ninth, allowed another solo shot to Edwin Encarnacion in the 10th before completing the victory.
New York is now just 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays, who have dropped three of four. The rubber match of the three-game series is on tap Wednesday night.
“It’s been a tough grind the last few days,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “In the tight, tied ball games, we’ve struggled. Something’s happened and the big hit, the big home run, whatever it is, that’s bit us lately.”
Carlos Beltran gave New York a 3-2 lead with a solo shot in the eighth inning — his 17th homer of the year — before Navarro answered with his fifth blast of the season. The Blue Jays loaded the bases for a second straight frame in the ninth before Miller struck out Josh Donaldson.
Lowe (1-3) entered the 10th inning with a sparkling 1.53 earned-run average but Bird turned on a 2-2 offering to put the Yankees up to stay.
“It was a good pitch,” Lowe said. “Down and away, bottom of the zone. He just leaned out and he got it. A great piece of hitting.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Bird has been patient at the plate and it’s paying off.
“(The dugout) was probably as emotional and loud as I’ve seen it this year, which is understandable obviously,” Girardi said. “(Bird) was probably as fired up as I’ve seen him all year too.”
Toronto fell to 8-6 in extra-inning games this season. The Yankees have won six of their last nine and improved to 61-21 when scoring first.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a double and scored when McCann drove a pitch off the wall for a long single. Alex Rodriguez, who reached on a walk, made it 2-0 after a sacrifice fly by Beltran.
The Yankees put two more runners in scoring position before Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada escaped by striking out Chase Headley.
Kevin Pillar put Toronto on the board in the third inning with a solo shot off New York starter Luis Severino. He belted a 2-2 pitch into the second deck for his 11th homer of the year.
Donaldson worked a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, moved to second base on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Justin Smoak.
Estrada, meanwhile, settled down after his rocky start. He retired 11 batters in row before issuing a four-pitch walk to Dustin Ackley with one out in the seventh.
Didi Gregorius followed by driving a pitch into right field and Ackley tested Jose Bautista’s arm by going for third base. The throw was high but Donaldson made a nice play to catch the ball, twist backwards and apply the tag.
Ackley was called safe by third-base umpire Greg Gibson but Gibbons challenged the call and it was overturned.
Estrada intentionally walked Ellsbury and was relieved by Aaron Loup. The left-hander allowed an infield single to Brett Gardner to load the bases before Liam Hendriks fanned Rodriguez on three pitches.
Toronto loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth inning but Dellin Betances got Encarnacion to wave at a third strike.
New York nearly padded its lead in the ninth but Bautista showed off his arm again by throwing out Chris Young at home plate. Rodriguez flew out to end the threat.
“Two key throws,” Gibbons said. “But Jose’s not just an offensive player. He’s a very good outfielder. Sometimes I think that gets overlooked because of what he does with his bat.”
New York (83-67) has 12 games left to play in the regular season, one more than the Blue Jays (86-65).
Lowe shouldered the loss to fall to 1-3. The game took three hours 39 minutes to play.
Notes: Encarnacion has 35 homers this season. … Estrada allowed six hits and two earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. He allowed three walks and had three strikeouts. Severino worked six innings and allowed three hits, two earned runs, three walks and struck out three batters. … It was the Blue Jays’ ninth straight sellout. … Toronto shortstop Troy Tulowitzki fielded some ground balls and took some swings off a tee before the game. He suffered a cracked left shoulder blade on Sept. 12. There is still no firm timetable for his return. … Gibbons said he plans to use Lowe and Brett Cecil as setup men more often. Aaron Sanchez may still be used in the eighth inning and earlier in games as needed, Gibbons said. … Toronto’s Marcus Stroman (2-0, 3.00 earned-run average) is scheduled to start the series finale against fellow right-hander Ivan Nova (6-8, 5.11). The Blue Jays get a day off Thursday before wrapping up their nine-game homestand with a three-game series against Tampa Bay.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press