TORONTO — Blue Jays ace David Price worked seven shutout innings and Josh Donaldson scored twice as Toronto defeated the New York Yankees 4-2 on Monday night in the opener of a pivotal three-game series at Rogers Centre.
The victory gave the Blue Jays some much-needed breathing room in the East division standings. Toronto (86-64) moved 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Yankees and also gained ground on the idle Kansas City Royals, who lead the Blue Jays by 1 1/2 games in the race for the American League’s top seed.
The Yankees made it interesting in the eighth inning by scoring a run and bringing the tying run to the plate, but reliever Brett Cecil kept the damage to a minimum. Roberto Osuna gave up a solo homer to Greg Bird in the ninth before picking up his 17th save to the delight of the sellout crowd of 47,648.
Toronto staked Price to an early three-run lead as New York starter Adam Warren (6-7) struggled through a 35-pitch first inning. Ben Revere singled, Donaldson was grazed by a pitch and Jose Bautista found a hole up the middle to bring Revere home with the game’s first run.
A wild pitch moved Donaldson and Bautista into scoring position and an Edwin Encarnacion grounder was enough to score Donaldson. Bautista came across after Justin Smoak lashed a double over the head of Yankees right-fielder Carlos Beltran.
The Yankees (82-67) loaded the bases with one out in the third inning. Dustin Ackley reached on a Cliff Pennington throwing error, Jacoby Ellsbury singled and Brett Gardner walked.
Slugger Alex Rodriguez worked a full count on Price before striking out as the crowd roared its approval. Price then got Brian McCann to fly out to strand the runners.
Warren was pulled with one out in the fourth inning and replaced by James Pazos. Warren allowed five hits, three earned runs and a walk while striking out five.
Price, meanwhile, was in full control after being tested in the third inning. He retired the next 14 straight batters until he was replaced by Aaron Sanchez to start the eighth inning.
The Toronto starter was helped by some solid defence. Smoak dived to snag a Gardner chopper by the first-base line before getting up and beating him to the bag for the first out of the sixth inning.
Price, who allowed just two hits on the night, was having some fun too. After striking out Rodriguez, he was given plenty of room by Donaldson to catch McCann’s pop-up in foul territory.
The Blue Jays’ ace smiled at his teammate before flipping the ball to a fan by the dugout.
Toronto had a chance to add some insurance runs in the bottom half of the frame by loading the bases with two outs. Revere put a charge into the crowd but Beltran tracked down his inning-ending liner in right field.
Price (17-5) fanned Headley and Bird to end the seventh before leaving to a standing ovation. He acknowledged the crowd with a clap of his own before being congratulated by his teammates in the dugout.
The meat of the Toronto order loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh with nobody out. Donaldson walked, moved to third on a Bautista double and Encarnacion was intentionally walked.
Yankees reliever Andrew Bailey came on and got Smoak to pop up before Toronto native Russell Martin flew out to deep centre, bringing Donaldson home on the sacrifice fly.
Sanchez gave up a walk and a single before being replaced by Cecil in the eighth. The left-hander gave up an RBI single to Ellsbury before striking out Gardner for the first out.
An 0-2 count to Rodriguez brought the raucous crowd to its feet again and Cecil delivered another punchout. The fans remained standing as McCann stepped to the plate and he met the same fate, as a jacked Cecil pumped his glove hand and let out a triumphant yell as he stepped off the mound.
Notes: Price showed off his stellar reflexes by snaring a liner from Ellsbury in the first at-bat of the game. He threw 114 pitches on the night, 87 of them for strikes. … The game took three hours 15 minutes to play. … Toronto’s Marco Estrada (13-8, 3.14 earned-run average) is scheduled to start Tuesday against fellow right-hander Luis Severino (4-3, 3.12). Right-hander Marcus Stroman (2-0, 3.00) gets the nod for the series finale against New York right-hander Ivan Nova (6-8, 5.11) on Wednesday. … The Blue Jays get an off-day Thursday before closing out their home schedule with a three-game series against the Rays. … Toronto will wrap up the regular season with four games at Baltimore ahead of a three-game set at Tampa Bay.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press