A-Rod: Don’t count out Yanks

New York salvages series finale vs. Jays, is 3 1⁄2 back in East

- Joe Lemire @LemireJoe Special for USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees’ American League East title hopes plummeted as rapidly as their stadium’s seats emptied on a rain-soaked Saturday evening. The Toronto Blue Jays had won the first half of the doublehead­er 9-5 in 11 innings and batted around in a six-run second inning in Game 2.

The second-inning outburst included a home run from lighthitti­ng Cliff Pennington, the least-likely suspect in a marauders’ row of Blue Jays who was thrust into the starting lineup because of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki’s left shoulder fracture.

The Yankees showed life Sunday, winning 5-0 behind a gem from ace Masahiro Tanaka, but the four-game series went to the Blue Jays 3-1. That left the Jays with a 31⁄2 game lead with three weeks to play. A three-game rematch in Toronto begins Sept. 21.

“A lot of people have counted us out — I wouldn’t do that,” Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez, who homered Saturday and went 2-for-4 on Sunday, said of his club’s division chances. “There’s a lot of baseball to be played. The next five to 10 days are very important to us.”

At the trade deadline, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulo­s acquired Tulowitzki and new ace David Price. Since then, the Jays have gone 32-10 and doubled their majors-leading run differenti­al to +198, 86 runs better than anyone else.

With the AL Central-leading Kansas City Royals reeling a bit, Toronto has gained ground on the league’s top seed with the chance for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and Las Vegas’ Bovada Sportsbook installed the Jays as World Series favorites this month.

“I’ve had some wild dreams, no doubt about that,” Jays manager John Gibbons said.

Toronto, which hasn’t made the postseason since 1993, announced its intentions emphatical­ly this series, plating five runs on two homers in the first inning of Friday’s opener. The Jays are 11-5 against the Yankees this season and before Sunday had won seven in a row in the Bronx, the first team to do that in the same year since the 1976 Baltimore Orioles.

A concern for New York was the way Toronto exposed the vulnerabil­ity of the rotation, scorching rookie sensation Luis Severino (six runs in 21⁄3 innings Friday), Michael Pineda (four runs in 51⁄3 innings in Saturday’s Game 1) and Ivan Nova (six runs in 12⁄3 innings in Saturday’s Game 2).

The Yankees can rely on Tanaka — who presumably would draw the start in a potential wildcard game — but what happens when the rest of the rotation has to pitch? New York will need more outings like Tanaka’s.

“Today’s a great example of what our formula is: strong pitching, get the ball to our strong bullpen and hit the ball out of the park,” Rodriguez said.

The Yankees’ problem is that the Blue Jays share that formula and exceed them in all three areas, leading this season in rotation ERA (4.14 to 4.33), bullpen ERA (3.32 to 3.49) and home runs (202 to 194).

“These guys have got a lot of swagger,” Gibbons said.

“The manager’s got swagger, too — that’s just because he walks funny,” Gibbons added, joking about his ailing knee that might need a cortisone shot.

Price on Friday improved to 6-1 with a 2.28 ERA in eight starts with the Blue Jays, just one contributo­r as Toronto boasts the AL’s second-best rotation ERA since the All-Star break at 3.33.

“With the pedigree in that offense and the way that we score runs, sometimes you give up one run and you score 10, but you still just gave up one run, so you would have won 2-1, too,” said starter R.A. Dickey, who took the loss Sunday. “I like that we’re in the shadow of the offense. I think it works well for the complexion of the team.”

 ?? GREGORY FISHER, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka got the win Sunday, pitching seven scoreless innings vs. the Blue Jays.
GREGORY FISHER, USA TODAY SPORTS Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka got the win Sunday, pitching seven scoreless innings vs. the Blue Jays.

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