TORONTO — Unable to break Masahiro Tanaka’s focus, the Toronto Blue Jays have their first losing streak of August and are on the brink of getting swept at home by the New York Yankees.
Dazzled by Tanaka for nine innings Saturday at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays lost 4-1 to the Yankees, their first back-to-back losses since late July. The defeat dropped them 1 1/2 games back in the American League East.
"He just out-pitched us," Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro said of Tanaka. "He’s got great stuff. He goes after hitters and he uses all of his pitchers and he tries to keep you off-balance. I think he did a great job today."
Tanaka tamed a powerhouse lineup that had averaged over five runs a game this month. The Japanese right-hander struck out eight and allowed just five hits in his longest outing of the season and first complete game since June 28, 2014.
The Blue Jays had one opportunity to crack him, when they loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning. They got only one run out of it on a sacrifice fly by Josh Donaldson.
"That was our big shot, no doubt about it," manager John Gibbons said. "Those guys on the other side are pretty good sometimes. … That’s just the way it goes. When they’re on, they’re on."
Facing the heart of the Blue Jays’ order, Tanaka gave up the bases-load sac fly, struck out Jose Bautista and got Edwin Encarnacion to pop out to second to end the threat. Yankees manager Joe Girardi called that the key to the game, and Tanaka was up to the challenge.
"I was hanging in there, battling. My thought was just keep them to the minimum," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Up to this point, today was one of the most important games that I’ve pitched in."
Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada was objectively impressive in his own right, despite his self-criticism. Estrada said he missed a lot of spots but allowed only three hits, two of them solo home runs, in six innings.
"I wasn’t my usual self," Estrada said. "I got away with a lot. It also seemed like when they were swinging I would just make the right pitch. But for the most part I thought I was all over the place."
Carlos Beltran, who hit the pinch-hit, three-run shot that beat the Blue Jays on Friday night, had one, and Mark Teixeira had the other, his 31st home run of the season. Estrada extended the franchise-record streak of Toronto starting pitchers allowing three or fewer runs to 19 straight games.
"I give the team a chance to win, and you’ve just got to tip your hat to Tanaka," Estrada said. "He pitched a heck of a game today."
Relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Aaron Loup each gave up a run, on RBI singles in the eighth by Teixeira and in the ninth by Jacoby Ellsbury. Tanaka cruised through the rest of the way to help the Yankees win their third straight.
"My mindset was I wanted to go as deep into the game as possible," Tanaka said. "I’m just really satisfied that I was able to do that."
All this after the Blue Jays swept New York at Yankee Stadium last weekend.
"It’s a group that knows how to fight back and they’ve done that," Girardi said. "I think our guys live for this time of the year. I think it’s what we focus on when we put our club together, is to get to this point and have an opportunity."
Now it’s the Blue Jays’ turn to do that with Drew Hutchison set to pitch Sunday.
"We look forward tomorrow," Gibbons said. "It would be nice to pick one up on the last game of the homestand tomorrow. That would be real nice."
Notes — The Blue Jays’ previous record for the most consecutive games of starting pitchers giving up three or fewer earned runs was 18, which came in 1991. … David Price will make his next start on extra rest Friday in Anaheim, while Mark Buehrle will pitch Wednesday at Philadelphia.