TORONTO — On a night when the Blue Jays needed a win in order to keep their ground, Francisco Liriano delivered on the mound and the Toronto bats backed him up.
"I felt Liriano was really, really good," said Toronto manager John Gibbons. "We just did some really good things offensively … Really a well-played game."
Josh Donaldson, with his 36th home run of the season, and Jose Bautista drove in two runs apiece.
The opening of the four-game series against New York was the first of 10 straight contests for Toronto (84-69) against American League East opposition to close out the season.
The division-leading Boston Red Sox maintained their 5.5-game lead over Toronto in the AL East by defeating the Rays 2-1 in Tampa. Wild card rival Detroit and Baltimore both won, downing Kansas City 8-3 and Arizona 3-2 in 12 innings, respectively.
The Jays have a one-game edge on Detroit, which is a half-game ahead of Baltimore.
Toronto led 3-0 after two innings, adding four more in the seventh and two in the eighth as they had their way with the Yankees bullpen. The Jays, who left nine men on base, outhit New York 13-3.
The 32-year-old Liriano (8-13) gave up three hits, striking out six and walking two, in a gritty 100-pitch performance that featured 64 strikes.
"I thought he mixed his pitches, his changeup and his slider and his fastball," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "He’s got good velocity, he’s got movement to it, and he’s got deception. We just weren’t able to put much together."
"That guy, man, he’s got some awesome stuff. I told him that’s the Francisco Liriano I grew up watching," said Jays second baseman Devon Travis, who is all of seven years younger.
Toronto starters have now held the opposition to two earned runs or less in eight straight starts. Jays batters, meanwhile, have collected 10-plus hits in five of their last eight games — something they had done in only two of the previous 12 contests.
It’s proved to be a winning combination. The Jays have won five of their last eight after going 3-9 in the first 12 games this month.
It was the sixth straight loss in Toronto for the Yankees (79-74), dropping their Rogers Centre record to 1-6 this season.
"Things are kind of slipping away at this point," said outfielder Brett Gardner. "We’re not out of it but we’re definitely not in a good position. It’s frustrating.
Toronto loaded the bases in the first and second innings against starter Bryan Mitchell, scoring two in the first on a Tulowitzki single and a third run in the second.
Bautista, who hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the second, drove in two more runs with a bases-loaded double in the seventh after Edwin Encarnacion was intentionally walked. Tulowitzki singled home two more as the Jays roughed up reliever Blake Parker.
Toronto sent nine men to the plate in the seventh, before James Pazos finally put out the fire.
Donaldson, making a fashion statement with eye-popping white high-top shoes and blue knee socks, slammed a two-run homer to left field in the eighth off Ben Heller. Donaldson now has 303 total bases this season, becoming the sixth player in club history to have back-to-back campaigns of at least 300 bases.
Heller hit Bautista with a pitch two batters later.
Liriano and Mitchell (1-2) both struggled early before finding their touch before a sellout crowd of 47,014 with the roof closed.
Liriano, who came over from Pittsburgh in a trade in early August, threw a lot of pitches early but made outs when he needed to. After throwing 65 pitches in the first three innings, he required just 15 in the next two to retire the Yanks in order. Liriano retired 12-of-13 batters starting in the third.
He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, striking out Chase Headley after issuing two walks in the wake of a two-out Gary Sanchez double.
The Jays also loaded the bases in the first, a rally triggered by Billy Butler’s error at first, and scored a pair on Tulowitzki’s two-out single to centre. Toronto added to the lead in the second. Mitchell walked Encarnacion with the bases loaded but Bautista could not add to the total.
Mitchell went six innings, giving up three runs (only one earned) on six hits. He walked four and struck out two.
Joaquin Benoit, Brett Cecil and Danny Barnes came on in relief of Liriano.
Sanchez, the Yankees young phenom catcher, had a single and double in his role as designated hitter. Of his 58 career hits, 31 have gone for extra bases.
NOTES: It appears the Jays plan to keep their Florida spring training base in Dunedin, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The newspaper says the team would agree to spend another 25 years there, partnering with the county and state in US$81 million in renovations to the Grapefruit League stadium and training facility.