NEW YORK — Masahiro Tanaka walked off the mound and tipped his cap to fans after one of his most dominant performances since signing with the New York Yankees in January 2014.
He struck out 15 over seven innings , his highest total since coming to the major leagues, allowed three hits and walked none to lead the playoff-bound New York Yankees over the Toronto Blue Jays 4-0 Friday and keep New York on the edge of contention in the AL East.
If only every start was like this.
"It’s pretty obvious that there was a lot of ups and downs this season," he said through a translator. "I understand what I’ve done wrong and all that, but I’m not really open to share that at this time."
Tanaka (13-12) had five outings in which he gave up seven or eight runs but also had eight in which he allowed one run or none. He finished with a 4.74 ERA and yielded 35 homers — 10 more than his previous major league high.
"I knew that I needed to be aggressive," he said. "Maybe I was lacking it a little bit."
Already assured no worse than hosting a wild-card game against Minnesota, New York is two games behind AL East-leading Boston with two games left. The Yankees could take the division only by beating the Blue Jays both Saturday and Sunday, having Boston lose twice to Houston and then defeating the Red Sox in a tiebreaker game Monday at Yankee Stadium.
New York ace Luis Severino could start against Boston or Minnesota.
"He’ll be prepared for either day," Girardi said.
Tanaka retired his first 14 batters before Ezequiel Carerra reached on an infield single up the middle just past Tanaka’s glove. Second baseman Starlin Castro made a backhand stop with a dive and threw off-balance from his knees, but Carerra easily beat a one-hop throw.
Pitching on six days’ rest, Tanaka dominated a team that battered him for eight runs and three homers at Toronto on Sept. 22. He allowed three hits and walked none.
"You can’t pick up that split," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "Boom! It just drops."
Tanaka’s strikeout total was three shy of his professional big league high, set for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League on Aug. 27, 2011.
"His fastball had more life to it. His split was as good as I’ve seen it this year, and his slider was pretty good, as well," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It gives you a lot of confidence in him."
David Robertson pitched a hitless eighth, and Dellin Betances was pulled after throwing just three of eight pitches for strikes. He allowed a hit and a walk.
"I thought I would have stayed in there," Betances said. "I have a short leash right now."
Aroldis Chapman got three straight outs to complete the four-hitter for his 21st save in 25 chances, striking out two of three batters to raise the total for Yankees pitchers to 18.
New York, which reached 90 wins for the first time since 2012, took a 2-0 lead in the first against Joe Biagini when Castro singled in a run with a dribbler between the mound and third , and Greg Bird hit a sacrifice fly. Bird added a run-scoring single off the right-field wall in the sixth and has eight homers and 25 RBIs in 27 games since returning in late August following ankle surgery.
Aaron Judge singled in a run in the fifth for his 113th RBI. He had grimaced after landing on first awkwardly on a third-inning groundout.
"We had some concern," Girardi said. "It ended up being nothing."
IN THE SEATS
A crowd of 35,735 raised the Yankees’ home season total to 3,070,801, topping last year’s 3,034,346. The Yankees have two games remaining and will play only 79 home dates because of two doubleheaders caused by rainouts.
Gibbons attended Thursday night’s performance of "Hamilton." Asked whether the cast acknowledged him, he laughed.
"No, but I stood up and said, ‘Make America great again,"’ he said.
New York stole four bases off catcher Raffy Lopez, who has caught only one of 17 base stealers this season.
Blue Jays: Toronto CF Kevin Pillar will miss the series because he returned home to be with his wife, who is due to give birth. … RHP Aaron Sanchez (blisters) was moved to the 60-day DL to make room for RHP Taylor Cole, who was selected from Triple-A Buffalo.
Yankees: RHP Adam Warren, who had not pitched for New York since Sept. 1 because of a back spasm, was activated from the 10-day DL.
LHP Jaime Garcia (1-3) starts Saturday for the Yankees and RHP Marcus Stroman (13-8) for the Blue Jays.