NEW YORK – David Phelps put his pitches in all the right places against a struggling team that was stuck in the wrong spot.
Phelps threw seven strong innings, Carlos Beltran drove in two runs and the New York Yankees beat Toronto 6-4 Thursday night for their 16th consecutive home win over the Blue Jays.
“Everything was a little bit crisper today,” Phelps said. “I was able to be aggressive the entire game.”
Jacoby Ellsbury stole two bases, scored twice and hit one of three early sacrifice flies for the Yankees off Drew Hutchison. New York swiped four bags in all and scratched out its fifth run when Brett Gardner was going as Derek Jeter hit an RBI groundout — preventing an inning-ending double play.
Phelps (3-4) yielded two runs and struck out seven in winning his second straight outing after a four-start skid. The Yankees earned their first three-game sweep at home this season and sliced Toronto’s lead in the AL East to 1 1/2 games.
“Big series for us,” reliever Adam Warren said after New York won for the seventh time in nine games. “It’s nice to kind of see our team click a little bit and play some good baseball.”
Citing research by the Elias Sports Bureau, the Yankees said the winning streak against Toronto is their longest at home against one team since a 19-game run vs. Cleveland from June 1960 to April 1962.
Melky Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion each hit a two-run homer for the Blue Jays, who have lost nine of 12 and were swept for the first time since Sept. 10-12 last season by the Los Angeles Angels. Toronto has dropped 25 of 27 at Yankee Stadium dating to 2011 and hasn’t won in the Bronx since Aug. 29, 2012.
“Hey, if you’re going to play in prime time, you’ve got to perform on the big stage and we didn’t do it,” manager John Gibbons said. “We’re fully capable of doing it. We just didn’t do it. It’ll be definitely good to move on.”
With closer David Robertson receiving a rest, Warren got two outs for his second save — ending a rhythm-less game that took 3 hours, 47 minutes. Gibbons was on the field five times in the first six innings for four discussions with the umpires, plus a pitching change.
Phelps equaled his career high with 115 pitches and finished strong. He retired pinch-hitter Adam Lind with two on to end the sixth and then struck out two in a perfect seventh.
“We really pushed him tonight,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He did a great job.”
The right-hander was fired up, too, clenching his fist and yelling after freezing Jose Reyes for strike three with his final delivery.
Phelps made a key defensive play to protect a one-run lead in the fifth. He got Reyes on a soft grounder with the infield in, pinning a runner at third, and then knocked down Cabrera’s two-out comebacker. Phelps whirled around and scrambled to find the ball near the front of the mound, then zipped a throw to first just in time.
“I knew that it went down. I knew it wasn’t going to be far away, I just had to get my eyes on it,” Phelps said. “Straight scramble mode as soon as it hit me.”
Cabrera tripped awkwardly over the bag and tumbled hard to the turf, but appeared to be fine.
Phelps also picked off Cabrera at second base with two runners on in the first inning and Encarnacion at the plate. Phelps and Girardi both called it the biggest play of the game.
“The way our team’s been playing right now, it’s exciting baseball,” Phelps said.
Encarnacion hit his 21st homer in the eighth, a long drive to left off Shawn Kelley that cut it to 6-4.
Yankees hitters ran up Hutchison’s pitch count early, just as they did against fellow youngster Marcus Stroman in the series opener. Kelly Johnson had a sacrifice fly in the second and Beltran added one in the third.
Making his Yankee Stadium debut, Hutchison (5-5) threw 38 pitches in the second inning and needed 76 to get through three. He was pulled in the fifth trailing 3-2.
“You’ve got to make better pitches,” Hutchison said. “When I got ahead I didn’t make good pitches to put them away, and I fell behind quite a bit, too.”
Beltran hit an RBI double off Aaron Loup, and Brian Roberts stole two bases in the sixth before scoring on Jeter’s groundout. Steve Delabar walked three in the seventh, including Yangervis Solarte with the bases loaded to make it 6-2.
© The Canadian Press, 2014