NEW YORK -- When the Yankees dreamed up their half-billion-dollar free-agent plan this winter, they envisioned it all coming together in three-game sweeps, like the one they just completed over the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.
In the first game, Masahiro Tanaka pitched six strong in a 3-1 win. In the second, Brian McCann nailed a two-run homer and drove in five in the 7-3 victory. In the third, Jacoby Ellsbury continued to be unstoppable on the basepaths, swiping two more to go along with two hits, while Carlos Beltran showed signs he might be on the verge of heating up, recording an RBI double and a sac fly.
You add it all up and here come the Yankees. They are now tied in the loss column with the first-place Blue Jays. They are 1½ games back because the Blue Jays have three more wins.
This is clearly not a vintage edition of the recent AL East. Mirroring much of baseball, it is filled with teams that have flaws. The Yankees, though, might be the strongest of the weak.
Their pitching continues to shine. David Phelps limited the Jays to just two runs in seven innings. Both he and manager Joe Girardi felt his pickoff of Melky Cabrera from second base in the first inning with Edwin Encarnacion at the plate was the biggest play of the game.
The Yankees own the Blue Jays in the Bronx, having beaten them an astounding 16 straight times here, which has to leave some doubt in the inexperienced Jays' minds. Besides Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, Toronto doesn't have many guys who have played games for a division-leader team.
Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran all did so before they became Yankees. Ellsbury is a streaky player. He can mess up a defense -- which he did in Thursday's win -- using his speed to scoot around the bases and score on a short sac fly off Beltran's bat. Ellsbury made it so catcher Erik Kratz had to rush a tag on Cabrera's throw. Kratz couldn't hang on to the ball, and the Yankees had the lead for good. Ellsbury swiped two bags Thursday and hasn't been nabbed in his past 12 attempts.
While McCann had the big game Wednesday, Beltran is the guy who might be heating up. Girardi noted that Beltran is squaring more balls. Beltran, who missed three weeks with a bone spur in his right elbow, agreed he is feeling sharper at the plate. More results could come soon for the .221-hitting Beltran.
The Yankees have won seven of their past nine and nine of their past 13. They are closing in on first place.
Next up in this string of 15 straight games against the AL East are the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles (37-34) are just one length behind the Yankees as the games start to feel a little bigger.
"Of course they do, because we are all kind of bunched together," Girardi said. "There is a lot of meaning to these games. We all understand that, and we know they understand that. When you face each other 19 times, you look to try to catch people, put some distance between some people and win series."
Umps view: On the interference call in the fourth inning, the umpires clarified why they awarded Dioner Navarro first base on a ball that Mark Teixeira caught on the fly. Just prior to the catch, Encarnacion bumped into Teixeira.
First-base ump Chris Conroy said the contact was "unintentional but interference nevertheless, therefore [Encarnacion is] the one declared out."
Crew chief Jerry Meals added that Navarro got the base, because on a "fair batted ball, he goes to first base. The ball is dead."
If the umpires had ruled that Encarnacion had intentionally interfered then, they could have upheld their initial double-play ruling.