By RONALD BLUM AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ Masahiro Tanaka struck out 15 over seven innings, his highest total since coming to the major leagues, and the playoff-bound New York Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-0 Friday to remain on the edge of contention in the AL East.
Already assured no worse than hosting a wild-card game against Minnesota, New York began the day three games behind AL East-leading Boston with three games left, The Yankees could take the division only by beating the Blue Jays both Saturday and Sunday, having Boston lose three in a row to Houston and then defeating the Red Sox in a tiebreaker game Monday at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka (13-12) 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 had a sharp slider and splitter, dominating a team that battered him for eight runs and three homers at Toronto on Sept. 22. He allowed three hits and walked none.
His 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.
A right-hander who turns 29 on Nov. 1, Tanaka had a 4.74 ERA this season and allowed 35 homers _ 10 more than his previous major league high. He is 52-28 in four seasons with the Yankees and has the right to become a free agent and give up $69 million in the three years remaining on his Yankees contract.
David Robertson pitched a hitless eighth, and Dellin Betances allowed a hit, wild pitch and walk in the ninth. Aroldis Chapman got three straight outs to complete the four-hitter for his 21st save in 25 chances.
New York loaded the bases with one out in the first against Joe Biagini (3-13). Castro singled in a run with a dribbler between the mound and third that went for an infield hit, and Greg Bird hit a sacrifice fly.
Aaron Judge singled in a run in the fifth for his 113th RBI, and Bird added a run-scoring single in the sixth. Bird has eight homers and 25 RBIs in 27 games since returning in late August following ankle surgery.
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.
Blue Jays manager John 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.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi defended catcher Gary Sanchez, who leads the major leagues in passed balls with 16 and has been behind the plate for 53 wild pitches, four shy of the big league-leading total of Colorado’s Jonathan Lucroy.
New York led 4-1 Thursday when Tampa Bay closed on a wild pitch and passed ball that each allowed a run in a seven-run inning.
“Catchers are going to have bad days. He got the crap beat out of him yesterday. Everyone wants to focus on the two balls that maybe they got by him, but what about the 12 or 14 that he did block? And he got hit in the neck. He got his in the shoulder,” Girardi said.
Girardi criticized Sanchez after a passed ball at Cleveland on Aug. 4, saying he needed to improve, and benched the 24-year-old for the next two games.
“I was just being honest, letting him know that he needs to improve, and he took it upon himself and has worked very hard to improve,” Girardi said. “We don’t necessarily have the easiest guys to catch in the world.”
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. Cole gave up four runs at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 9, was released five days later, then re-signed to a minor league contract.
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 and
LHP Jaime Garcia (1-3) starts Saturday for the Yankees and RHP Marcus Stroman (13-8) for the Blue Jays.
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