Yankees-Blue Jays Preview

Punch and counterpunch.

It seems destined that's how the AL East will be decided by the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays the rest of the season, and the two teams continue to vie for the division lead Saturday.

It may be a stretch to call Carlos Beltran's three-run, go-ahead pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning Friday season-defining for the Yankees (63-51), but there's no doubt Friday night's 4-3 victory to open this three-game set was needed. They snapped Toronto's club record-tying 11-game win streak and regained a one-half game advantage in the East.

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"I was thinking about trying to get one in with a runner on third and a runner on second and one out," Beltran said. "I have to put the ball in play and I got myself a good pitch to hit and put it out of the ballpark."

The blast capped a four-run eighth for New York, which had been shut out the previous 33 innings by Blue Jays pitchers and failed to score despite getting eight hits in the first seven innings off David Price.

"We've played them last weekend and we lost 2-0, 2-1 and played tough games," manager Joe Girardi said. "We weren't able to string a lot together. We were able to do it in the eighth and that was the difference. Hopefully it gives us confidence."

Beltran has hit .345 with three homers and two doubles during a nine-game hitting streak. He's 4 for 17 with two homers against Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada (10-6, 3.21 ERA), who looks to get Toronto back on track, win his fourth straight start and outpitch Masahiro Tanaka (8-5, 3.79) for the second time in six days.

Estrada was effective in Sunday's 2-0 victory, yielding three hits and three walks in 6 1-3 innings while holding the top three hitters in the Yankees lineup - Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez - hitless in nine at-bats. It was a stark contrast to his May 5 outing at the Rogers Centre, where he yielded five runs in 4 2-3 innings of a 6-3 defeat.

The right-hander has a 1.45 ERA during his winning streak while limiting opponents to a .131 average.

The Blue Jays (64-53) seem unfazed by the loss, nearly rallying in the ninth as Troy Tulowitzki struck out against closer Andrew Miller in a 12-pitch at-bat to end the game with runners on second and third. That may prevent Miller, who wound up throwing 28 pitches after tossing 18 on Thursday at Cleveland, from pitching a third consecutive day.

Beltran's homer also ended a 25-inning scoreless streak by Toronto relievers dating back to an Aug. 2 win over Kansas City.

"I don't think it will have any effect at all because it was a good game that went down to the wire," manager John Gibbons said. "We don't have young guys so there's no emotional rollercoaster. These guys have been through it so I don't think it'll be a problem."

Toronto had some problems with Tanaka - it had one other hit besides solo homers by Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. Friday's loss marked the first time the Blue Jays failed to homer in 13 games, and they haven't gone back-to-back games without going deep since a three-game stretch from July 8-10.

Tanaka, though, has given up eight homers in five starts since the All-Star break, but seven of them have been solo shots. While Bautista (2 for 13) and Donaldson (1 for 8) had rare success last weekend, Edwin Encarnacion is 5 for 10 with a homer and a double against the right-hander.

Rodriguez, who will get either Saturday or Sunday off according to Girardi, is 3 for 30 in his last seven games.