NEW YORK -- The Yankees continued to stay tough on the Blue Jays at home with a 6-4 win on Thursday night that completed a sweep of their front-running American League East rivals.
New York's 16th straight win against Toronto at Yankee Stadium featured solid starting pitching and a balanced, patient offense. It also moved the second-place Yanks 1 1/2 games back in the standings.
Starter David Phelps, coming off a strong outing in Oakland, provided seven strong innings, allowing just two runs and striking out seven, while the Yankees methodically scored one run in six of their eight innings.
For Phelps, the pivotal point in the game came just a few batters into the game.
With one out, and runners at first and second, cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion worked the count full. Then, Phelps hesitated in his delivery, spun around, and picked off Melky Cabrera leaning at second base. Cabrera was initially ruled safe until a replay review overturned the call. One pitch later, Phelps froze Encarnacion with a fastball to retire the side.
"That's probably the biggest play of the game when you look back on it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They had some momentum and you're in a tough spot, 3-2 on Encarnacion, and all of a sudden, you get a big pickoff and it helps you relax a little bit."
"You've got one of the best hitters in baseball at the plate, first and second one out," Phelps said. "It's huge."
Then the Yanks' offense went to work.
It wasn't an explosive attack, but it was bruising. Yankees hitters made starter Drew Hutchison -- coming off seven shutout innings against Baltimore -- labor early in working walks and supplying constant baserunners. New York jumped out to a 2-0 lead on sacrifice flies from Jacoby Ellsbury and Kelly Johnson. Carlos Beltran added their third sac fly in the first three frames to snap a 2-2 tie.
Hutchison, who was replaced in the fifth by Aaron Loup, had fired 76 of his 99 pitches after just three innings.
Before the game, Girardi described the benefits of having two proven leadoff hitters in his lineup and it showed on Thursday.
Brett Gardner continued his hot series, leading off the first with a double to extend his hitting streak to six games, while scoring the Yankees' first run in consecutive nights. He helped another run cross in the sixth when he hustled into second to thwart a potential double-play ball off the bat of Derek Jeter.
Ellsbury singled, stole second base, and scored on Beltran's sac fly in the third and then repeated in the fifth with another single and stolen base before scoring on Beltran's ground-rule double.
"I think that's important," Girardi said of Ellsbury's steals. "That's one of the ways that we create runs, we have guys that are able to do that and that's been important to our offense. And when we do start hitting more home runs, and I think you're going to see it, you add that in there and it's a pretty complete offense."
A bases-loaded walk to Yangervis Solarte in the seventh extended the Yanks' lead to 6-2. Solarte had entered in the sixth during Kelly Johnson's at-bat after Johnson bruised some fingers on his left hand on a bunt attempt and could not complete the at-bat.
"He's OK, he's got some bruised fingers," Girardi said. "He'll be day to day and we'll see how he feels tomorrow."
Solarte inherited a 3-2 count and struck out on the next pitch. The strikeout was charged to Johnson, who finished 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly.
The Blue Jays' only runs off Phelps came in the third when Cabrera launched a two-run homer to right field, his fifth hit in the series, to even the game at 2. But it was Phelps' only hiccup.
In the fourth, Phelps avoided trouble when he escaped a Colby Rasmus leadoff double by retiring three straight, highlighted by a survivalist throw to first when Cabrera's line drive ricocheted off his leg.
On a night when relievers Dellin Betances and David Robertson were likely unavailable, Phelps came up big by striking out seven and allowing six hits. Shawn Kelley surrendered a two-run homer to Edwin Encarnacion in the eighth to cap the scoring.
"One of the biggest things for me every night is going six, seven innings," Phelps said. "With our bullpen as good as they are, it's a night where I can kind of pick them up by going a little deeper in the game."
Phelps finished off an impressive series for Yankees starters. Over the three games against one of the league's most potent offenses, Phelps, Chase Whitley and Masahiro Tanaka allowed a combined five runs over 18 innings.
"They did a really, really good job," Girardi said. "They had a lot to do with our success. We know how explosive of an offense that is over there. That offense has scored more runs than any offense in the American League East and our guys did a really good job."
Adam Warren worked around a Rasmus single in the ninth for his second save and to seal the Yanks' seventh win in the last nine games.
"That's something we've been having, great pitching," Beltran said. "Right now, we feel like we're having better at-bats, scoring runs, and when you're able to pitch well and score early, it's a great chance you're going to win a ballgame."
Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.