Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki

Jays sweep struggling Yankees

Everyone already knew the Toronto Blue Jays could really hit. Turns out, it was a trio of splendid pitching performances that closed the gap in the AL East. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista launched long home runs, and the Blue Jays earned their eighth straight victory by beating the New York Yankees 2-0 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep that tightened the division race.

NEW YORK — Everyone already knew the Toronto Blue Jays could really hit. Turns out, it was a trio of splendid pitching performances that closed the gap in the AL East.

Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista launched long home runs, and the Blue Jays earned their eighth straight victory by beating the New York Yankees 2-0 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep that tightened the division race.

“Everything seems more in reach,” Bautista said. “It seems more attainable.”

Marco Estrada tossed three-hit ball into the seventh inning against the suddenly slumping Yankees, outpitching Masahiro Tanaka during Toronto’s second consecutive shutout. Boosted by some big acquisitions before the July 31 trade deadline, the streaking Blue Jays have won 11 of 12 to pull within 1 1-2 games of the first-place Yankees.

A week ago, New York was up by six.

“Incredible,” Estrada said. “It’s been a great ride. We’ve had a tremendous team this whole year and obviously just got a little better. Adding a few pieces helped a lot. Our confidence is pretty high and we’re all enjoying the run.”

In a series that featured the top two offences in the majors, New York mustered only one run and went scoreless over the final 26 innings. Not since May 1999 against the Angels had the Yankees been blanked in two straight — that stretch of 2,665 games between consecutive shutouts was the longest in major league history, the team said in citing research by the Elias Sports Bureau.

It was the first time since May 2003 that Toronto swept New York in a series of at least three games.

“We definitely took a punch this weekend, and good teams punch back,” Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez said. “For us, it’s all about how we respond that matters.”

On an aggravating afternoon for the Yankees, Brett Gardner slammed down his helmet with two hands after grounding out with a runner on second to end the third inning.

Moments later, he was standing in left field when he got hit in the back of the head by Bautista’s home run ball after a 15-year-old fan heaved it back onto the field.

“I just wore it. Didn’t even turn around,” Gardner said. “I’ve got a hard head, so it’s all good.”

Estrada (10-6) kept New York’s dangerous lineup off balance all day, masterfully mixing his 77 mph changeup with a 90 mph fastball and slow curve. He gave up three singles and three walks, striking out six.

The right-hander was lifted after 89 pitches with two on in the seventh. LaTroy Hawkins got out of the inning, Aaron Sanchez pitched a hitless eighth and Roberto Osuna worked a perfect ninth for his 10th save.

“This ballpark hasn’t been real kind to us in the past,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “It’s been a tough spot for us. We’re just on a nice little roll right now.”

Donaldson homered into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-centre on the seventh pitch from Tanaka (8-5), who yielded three hits in six innings. He was relieved after 80 pitches.

Bautista connected in the fourth, a mammoth drive that struck the facing of the second deck in left field.

Donaldson also went deep in the first inning Friday night, when Bautista’s homer in the 10th sent Toronto to a 2-1 victory in the series opener.

“This isn’t going to be comfortable the rest of the way,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “We have to fight for every win and that’s what we expect every single game going forward.”

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