Yankees-Blue Jays Preview

The New York Yankees had their rotation all lined up to have their top starter on the mound for the finale of what could be their most important series of the regular season.

Instead, Masahiro Tanaka will watch from the dugout as Ivan Nova tries to get the Yankees within 1 1/2 games of the AL East-leading Blue Jays Wednesday night in Toronto.

New York (83-67) evened the series with Tuesday's 6-4 win after Greg Bird hit a three-run homer in the 10th inning, leaving the yard for the fifth time on a seven-game hitting streak. The first baseman is the eighth Yankees rookie to homer in three straight games dating to 1914, and none of the previous seven made it to four.

"We're still definitely in it," Bird said. "Now it's off to tomorrow."

His timing couldn't be better while filling in for the injured Mark Teixeira and providing an offensive boost at a crucial time.

"It was probably as emotional and loud as I've seen it this year, which is understandable," manager Joe Girardi said of the dugout's reaction.

The Blue Jays (86-65) have still won 12 of 18 in the season series, though they've dropped five of nine overall dating to a loss in the series finale at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 13. Josh Donaldson is batting .147 in that span, but Dioner Navarro has homered in consecutive games after hitting three in his first 49 and is batting .400 in his last six.

Nova (6-8, 5.11 ERA), who was banished to the bullpen last Wednesday, will fill in as Tanaka deals with a strained hamstring. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the start that acted as the last straw for the right-hander also came against Toronto.

Nova gave up six runs and seven hits in 1 2-3 innings of a 10-7 home loss on Sept. 12 and hasn't pitched in any capacity since. The starting staff has posted a 1.98 ERA over a 6-3 span without him.

"I think it's all in the mind," Nova told MLB's official website. "It's my mindset. I've got to be ready to go - command my pitches and execute every pitch."

He's given up at least three runs in seven straight starts while going 2-5 with a 7.46 ERA. Three of those starts have come against the Blue Jays, which has dropped Nova to 2-3 with a 7.59 ERA and .323 opponent batting average in his last seven in the series. Jose Bautista has a .538 on-base percentage in 19 at-bats against Nova.

Nova's up against Marcus Stroman (2-0, 3.00), whose confidence level is likely the higher of the two despite appearing twice in the majors since spring training.

Stroman's return from a torn ACL has been everything the Blue Jays had hoped. After debuting by beating the Yankees in New York on Sept. 12, he gave up a run and six hits in seven innings of a 6-1 home victory over Boston on Friday.

The right-hander improved to 8-2 with a 1.92 ERA in 12 career home starts, and he's made it at least seven innings in six of the last seven.

"I love pitching here," Stroman said. "I love pitching at the Rogers Centre. I feel great when I'm out there."

Against the Yankees, he's 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA and .218 opponent batting average in four starts. Jacoby Ellsbury (0 for 8) and Brian McCann (1 for 10) have struggled most, but Brett Gardner is 3 for 10 with two home runs and a double.

Both clubs have relatively easy schedules after this series, but the Yankees are 21-13 against remaining competition of the Chicago White Sox, Boston and Baltimore, while Toronto is 14-14 against Tampa Bay and the Orioles.

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