By ADRY TORRES
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Aaron Judge was near the batter’s box for a pretty good view of Gio Urshela’s nifty slide at the plate to give the New York Yankees the go-ahead run in the fifth inning.
The Yankees slugger is sure the club wouldn’t have one of the best records in the majors if it wasn’t for the contributions from a player considered to be a utility player coming into this season.
Masahiro Tanaka pitched six strong innings, Urshela had two hits and drove in two runs, and the Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-2 on Sunday.
“We wouldn’t be in first place without Gio,” said Judge after New York improved to 59-32 this season and 20-6 against the American League East since May 19.
“The changes he’s made in the offseason, the adjustments he’s made, the work he’s put in, it’s finally showing and paying off.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone praised Urshela play on both sides of the field ever since he plugged the 27-year-old across his infield to cover for his other injured starters.
He found out that Urshela’s base-running isn’t too shabby either.
“It’s a really special slide he put on,” Boone said. “It was a very athletic play by him and obviously a big play at the time.”
Tanaka (6-5) allowed two runs, four hits and struck out five without issuing a walk for the AL-East leading Yankees.
The righty, who had three no-decisions in his past three starts, won for the first time since tossing a shutout over Tampa Bay on June 17.
Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect ninth for his 25th save in 28 chances.
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Urshela’s two-run single to left field off Toronto starter Marcus Stroman (5-10).
Stroman, a New York native, started for the first time since June 29 after being sidelined with a left pectoral cramp. He gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings while striking out seven and walking two.
Tanaka was cruising through the first four innings before the Blue Jays tied the game at 2-2 on solo homers in the fifth. Randal Grichuk led off the inning by driving Tanaka’s fastball over the right-center field fence. It was his 16th homer of the season.
After Tanaka struck out Danny Jansen and got Teoscar Hernandez to fly out, Eric Sogard cleared the short porch in right field for his 10th home run.
Urshela led off the bottom half of the inning with an infield single and his athleticism took over when he put the Yankees back ahead on a heads-up play when he scored on Stroman’s two-out wild pitch with Judge at the plate.
Urshela, who was picked up by the Yankees in an August 2018 deal with the Blue Jays and was assigned to the minors, has wowed the team with an array of Gold Glove-worthy stops in the infield and timely hitting.
“Every time I go [out] there it’s very fun playing for this team,” said Urshela, who’s reached career highs with 41 RBIs and 70 hits to go along with a .302 average.
“Since spring training when I got here, it’s really fun.”
Jansen got a good carom and raced to the plate. Instead of flipping the ball to Stroman, the Toronto catcher appeared to tag Urshela on the letters on his jersey.
But Urshela somehow managed to get his left foot right across home.
New York challenged and got the call reversed.
“A crazy good slide by Gio Urshela,” Stroman said. “It was just one of those slides where he kind of avoided him and he just kind of slid his left leg in there.”
Said Jansen: “I should have just threw my body right on the plate like I’m supposed to do. He made a nice slide and it kind of freaked me out.”
Mike Tauchman’s fifth homer of the season off reliever Derek Law in the seventh inning extended the Yankees’ lead.