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First place Yankees take advantage of ‘beat up’ Blue Jays

New York Yankees left fielder Aaron Hicks hits a three-run double in the first inning during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Thursday.

Nick Turchiaro/USA Today Sports

A winning percentage of .500 is neither here nor there. It is smack dab in the middle, a representation of not too good, but not too shabby, either.

And it pretty much reflects how the season has gone for the Toronto Blue Jays, although they've played much, much better of late.

The New York Yankees were in town on Thursday night to begin a four-game set against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, to mark Toronto's first meaningful series of an arduous season that has only just rolled into June.

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The rebuilding Yankees arrived in first place in the American League East while the Blue Jays remain mired in last in the division, where they have been all season.

But the Blue Jays, with a rollicking month of May, during which they compiled an 18-10 record, the second-best winning percentage in the AL behind only the Houston Astros, have shown definite signs of life.

The spurt moved Toronto to 26-27 heading into the New York series, one win away from levelling their record at .500, a psychological barrier the team is hoping to clear.

"I think it's always a big deal," Toronto first baseman Justin Smoak was ruminating before the game, on the affect that a .500 record can have on a team's psyche. "Of course, we figured we'd be there and stay there all season long.

"But with the start we had, what we did last month to get back close to .500, we want to keep it going."

The Yankees might have something to say about that.

Teeing off early and often on Toronto starter Marco Estrada, the Yankees (31-20) waltzed their way to a 12-2 snooze-fest over the Blue Jays (26-28), where the anticipated drama never materialized. The Yankees put the game away early, scoring four times in the first inning off the usually dependable Estrada, whose stock-in-trade changeup did not fool the New York mashers.

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"When they're down I get swings and misses, when they're up like that they get hit a long way," Estrada said of his missing-in-action change. "That's basically what happened. I wasn't really locating much, missed a lot of my spots actually."

And with hefty-lefty CC Sabathia on the mound for New York and having little trouble against the Toronto batting lineup, en route to his fourth straight win, it made for a trying night for the home side.

New York catcher Gary Sanchez cranked out two home runs and drove in three Yankee runs while Aaron Hicks knocked in six after going 4-for-5 with two doubles.

Kendrys Morales stroked his 11th home run off Sabathia in the seventh inning. Ezequiel Carrera also homered in the eighth, his fourth.

Earlier in the day, the Blue Jays designated for assignment Mike Bolsinger, who did a decent job filling in as a starter for Toronto over the past three weeks after the rotation was depleted by injury.

In five starts, Bolsinger went 0-2 with a 5.61 earned-run average but he pitched into at least the fifth inning in each outing, helping to preserve some of the arms in the bullpen.

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With the return of J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano, who will come off the disabled list to start Friday night's game against the Yankees, Bolsinger's days with the big-league club were numbered.

Toronto filled its vacant 25-man roster by adding reliever Leonel Campos, called up from Triple-A Buffalo.

While the Yankees' visit marked Toronto's biggest series of the season to date, the Blue Jays starting lineup wasn't exactly top-drawer.

Devon Travis, as hot as any hitter in the AL over the past two weeks of May, ranking No. 1 in average (.435), extra-base hits (14), and runs batted in (17), was on the bench to start the game with backup Darwin Barney getting the start at second.

Travis is a little banged up, explained Gibbons, with knee and hamstring issues, and could use the rest. He was also hitting .050 (1-for-20) in his career against Sabathia, with six strikeouts.

No. 1 catcher Russell Martin is also a little "beat up" according to the manager and gave way to Luke Maile.

It was not a good outing for Estrada, who needed 29 pitches to slog through the first inning, where the Yankees jumped all over him for a 4-0 lead.

The big blow was a bases-loaded double by Hicks that scored three of the New York runs.

Judge then stroked his first home run with two out in the second inning to make the score 5-0 and the Blue Jays sagged considerably after that.

With New York leading 7-0, Estrada (4-3) was yanked after just 3 2/3 innings, his shortest stint of the season. The seven runs allowed off nine hits both represented season highs for the right-hander.

Sabathia (6-2) went 6 1/3 innings for the win. He allowed one run and five hits, with seven strike outs.

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