NEW YORK -- David Phelps made many effective pitches, but after reflecting on his outing, there was little doubt that the biggest play was a simple throw to second base in the first inning.
Phelps pitched seven innings Thursday night and was aided by a key pick-off in the top of the first as the New York Yankees extended their home winning streak over the Toronto Blue Jays to 16 games with a 6-4 victory.
It did not appear that Phelps would last seven when he allowed a one-out single to left fielder Melky Cabrera and walked Jose Bautista in the first inning. It might have seemed even less likely when he reached a full count against Toronto first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. But then the Yankees made the call from the dugout that ultimately changed the momentum.
New York sensed that Cabrera might be running as he strayed off second base and directed Phelps to throw over. Phelps did and, following a brief replay challenge from Toronto manager John Gibbons, he had the second out. One pitch later he was out of the inning.
"That's the biggest play of the game right there," Phelps said. "To do that with one of the best hitters at the plate, first and second one out, it was a 3-2 count at that point (and) it was huge.
"It really changed the entire game. I give up a base hit there and it's a completely different ballgame, but I was able to get the guy out at second, make a pitch and I was out of the inning."
Instead Phelps never trailed, getting a 2-0 lead on sacrifice flies by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and third baseman Kelly Johnson.
He briefly lost the lead when Cabrera hit a two-out, two-run home run in the third, but designated hitter Carlos Beltran lifted New York's third sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run in the third.
Even though Phelps recorded the pickoff play and allowed two runs and six hits, his season-high 115-pitch outing was not easy. He held the Blue Jays to one hit in eight at-bats with men on base while stranding the tying run at third in the fifth and stranding two in the sixth.
"He was throwing the ball extremely well," New York catcher Brian McCann said. "The backdoor cutter was a big pitch for him tonight. The curveball was as sharp as I've seen it. He grinded."
Phelps won his second straight start against one of the American League's top offenses and did so on a night when David Robertson and Dellin Betances were unavailable. He exited with a 6-2 lead after Beltran had an RBI double in the fifth, shortstop Derek Jeter had a run-scoring groundout in the sixth and rookie third baseman Yangervis Solarte had a bases-loaded walk in the seventh after entering for Johnson (left fingers).
"The big thing for every time is I want to go six, seven every time, especially when our bullpen has been as good as they are," Phelps said. "Tonight where I can pick them up by going a little deeper in my game, so that's definitely in the back of my head, I'd like to be efficient. I also had an idea that they might give me a little bit of a longer leash to go a little deeper in the game."
Shawn Kelley allowed a two-run home run to Encarnacion in the eighth. After Matt Thornton allowed a hit to center fielder Colby Rasmus, Adam Warren retired shortstop Jose Reyes on a groundout for his second save.
The Yankees won for the seventh time in nine games and completed their first three-game sweep. They had three sacrifice flies for the first time since Sept. 28, 2010, and tied a season high with four stolen bases.
"It's huge," Phelps said. "Sweeping any series is big for us at any point in the season, but especially them coming (here) and being the team we're chasing."
Toronto has not won at Yankee Stadium since Aug. 29, 2012, and was handed its ninth loss in 12 games.
"We basically got shut down," Gibbons said. "They stuck it to us pretty good all three games. They played good and we're just kind of treading water right now but we need to pick it up."
Blue Jays right-hander Drew Hutchison (5-5) did not get past the fifth for the second time in three starts, allowing four runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Toronto had a strange fourth inning when catcher Dioner Navarro popped out to first baseman Mark Teixeira. Umpires initially called it a double play for Encarnacion interfering in the baseline but changed the call and awarded Navarro first base.
NOTES: The Blue Jays placed LHP Brett Cecil on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin and recalled RHP Steve Delabar from Triple-A Buffalo, two days after optioning him there. ...DH Adam Lind (right foot) and 3B Brett Lawrie (left hand) were held out of the lineup, although the Blue Jays don't think that either player will land on the DL. ... New York DH Carlos Beltran has been playing catch but the Yankees do not know when he will return to right field. Beltran missed 21 games with an injured right elbow before returning June 5. ...Thursday marked the 111th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's birth and Major League Baseball announced that it is donating $300,000 to organizations that fight against Lou Gehrig's disease. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of Gehrig's famous "luckiest man" speech on July 4. "When Lou Gehrig delivered his historic farewell speech at Yankee Stadium 75 years ago, he indelibly linked our national pastime to the fight against the disease that would bear his name," commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.