Masahiro Tanaka struck out a career-best 15 batters while Greg Bird knocked in two runs as the new york yankees remained alive in the AL East race with a 4-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. Tanaka (13-12) gave up three hits with no walk while Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect ninth for his 21st save of the season for the Yankees, who trail the Boston Red Sox by 2 ½ games in the AL East.

“It's pretty obvious that there were a lot of ups and downs this season… but I was able to learn a lot from it,” Tanaka said through an interpreter, per Bryan Hoch and Gregor Chisholm of

With his performance, Tanaka joined Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg for the most strikeouts in a Major League game this season. Tanaka also tied Yu Darvish's record for the most strikeouts in a single game by a Japanese pitcher, which he set in 2013.

Bird joins elite company

Bird, for his part, became the fourth Yankee ever to collect at least one extra-base hit and one RBI in seven straight games, behind Don Mattingly (1987), Babe Ruth (1920) and Alex Rodriguez (2007). Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro each hit an RBI single for the Yankees (90-70). The Yankees are already assured of the first AL Wild Card berth and will face the Minnesota Twins.

Meanwhile, the 18 strikeouts matched the Blue Jays' all-time single-game franchise record for a nine-inning game.

Toronto struck out 18 times against the Texas Rangers on July 26, 1989, and again on Aug. 28, 2011, against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 28, 2011. The Blue Jays also tied the Yankees franchise record, done four times, last on May 10, 2015, against the Baltimore Orioles. Joe Biagini (3-13) took the loss after he yielded three runs on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts for the Blue Jays (75-85).

Yankees raced to 2-0 lead in the first frame

The Yankees raced to 2-0 lead in the first inning behind Castro’s RBI single and Bird’s run-scoring sacrifice fly. In the fifth, Judge brought Aaron Hicks home with a single while Bird added his second RBI single in the sixth to give the Yankees a 4-0 advantage. On Saturday, the Yankees will start lefty Jaime Garcia (1-3) for the ninth time against Blue Jays’ right-hander Marcus Stroman, who is three innings shy of reaching 200 frames for the second straight year. Stroman has a 13-8 record with an ERA of 3.06 in 32 starts this season. Stroman could lower his ERA into the two's if he pitches five or more scoreless innings Saturday against the Yankees.