With three games each against the Yankees and Red Sox -- both teams that sit ahead of Toronto in the standings -- Gaston conceded that this week was the most important for the Jays since he took over as manager on June 20.
"You can't look ahead until you look at this week," Gaston said. "Either this week will make you or break you. ... You have got to play well. You can't afford to get swept. You have got to win some series here, otherwise you can start thinking of next year."
On Tuesday, the Jays proved that next year is far from their thoughts. Behind a strong pitching performance from A.J. Burnett, the Toronto offense was able to stage a late rally to defeat New York, 2-1. The victory for the Jays (65-60) brought them to within one game of the Yankees, who are in third place in both the American League East and Wild Card standings.
Though Burnett suffocated New York's (66-59) hitters for most of the night, the Jays entered the seventh inning trailing, 1-0. Entering that frame, Toronto had mustered just two hits off Yankees starter Darrell Rasner.
Nonetheless, right fielder Adam Lind managed to tie the game when he launched a 3-2 offering from Rasner over the left-field wall for his ninth home run of the season. Lind has now hit a home run in three straight games for the Jays.
An inning later, the Jays were able to take the lead when Joe Inglett lined a two-out single to left field off Yankees reliever Jose Veras (3-2). The next batter, Marco Scutaro, lifted a fly ball deep to center field.
New York center fielder Johnny Damon was able to catch up to the ball and, while inching closer to the outfield wall, he made a slight leap. The ball then deflected off Damon's glove as it dropped to the ground, which allowed Inglett to score the go-ahead run to give Toronto the lead.
As the Jays gained the lead, it also allowed Burnett (16-9) to capture his sixth straight victory. The right-hander was grateful for the late rally.
"They don't [give up]," Burnett said of the Toronto hitters. "[Rasner] threw a good, quality start. He pitched great out there and shut us down for a while. But our guys kept digging. That's what this team has. I've been saying it all along, they've got heart and that's one big positive thing about us."
Burnett was able to display many positives of his own on Tuesday, as he plowed through the Yankees' lineup, allowing just five hits over his eight innings. More impressively though, Burnett managed to strike out a season-high 13 batters, increasing his AL-leading total to 178.
Burnett credited the strikeouts to his curveball, which seemed to be more effective than usual.
"It was just on tonight," said the starter. "I told Cito, I'd like to have that hook every night. It would be nice."
Burnett's only real mistake came in the first inning, when, after walking Damon to lead off the game, he surrendered an RBI double to Bobby Abreu that scored the game's first run.
After the first inning, though, Burnett settled down considerably, as he retired 15 of the next 18 batters he faced. Against the Yankees this season, the hard-throwing right-hander is now 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA.
"I was just really focused on executing my pitches after that first inning," he said. "I wasn't going to allow another one to leave the strike zone and have them capitalize on it."
Tuesday's game was also not without great defense, as the Jays made several highlight reel plays in the field, the most important of which came in the ninth inning, when Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez blooped a pitch from Jays closer B.J. Ryan into shallow right field.
Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay ran into no-man's land and chased the ball down. The first baseman slid on the turf to scoop the ball, then turned and fired it to second base, all in one motion. Overbay's throw to shortstop John Mcdonald was perfect, and caught Rodriguez, who was trying to stretch his hit into a double, by surprise.
"He has that kind of arm," Gaston said of Overbay. "He got there and knocked that ball down, and got up and threw a strike to second base. That was a big play for us."
With Rodriguez making the first out of the inning and damaging a potential rally in the process, Ryan was able to easily retire the next two hitters to seal the victory, which put Toronto five games over the .500 mark for the first time since May 30.
"That's what we have to do," said Ryan, who notched his 24th save of the year. "It was a great win to come back like that late, and to finish off for A.J. We'll just come back and see what we can do tomorrow."
David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.