NEW YORK — First, it was Brendan Ryan, then Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. To complete a sweep over Baltimore, the Yankees got big hits from Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley.
Ellsbury finished a triple shy of the cycle and drove in four runs and Headley hit a three-run double in the first inning Thursday as New York beat the Orioles 9-3, bolstering its spot atop the AL East.
"We've got a deep lineup," Headley, the No. 6 batter, said. "Obviously the guys in the middle have been tremendous, and the guys in the beginning have been tremendous, as well. But there's a lot of guys throughout the lineup that can do damage."
Masahiro Tanaka (7-3) won his third straight start, allowing three solo homers and a pair of doubles in 7 2-3 innings to help New York to its ninth win in 11 games.
The Yankees are 12 games over .500 at 53-41 for the first time since May 25, 2013, their high point that season.
Ryan had the go-ahead hit Tuesday night, and A-Rod and Teixeira connected Wednesday, putting New York in position for its first sweep of the Orioles since April 2012.
Ellsbury homered and had a sacrifice fly and a two-run double among three hits. With a chance at the cycle, he grounded back to the pitcher in the eighth.
Didi Gregorius followed Headley's bases-clearing hit with an RBI single off Ubaldo Jimenez as New York increased their major league-leading total of first-inning runs to 86.
"I think there's a lot of confidence in that clubhouse, right now, the way everyone is swinging the bats," manager Joe Girardi said.
Jimenez (7-6) went into the All-Star break with a 2.81 ERA, firmly established as the Orioles' ace. It's been a completely different story since then, as he's given up seven runs in two straight starts against Detroit and the Yankees.
"I was executing my pitches down in the zone and right now I'm missing right down the middle," said Jimenez in comparing his success before the break to his struggles after it.
The Yankees put up eight hits and seven runs before Jimenez could finish the third. After 2 1-3 innings, his ERA was at 3.81.
The Orioles have not been much better since the four-day break, dropping four of six. They are two games under .500 (46-48) for the first time since June 10.
Baltimore entered this series in second place in the AL East but is headed to Tampa Bay in fourth, seven games back of New York.
Ellsbury got the Yankees rolling right away, leading off the first with a single. Jimenez walked the bases loaded, then struck out Teixeira and got Carlos Beltran to fly to left. Headley hit a drive over the head of All-Star center fielder Adam Jones.
Four days from turning 40, Rodriguez chugged home from first. He reached down awkwardly to try to touch the plate and did two full barrel rolls before landing on his back. Brett Gardner twice waved his arms wide — safe!
"That was just funny," John Ryan Murphy said.
Ellsbury led off the second with a homer and had a sacrifice fly an inning later as the first batter to face reliever Tommy Hunter.
In the fifth, Ellsbury had a two-run double off Bud Norris, two batters after Murphy's grounder hit off second base and shot straight up, giving the backup catcher his third hit and second that nicked a base.
Hurt by the long ball all season, Tanaka yielded a homer to Chris Davis to start the second. J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado connected in the eighth to chase the Japanese star.
"You can survive giving up solo homers," Girardi said.
Yankees: C Brian McCann was given the day off after starting the first five games since the All-Star break.
Orioles: Chris Tillman (7-7) pitched one-hit ball for eight innings in his last start. This will be his fourth start this season against the Rays. He's 1-2 with 18 strikeouts in 18 1-3 innings.
Yankees: Michael Pineda (9-6) starts the opener of New York's season high-tying 10-game road trip in Minnesota. Pineda has faced Torii Hunter three times and Hunter has two homers and five RBIs. The Yankees will take on former teammate Phil Hughes (8-6).
Many Little Leaguers could empathize with Gardner, when the Yankees left fielder lost Davis' flyball in the fourth despite wearing shades. While ranging back onto the warning track with his glove up, Gardner took several awkward shuffle steps and fell on his backside as the ball bounced off the dirt just a foot or two behind him and into the crowd. Gardner was initially given an error but postgame it was changed to a double.