Jays Send Message After Sweeping Yankees
NEW YORK – As messages go, the Blue Jays couldn’t have been more explicit this weekend.
They arrived in the Bronx for three games with the first-place Yankees, trailing the American League East leaders by 4.5 games. After three convincing victories, capped by Sunday’s 2-0 whitewash, that lead is down to a slender 1.5 games.
Message delivered: Toronto is in this thing to the finish.
“Well, we’ve climbed back real close,” said manager John Gibbons. “We haven’t done anything yet, other than excite our fans. Hopefully, we keep that up.”
Over the three games, the Blue Jays beat the Yankees in every aspect: Pitching, hitting and fielding. They walked into Yankee Stadium where no opponent is supposed to feel comfortable and made it their own playground.
“Our goal is to win a series,” said Josh Donaldson. “But when you come in and take the first two, your goal is to win the next game. That said, this was an important series for us because it was a game that can immediately get you back in the standings without having to rely on other teams.”
During the 12 Yankees games before the Blue Jays swaggered into town, the Bronx Bombers had scored 93 runs, an average of nearly eight per game. In this series, not only were they beaten three times, but they never led in any of the games, scoring just one run in 28 innings. And that one run needed a controversial replay reversal in the second inning of Friday’s first game when Mark Teixeira was awarded a home run on a ball that was originally ruled a double.
From that point forward, the Yankees failed to score in 26 consecutive innings. That’s the longest scoreless innings string for a Yankees team since 1991. The back-to-back shutouts were the first hung on them since 1999.
“That’s very rare,” said Gibbons. “Especially the way their lineup is built. This is a different ball park with that short right-field wall. You can just get one airborne and it’s gone. You naturally try to stay away from that when you can.”
As was the case in all three games, the Blue Jays spoke with their bats on Sunday, scoring both runs on solo homers. Donaldson hit one in the first inning off starter Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Bautista did it again in the fourth. On the weekend, the Jays out-homered the Yankees 6-1. Donaldson and Bautista both also homered in Friday’s 2-1, 10-inning win, while Justin Smoak drilled a grand slam and Troy Tulowitzki hit a solo shot in Saturday’s 6-0 win.
Donaldson has been in ‘quick-strike’ mode recently and he did it again in this one, hitting the first pitch he saw from Tanaka into the Yankee bullpen, some 400 feet away, for his 31st home run of the season. Donaldson’s most recent four home runs, all stroked in the past week, have come in the first inning and given Toronto an early lead.
“What that says is that I’m getting ready for that first at-bat,” said Donaldson. “It helps to have great hitters hitting behind you and ahead of you. Right away, those pitchers have to be on top of their game. I’ve just been fortunate enough to get some good pitches to hit.”
Over the course of the season, 20 of Donaldson’s 31 home runs have either tied the score or put the Blue Jays in front.
The score remained 1-0 until, with one out in the fourth, Bautista exploded all over a Tanaka sinker that didn’t sink, smashing a no-doubter that caromed off the facing of the second deck in left field for his 26th of the season.
Right-hander Marco Estrada more or less cruised through the first three innings for the Jays, then hit a rough patch in the fourth when he temporarily lost the strike zone. After Alex Rodriguez hit a harmless fly ball to left, Teixeira and Brian McCann both walked on four pitches. After Estrada threw his ninth consecutive ball to Carlos Beltran, the Yankees veteran inexplicably swung at ball 10. Estrada threw an 11th consecutive pitch out of the strike zone before, on the 2-1 delivery, Beltran bailed Estrada out of his self-induced dilemma by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
With Tanaka out of the game to start the seventh, the Jays had a chance to put the game away when reliever Adam Warren loaded the bases. Bautista singled, Dioner Navarro walked and Chris Colabello was hit by a pitch. Lefty Justin Wilson came on and rescued Warren by striking out Smoak and pinch-hitter Cliff Pennington before inducing a pop-up by Kevin Pillar.
In the bottom of the seventh, Estrada got McCann on a quick groundball out, then walked Beltran. When Chase Headley pool-cued a ball into left field for a single, Gibbons went to the pen for LaTroy Hawkins. With runners at first and second, Hawkins got Didi Gregorius on a line drive right at Donaldson, then struck out Drew to end the inning.
“It’s incredible what just adding a few pieces to this team has done,” said Estrada. “What it’s done mentally and, obviously, physically on the field. Just picking up a few guys, we feel confident. We held them to a run. We didn’t score too much, but just enough to win. We knew it was going to be a battle and we came out on top.”
Aaron Sanchez worked around a one-out walk to get out of the eighth inning and then Roberto Osuna tossed a perfect ninth for his 10th save.
PENNINGTON LOSING SLEEP OVER JAYS TRADE
Cliff Pennington flew all night Saturday from Phoenix to join his new team, arriving at Yankee Stadium sleep-deprived but pumped to be part of a Blue Jays team that wants to break a 22-year playoff drought.
“They didn’t have a flight out until 10 p.m., so I landed (in New York) about 5:30 a.m., and got to the hotel about 7 o’clock,” said Pennington. “I couldn’t sleep on the plane. I was too excited. I should have stayed up, but I went to sleep when I got to the hotel and it got way worse after I tried to take an hour nap. We’ve got an off-day tomorrow and the adrenalin will be pumping (during the game) so I’m not worried about it.”
Pennington, a 31-year-old swtch-hitter, was dealt to Toronto on Saturday, after three seasons with the Diamondbacks, in exchange for class-A shortstop Dawel Lugo. Pennington will assume the reserve infield role previously held by Munenori Kawasaki, who was optioned to Buffalo. It’s the latest bit of tinkering by GM Alex Anthopoulos who would still like to find a fourth outfielder and perhaps a fifth starter upgrade.
Class act that he is, Kawasaki sought out Pennington in the vistors clubhouse Sunday morning, bowed and shook his hand, wishing him well before he packed his bags and headed back to Buffalo.
Pennington represents a defensive upgrade in the middle infield. His offensive numbers have never matched his rookie season production with Oakland — .279/.342/.418 — and this year he has an OPS of just .595, but he brings post-season experience.
“Experience is huge in this game,” said Pennington. “I don’t know if you can quantify exactly what it’s worth, but having been there before gives you peace when you get into that situation again. I’m excited to be on a team that is doing great things and has a chance to win the division.
“This is what you play for, to be in meaningful games late in the season and maybe go to the post-season.”
Pennington played alongside Josh Donaldson as the two made their way through the A’s minor system as young players.
“I’ve played mainly at short but also at second and third and even a couple of games in left field this year. Hopefully, that won’t be needed but if it is, I’m able to do it.”
“I’ve known J.D. for a long time,” said Pennington, speaking to his comfort level in joining the Blue Jays. “Being around the league, I’ve played against these guys enough that it’s not a case of: ‘How you doing? Who are you?’ Fitting in isn’t a problem.”
With Devon Travis’ return from the DL not entirely certain, Pennington represents an important insurance policy in the middle infield for both Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Goins.
Pennington made his Jays debut pinch-hitting for Goins against lefty Justin Wilson in the seventh inning on Sunday. He struck out and walked in his two plate appearances.
By: Ken Fidlin