NEW YORK – Given the way things have gone for the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium this season, Sunday’s rainout may have come at an opportune time, and the lack of a return engagement until late August with the American League East leaders is probably a good thing.
An 0-6 mark at the house George Steinbrenner built and 1-8 record overall this season versus the Bronx Bombers accounts for a lot of the standings deficit the 17-26 Blue Jays are facing right now, and it’s not only that they’re losing, but who they’re losing to, and how they’re losing that’s troubling.
During a four-game sweep April 25-28 in New York, they led in all four games but failed to close out a single contest, losing by a cumulative score of 19-13. This past weekend Hiroki Kuroda stuffed them decisively on Friday but Saturday they played the type of error-filled contest that led to a dismal April, and they made their hosts look better than they were.
The Blue Jays have now lost nine straight at Yankee Stadium dating back to last year and are 11-31 there since its opening in 2009 – a run that’s moved from statistical oddity to damaging trend.
While some of that can be attributed to the Yankees simply having better teams than the Blue Jays for much of that period, the same can’t be said this year when they’ve run out lineups featuring the likes of Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix, Ben Francisco, David Adams and Austin Romine.
The disparity just doesn’t make much sense.
“It’s almost like you’ve got a jinx here against this team,” Mark Buehrle said Sunday. “The frustrating part is this isn’t really their team, this is a bunch of guys kind of made up (from) guys getting injured. It seems like they’re only going to get better once they get some of these guys back off the DL, but once you play bad against a team and they just have your number it might get a little mental, a little frustrating that you just can’t figure out a way to beat them.”
Their only win this year against the Yankees came April 21, an 8-4 triumph at the Rogers Centre in the finale of a three-game set that was the clubs’ first series of the year.
After Sunday’s rainout, the Blue Jays still have 10 dates remaining with their nemesis, the next coming Aug. 20-22 in New York. Both teams have an off-day Aug. 19, and that may be where the makeup date lands.
There is plenty of time between now and then for the Blue Jays to right themselves, play better over a prolonged stretch and level out the gap, but considering a “Bull Durham” style chicken sacrifice might not be the worst idea, just in case.
“I’m too old for those,” manager John Gibbons said with a laugh, before adding: “If you guaranteed me that would work we might.”
Joking or not, the Blue Jays don’t have much time to leave their Yankees misery behind as they return home for a three-game series against Tampa Bay and a four-game set versus Baltimore, two teams they need to start gaining some ground on.
R.A. Dickey, due to pitch Sunday, will take the mound in Monday’s Victoria Day matinee with the Rays, followed by Ramon Ortiz and Mark Buehrle. Chad Jenkins, who was due to start Monday, will likely be available in what stands now as a nine-man bullpen, and should be back on the mound Friday when the Blue Jays next need a fifth starter.
The extra day of rest for Dickey, nearly through the back tightness between his neck and right shoulder, may end up helping the knuckleballer.
“I can’t imagine it hurting,” he said. “I feel like that’s become more of a non-issue as we’ve gone forward and an extra day off can only improve it. It’s hard for a starter because when you get into the game mode, it’s hard to get out of it, and you want to pitch. I wanted to pitch today, so we’ll just wait another 24 hours.”
The Blue Jays are 2-2 against the Rays, 1-2 against the Orioles and 4-5 against the Red Sox thus far, so the Yankees are responsible for their 8-17 mark within the AL East.
There are those in the industry who believe the division will eventually bunch up as collective performances reach the mean, and you’d think the Blue Jays must have some wins coming against the Yankees.
“We’re probably going to win more than one game against this year, I would think, I would hope,” Gibbons said. “There’s no question they’ve had our number, but they’ve outplayed us, too.”
That’s how Darren Oliver explains it, too.
“Most of the time they’ve been pitching well, regardless of what they do on offence,” he said. “Their starting pitching has been setting the tone, especially these last two days, Kuroda went eight, (David) Phelps went seven. Usually when you’re winning it starts with pitching. I look at it that way.”
Still, the Blue Jays must hope their season series doesn’t become one of those inexplicable oddities that arise from time to time.
Buehrle remembers some of the woes the Chicago White Sox endured against at the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome.
“We used to go in there for nine games with the White Sox and if we won one game out of those nine it was like it was a good year,” he said. “We just couldn’t win there, whether we blew leads, or didn’t score runs, it was just one of those things. Every time we went in there it was like, if we can win one game out of this year that will be a good season.”
Is there anything out of the ordinary that can be done to turn things around?
“There’s no voodoo stuff or superstitious stuff that you change,” Buehrle said. “Some guys might do that but I don’t do that. You just have to go out there and keep battling and hopefully things even out eventually. Right now, the first month and a half they’re in first place, that’s the team we’re chasing so any time we can’t beat the people in front of us that’s not helping us out at all.
“Let’s hope it comes down to they might be chasing us. That’s obviously a long way away, we’ve got to start playing better and they’ve got to struggle, let’s just hope (in August when they meet again) we’re not 10 games out, we’re only a couple games out and it’s going to be a lot bigger of a series.”