NEW YORK – So, that Ichiro Suzuki guy can still play a little bit.
Just ask the Toronto Blue Jays, who were pummelled by the 38-year-old outfielder for nine hits during a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, including a solo homer and two-run double during Thursday’s 10-7 drubbing in the series finale.
Rejuvenated since his July 23 trade to the American League East leaders after 11½ years with the Seattle Mariners, Suzuki cut into a 2-0 Blue Jays lead in the third with his eighth homer of the season and then opened the floodgates on a seven-run fourth with his double.
“When you’re down that number of runs that early in the game, that’s a big hole to climb out of,” said manager John Farrell.
That inning helped seal a dismal end to a bleak three days in New York, which began with a news conference on Yunel Escobar writing a homophobic slur on his eye-black last weekend, and concluded with a seventh loss in nine outings, dropping the Blue Jays to a season-worst 16 games under .500 at 66-82.
THE BIG PICTURE: The Blue Jays finished the season 2-7 in New York and are now 5-9 overall this year versus the Yankees (86-63) with four games to come next weekend in Toronto. The Yankees have won seven of their past eight to maintain an AL East lead they’ve held since June 12.
THE ARMS: Coming into Thursday’s play Aaron Laffey had held opponents to a .155 batting average (23-for-148) the first time through the batting order but was hit at a .337 clip (62-for-184) beyond that, and the trend held in this one.
The only hit he allowed the first time through the lineup was Suzuki’s homer, but didn’t survive his second turn through the order, opening the fourth with walks to Russ Martin and Casey McGehee around a Kelly Johnson error on Curtis Granderson’s chopper, followed by Suzuki’s two-run double.
That was all for Laffey (3-6), who allowed just two hits while matching a career-high with five walks, but Brad Lincoln didn’t fare much better, walking Jayson Nix, surrendering an RBI single to Derek Jeter and a grand slam to Nick Swisher before escaping the frame.
“It’s been a problem the last couple of outings, throwing the ball well the first couple of innings and then losing that command, falling behind in counts and walking guys,” said Laffey. “Five walks isn’t going to get it done.”
Brett Cecil, the third Blue Jays pitcher, was burned for an RBI double by Nix and a Jeter RBI single in the fifth.
“Seemingly every time we scored, they’d answer right back,” said Farrell. “That’s the biggest thing, any time you try to get a little momentum, you’re looking for a zero to be put back up when we go out and take the field. Give them credit, that’s a deep lineup and they’re explosive as we saw.”
Yankees starter Phil Hughes (16-12) needed 102 pitches to make it through five innings, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks while striking out nine, including four in the fourth.
MR. K: Joel Carreno, making his first appearance since his Sept. 7 recall, pitched the final two frames, striking out five.
The right-hander, who looked promising out of the pen last year, has suffered through a down year, making five stints with the Blue Jays while seeing time at both double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Las Vegas.
“Given the number of days off he had, he did an outstanding job,” said Farrell. “To come out and throw that many strikes, feel for the breaking ball, particularly the way he was able to backdoor it against some left-handers, a very good job on his part.”
THE BATS: The Blue Jays had hit just one home run in their previous five games so going deep twice was almost cause for celebration in this one.
Moises Sierra ripped a two-run shot over the wall in left in the fifth inning, capitalizing on the first pitch from Hughes after Adam Lind worked a walk in an excellent 10-pitch at-bat, while Kelly Johnson opened the eighth with his 15th of the season, and his first since Aug. 15.
The Blue Jays made things interesting in the eighth, plating two more after Johnson’s jack on Brett Lawrie’s infield single and Mike McCoy’s run-scoring fielder’s choice, but with two-on and two-out, Lind flew out to right against Joba Chamberlain to end the threat.
GOSE IN LEFT: Anthony Gose started his fourth straight game in left field and when asked if this was a bit of an audition in the open spot for the speedy rookie, manager John Farrell replied, “It is, and that’s what late in the season in our situation right now provides for young players to get extended looks at a position they might occupy a year from now.”
For his part, Gose said he wasn’t reading much into it, but playing left every day for the natural centre-fielder has taken some getting used to.
“It was a little adjustment,” said Gose. “It’s probably the hardest of the three outfield spots to play just because there’s so much spin off the bat. So adjusting to that spin and getting used to the wall on that side of me (have been the main adjustments).”
GOSE ON BASE: Gose opened the second with a walk and after advancing to second on Lawrie’s groundout, he attempted to steal third on his own but was thrown out ahead of a short rally that followed.
“He’s trying to be aggressive there, we’re trying to put some pressure on them, as difficult a time as we’ve had scoring runs in the first two games of this, we’re looking to make things happen,” said Farrell. “With Colby (Rasmus) at the plate, Eddie (Encarnacion) to follow, it’s easy to second-guess that right now.”
NO MORE NOTES: Not only will the Blue Jays no longer permit Yunel Escobar to write messages on his eye-black, it appears the black patches will soon be considered equipment and fall under Major League Baseball rules preventing any markings whatsoever, said GM Alex Anthopoulos.
Apparently MLB officials began considering the matter when Tim Tebow took the field with bible verses on his eye-black last year, and the fallout from Escobar likely to accelerate things.
TID BITS: Encarnacion returned to the lineup after missing the past three games with soreness in his right big toe, going 2-for-4 with a walk. … Rasmus was hit on the foot by a pitch in the third inning and came out of the game in the seventh, but he wasn’t hurt on the plate. “Doubleheader (Wednesday), we’re going to get a late arrival into Tampa, it was just a matter of getting him off his feet for three innings,” said Farrell. … The record for hits in a series by an opposing player against the Blue Jays is 11, established by Cecil Cooper of the Milwaukee Brewers on April 9-11, 1982. … Sierra drove in a career-high three runs, taking a bases-loaded hit by pitch in the third before his two-run blast in the fifth.