TORONTO – The New York Yankees were never going to crawl in a hole and die, to have believed otherwise was foolish, and now, with the win streak over and the momentum suddenly shifted, the real test comes for the Toronto Blue Jays.
No doubt Friday night’s stunning 4-3 loss before a raucous sell-out crowd of 46,689 set to party really hurt, and Carlos Beltran’s pinch-hit three-run homer in the eighth would really have literally sucked the air out of the Rogers Centre if the roof wasn’t closed and the air wasn’t unbearably swampy.
And then the pain was made all worse when the Blue Jays put men on second and third with one out in the ninth, only to come up empty at the end of a night of compelling high drama.
But a bout of adversity was due the Blue Jays after they reeled off a club-record matching 11 consecutive wins following GM Alex Anthopoulos’ magic trade deadline makeover. Things were never going to be sunshine and lollipops all the way to the finish line – the sport doesn’t work like that.
The challenge in baseball is in responding positively over and over after the repeated gut punches that are inevitably delivered.
“I don’t think (the loss) will have any effect at all simply because it was a good ballgame than went down to the wire,” said manager John Gibbons. “We don’t have a bunch of young kids riding that emotional roller-coaster. These guys have all been through it before.
“I don’t think (responding well) will be a problem at all.”
Turning the page on such losses is something the Blue Jays have done rather well to this point.
Over their streak, they won five times when scoring less than five runs, something they accomplished just seven times all season beforehand, when their reality was bludgeon or die and slim late-game leads usually made stomachs upset.
Friday’s loss to the Yankees went down like so many of those frustrating setbacks earlier this season, as David Price allowed a pair of one-out singles in the eighth before Chase Headley’s RBI double cut the Blue Jays lead to 3-1.
Aaron Sanchez took over and after blowing two high 97 mph fastballs by Carlos Beltran, tried to go to the well again, left it over the middle of the plate, and watched another 97 heater fly over the wall in right-centre for a 4-3 edge.
“With the crowd in the stands I was a little amped up and I saw that I threw the first pitch by him, it was elevated, so I was just trying to attack there the whole at-bat and the fourth pitch, to me, seemed like it was right over the plate,” said Sanchez.
“The moral of the story is I didn’t get my job done, and it cost us a win.”
The run allowed by Sanchez ended a streak of 25 scoreless innings by Blue Jays relievers, while the Yankees ended their 33-inning scoreless rut against Toronto pitching, the longest streak ever against them.
Did Gibbons misjudge things in the decisive eighth?
“It was a tough decision, no question about it,” said Gibbons. “It backfired. It was a long, gruelling night for (Price). He was really good. They were getting a lot of hits and then they strung three together. After the big double, I felt good about putting Sanchie in. It didn’t work out. When those don’t work, you analyze them, that’s for sure. And tonight it didn’t work.”
The Blue Jays nearly counter-punched in the ninth when pinch-hitter Chris Colabello walked, Kevin Pillar singled and wild pitch put them on second and third with one out.
But Andrew Miller recovered to strike out Ben Revere before winning a riveting 12-pitch duel with Troy Tulowitzki with another K as the dome hit a fever pitch.
“The at-bat to Tulowitzki, that’s all I’ve got. I was running out of gas there,” said Miller, who threw nine sliders and three fastballs in the at-bat. “I changed locations and angles. I didn’t execute everything I wanted to, but I practically threw him a curveball on one pitch. I was throwing him in, I was throwing him down, I was throwing him back-door. I think his odds were pretty favourable to guess that I was going to throw a slider and I don’t blame him. I think by the time I got to the end of the at-bat, the ballpark knew I was throwing a slider most of the time. He’s just a good hitter. You start seeing it that much, you start trying to change things. Fortunately, I figured out one that worked.”
Worth remembering is that the Yankees (63-51), now back atop the AL East by a half-game, are pretty good, too, despite their 3-7 record this season versus the Blue Jays (64-53).
The two rivals will probably be grinding this thing out to the end.
“We knew that coming here isn’t going to be easy, but they know also that it’s not going to be easy,” said Beltran. “We’re not going to give up. We’re a team that even though we fell behind in the game, we’re going to try to put good at-bats and we’re going to try to come back.”
The Blue Jays set themselves up in this one in the third, when Kevin Pillar opened the inning by getting hit on the arm. After Revere twice couldn’t put down a sacrifice bunt, he advanced to third on a hit and run that opened up a hole at short that Revere shot the ball through. Troy Tulowitzki followed by sending a ball up the middle that deflected off Ivan Nova’s hand to Didi Gregorius at short, and he dove to tag second for an out as Pillar scored.
After a Josh Donaldson single, Jose Bautista ripped an RBI double and Edwin Encarnacion delivered a sacrifice fly that made it 3-0.
Ordinarily, that would have been plenty for Price, but the Yankees grinded him out well before starting their rally against the ace left-hander in the eighth. He went three-up, three-down just once over his 7.1 innings, allowing 11 hits while striking out six.
“Their approach against me is just they always take good at-bats,” said Price. “It’s draining out there at times, but I got my pitch count where I needed it to be I think in that fourth inning. Fourth and fifth innings were two good innings for me. I felt good tonight.”
For most of the night he had good reason to, as the love-in for him and the revamped club continued.
The Blue Jays are approaching 500,000 tickets sold since the acquisition of Tulowitzki, and including the total tickets already sold for the rest of the season, they’re rapidly closing in on the 2013 total of 2,536,562, their highest figure since the century turned.
On top of that, merchandise sales have spiked 40 percent, too, underlining the sudden surge in support.
Stifling humidity aside, there was an October feel to this August night.
“Again, that was an unbelievable atmosphere,” said Price. “Both times I’ve pitched here at the Rogers Centre, it’s been unreal. We definitely feel the support. We appreciate it, and hopefully it continues to come.”
More games like this one will guarantee that, although both the Blue Jays and their fans will want a different ending.