Donaldson’s blast gives battered Blue Jays big win over Yankees

Justin Smoak hit a two-run shot to tie things up and Josh Donaldson’s solo dinger got the Blue Jays a 3-2 win over the Yankees.

TORONTO – It hasn’t taken long for Josh Donaldson to re-establish himself as the driving force behind the Toronto Blue Jays’ offence. And even if Donaldson’s presence doesn’t erase the various questions surrounding the club, his production’s helping them win games in the meantime.

Donaldson hit the deciding home run Sunday, a solo shot over the right-centre field wall on his bobblehead day to the delight of a sellout crowd. Thanks to that homer off of Tyler Clippard, the Blue Jays split a four-game series with the first-place New York Yankees to improve their season record to 28-29 before heading west.

“We needed it,” manager John Gibbons said. “I think it would have been a kick in the teeth had we not won that one.

“I think that was a huge, huge win for the guys.”

Justin Smoak matched his 2016 home run total in the sixth inning, when he tied the game by taking Yankees starter Luis Severino deep to straight-away centre field. With 14 home runs on the season, Smoak leads the team.

“It’s amazing,” Donaldson said. “It’s every day. That’s what we need. We need guys that are going to come and have great at bats, professional at bats every day. He’s in one of those zones right now.”

After playing alongside him for two-plus seasons, Smoak has come to expect production from Donaldson in big moments.

“Always,” Smoak said. “You expect it every at bat.”

Still, questions linger around the Blue Jays, starting with the health of their second baseman. A 96 mph fastball from Luis Severino hit Devon Travis on the left hand to lead off the seventh inning, and though he stayed in the game to run the bases, Ryan Goins replaced him at second base for the top of the eighth inning.

X-rays were negative, which means Travis is day to day for now. The club will re-assess his hand upon arriving in Oakland, but at least they appear to have avoided the worst-case scenario.

“I thought I broke it. It was really scary,” Travis said. “My hand was throbbing so bad. I couldn’t really open or close it.”

Behind the plate, the Blue Jays will have to consider placing Russell Martin on the disabled list and calling up a second catcher if his neck doesn’t improve to the point that he can start soon. Martin missed his fourth consecutive game Sunday, and he last played May 31 against the Cincinnati Reds.

There’s also the lingering question of what to do with the bullpen. While Aaron Loup, Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna shut the Yankees down completely Sunday, the group has been taxed heavily and two relievers—Jason Grilli and J.P. Howell—haven’t done much to earn the club’s trust.

Marcus Stroman did his part Sunday, allowing just two runs on five hits in six innings pitched. The right-hander struck out four and induced plenty of weak contact, with just a couple of blemishes—a fourth inning double by Matt Holliday that drove in New York’s first run, and an RBI groundout from Holliday in the sixth.

Severino was just as effective, however. The 23-year-old pitched seven innings, allowing just two runs on six hits while striking out seven. On a day his fastball touched 100 mph, he was a tough opponent for the Blue Jays.

“He was nasty,” Donaldson said. “His fastball was electric today. It’s been a little bit since I’ve seen 98 or 100 so it might have seemed even more electric to me, but there’s not too many fastballs that I get 3-2 when I’m looking heater that get thrown by me and he threw one past me.”

When Clippard tried to sneak 92 mph past Donaldson, the result was much different. As a result, the Blue Jays leave for the west coast having made real gains in the standings.

“I love the way we’re playing right now, to be honest with you,” Gibbons said. “The pitching for the most part has been really good. We’re starting to hit home runs — we did that again today — so that’s a good sign.”

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