TORONTO – To draw a direct correlation between the brawl with the New York Yankees on Monday and the Toronto Blue Jays’ crisp performance in Tuesday’s series opening victory against the Baltimore Orioles is too simplistic. Any team that needs a galvanizing exercise in the final week of the season when a post-season berth is at stake is in real trouble. Monday’s extra-curricular activities weren’t about that. Rather, the Blue Jays had seen more than enough pitches buzzing their big boppers and decided to do something about it. “I don’t think (Monday) was a knee-jerk reaction, if you want to be fair about it,” manager John Gibbons said Tuesday afternoon. “You’ve got to see things over time.”
So perhaps Josh Donaldson stepped in the batter’s box with a bit more comfort Tuesday night, launching a two-run homer off Kevin Gausman in the first inning for a lead the Blue Jays wouldn’t relinquish. Or Ezequiel Carrera was inspired to cover for Devon Travis in the leadoff spot after the second baseman was left day-to-day after irritating the left shoulder he had surgically repaired last year during the melee. Or Joe Biagini willed himself all the more to fill Joaquin Benoit’s shoes after the outstanding right-hander tore his left calf tripping on the field on his way to the fracas from the bullpen.
It all makes for good narrative.
Really, though, a sizable chunk of the credit goes to the boss outing Aaron Sanchez delivered in a 5-1 victory over the Orioles before a crowd of 44,762. Lined up to make this start a month ago, the all-star right-hander struck out 10 over six innings of one-run ball, and was threatened just once, when Mark Trumbo flared a single into centre with two outs to cash a J.J. Hardy leadoff double. With two on, Sanchez recovered to get Pedro Alvarez on a fly ball to left, that was that, and he was in control the rest of the way in beating the Orioles for the fourth time in five starts this season.
“A lot of my game-planning is off what my strengths are, and then you try to adjust during the game depending on the swings they’re taking,” Sanchez said of his approach to a team he’s faced so often. “I’m always aggressive with my heater and I think the book’s out. But it’s going out there and making quality pitches because I feel like when it’s a well-executed pitch, you’ve got a pretty good chance to succeed when you’re out there.
“Tonight, I repeated my mechanics a lot of the night for that to happen, so just a really good night for us, we needed that win.”
Sanchez is slated to start the season finale at Boston on Sunday but if that game doesn’t impact the standings, this outing made a pretty good case for giving him the start in a wild-card game. On that front, the Blue Jays moved two games clear of the Orioles for the wild-card lead and guaranteed themselves the tiebreaker by taking a 10-7 lead in the season series. Baltimore’s lead is down to a single game over Detroit, which beat Cleveland 12-0.
“He’s been so good, even if it hadn’t been a good outing he’s got to be considered (for the wild-card game),” said Gibbons. “Bottom line we’ve got to get there first, not talking about this and that. We’ve got a few guys that can pitch that game and you’d feel very, very good. No doubt he’s had a tremendous year, and you couldn’t go wrong with him.”
The Blue Jays lineup, meanwhile, chipped away at what was likely the best starting pitching they’re going to see in the series.
Carrera, playing the role of catalyst so effectively, opened the third with a solo shot that put the Blue Jays up 3-1 and then ripped an RBI single in the fifth after a Kevin Pillar single and Darwin Barney sacrifice bunt. Third base coach Luis Rivera made a terrific send on the play, challenging Michael Bourn’s arm in left field, leading to a wide throw that allowed Carrera to take second.
That came into play after Donaldson walked, as Manny Machado threw Edwin Encarnacion’s chopper into right field, letting Carrera score for a 5-1 edge.
“That’s huge man,” said Sanchez. “He got it started for us really early and you try not to look back.”
Carrera posted a .277 OPS in 63 plate appearances from July 15-Sept. 10, but 9-for-25 with two homers, five RBIs and three walks in 29 plate appearances since.
“I was a little bit slowed down by the injury I had in my Achilles,” Carrera, who was on the DL Aug. 1-15, said in comments interpreted by Josue Peley. “But lately I’ve been working hard and my confidence has been going up and going up even more. It’s working out for me right now.”
Biagini looked more than capable in his two clean innings of work, catching Chris Davis looking in the seventh, prompting the hard-hitting first baseman to get ejected after ripping into home plate umpire Will Little. Orioles manager Buck Showalter got heaved, too.
“That’s what it’s going to take, it’s going to take 40 men to come in here and help contribute,” said Sanchez. “That’s something we expressed in spring training and it’s unfortunate that the guys went down like they did, but it gives someone else the opportunity to step up.”
Roberto Osuna came out for the ninth and after allowing the first two runners to reach, induced consecutive groundballs to end things.
All in all, it made for a solid bounce-back after the costly events from the previous night, when the Yankees rallied for a win and took their shots, both physical and verbal at the Blue Jays.
“Sometimes you’ve got to deal with things, man, because one thing that’s key to the success of the team is that they stay and stick together,” said Gibbons. “These are my guys, man, I wouldn’t trade any of them out for anybody. That’s all I’ll say. I mean, we’re not the Evil Empire, are we?”
The Yankees seem to think so, but they’re an irrelevancy now. The Blue Jays are off to a strong start in their biggest series of the season, getting closer to even more meaningful games to come.