Gausman continues to shine as Blue Jays shut out slumping Yankees

Kevin Gausman pitched seven strong innings, Teoscar Hernandez crushed a two-run shot, and the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the New York Yankees 4-0.

NEW YORK – Kevin Gausman is having a tremendous season, despite regularly encountering dumb luck. Consider that the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander headed into his outing Friday against the New York Yankees worth 4.4 wins above replacement, as calculated by Fangraphs, third among all big-league pitchers. Yet his ERA of 3.16 more was more than a run above his FIP of 2.08, and then of course there was his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, of .372, highest by a wide margin among qualified pitchers.

The way the Cleveland Guardians bled him for five runs last weekend in a 7-2 victory, finding holes on pitches that beat them, was a prime example of why the Blue Jays went 11-11 through his first 22 starts.

“It’s weird,” interim manager John Schneider said before the game. “When you put his stuff in a vacuum, he's like, really, really, really good. So part of it is I think everyone goes through those fluctuations of up and down, lucky, unlucky, whether you're a hitter or a pitcher. We like his stuff. Obviously, we trust it and I'm sure things will turn in his favour.”

In start No. 23, they certainly did, Gausman dominating over seven shutout innings in pushing the Blue Jays to a third straight win, 4-0 over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Initially, it looked like he could be on for a night of struggle when DJ LeMahieu rocked his first pitch of the game, a get-me-over fastball at 91.2 m.p.h., 404 feet to centre where Whit Merrifield tracked it down on a play that had a 35-per-cent catch probability, and Aaron Judge followed with a walk. But Gausman escaped that inning unscathed, struck out the side in the second and allowed just three hits over the next frames while striking out seven.

“That’s huge,” Gausman said of the Merrifield catch. “I always think the first guy of the game definitely sets the tone, whether you give up a hit or walk the guy. To have a good defensive play on the first pitch of the game, it definitely woke me up.”

From there the Yankees, 12-24 in their past 36 games, flailed away helplessly at his mostly fastball/splitter mix, with eight of their 15 swings at splits resulting in a whiff. Even with his fastball velocity down a tick, sitting at 94.1 instead of his season average of 95, he was in command from the second inning onwards.

He went seven innings or more for the sixth time this season.

“To be honest, I never really felt like I got in that much of a groove, which sounds weird to say,” Gausman conceded. “Some days hitter-to-hitter you like you're in the groove. Some days it's long stretches of innings. Today I felt like I was getting the first guy out a lot and when you can do that, you put yourself in good positions to not allow big innings.”

The Yankees, already out of sorts for an extended period, flailed away helplessly at his mostly fastball/splitter mix, with eight of their 15 swings at splits resulting in a whiff. Even with his fastball velocity down a tick, sitting at 94.1 instead of his season average of 95, he was in command from the second inning onwards.

The offence, meanwhile, missing George Springer who fouled a ball off his knee during a five-hit effort in Thursday’s 9-2 win, didn’t make it one-sided in the same way but again posed a steady threat from the jump. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., was robbed of a home run in right by a leaping Oswaldo Cabrera on the game’s first pitch and the pressure was on from there.

Yankees starter Jameson Taillon kept them in check until the third when Merrifield opened the inning with a single, advanced to third on Cavan Biggio’s double and scored on a Gurriel groundout.

An inning later, Alejandro Kirk opened the frame with a base hit before Teoscar Hernandez launched home run No. 18 over the wall in left-centre, having just missed a shot to centre in the second.

“I was looking for one of those breaking pitches (in the first at-bat), I got it and I hit it pretty good, but not enough to hit it out of the park,” said Hernandez, who homered on a fastball in his second at-bat. “But for me, it was a good sign because the plan that I had, it was working from the beginning.”

The Blue Jays wasted a chance to bury the Yankees in the sixth, when they put men on second and third with none out, but Lou Trivino came in for Taillon and stranded the runners. They did eventually manage to add on in the ninth when they loaded the bases against Aroldis Chapman before Ron Marinaccio surrendered a sacrifice fly to Danny Jansen that made it 4-0.

The steadiness of approach is the biggest difference between their current three-game win streak and the 3-9 stretch that preceded it.

“Patience is good. Communication among the players is good. Kind of having a collective approach against how they're going to get that starter out each night,” Schneider said of what’s allowing the Blue Jays to keep the heat on at the plate right now. “When you're kind of rolling a little bit, it doesn't have to be the same guy every night and each guy kind of doing their part and passing the baton on to the next guy. That's kind of the biggest thing here.”

Jordan Romano locked things down in the ninth, ensuring a brilliant night from Gausman didn’t go to waste. At 64-54, the Blue Jays are again strengthening their hold on a wild-card spot after nearly allowing it to slip away.

“We just know we need to win games,” said Gausman. “Sometimes in there as a whole we focused on other teams and now we've kind of put ourselves in a good spot. But we're going to make the post-season or not based on how we play this last month-plus. We all know that. We know it's going to be a challenge, whereas I think that urgency was kind of lacking at certain points during the season. Where we're at now, (44) games left, we've got to strap it on and now we got to go.”

Gausman will be one of the keys in taking them there. He’s now thrown at least six shutout innings in three of his last four starts, surrounded by that one bad-luck outing against Cleveland. It’s a reminder of how great a season he’s having, one even better than his impressive stats already suggest.

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