NEW YORK — In recent days the Toronto Blue Jays have described the switch in their play over the past few games after an extended skid in different ways. John Schneider used the word urgent. Kevin Gausman echoed that and said there was a realization of where they are and what’s at stake. Teoscar Hernandez sees the team playing together more effectively. Ross Stripling called it an understanding that they can’t simply out-talent other clubs.
However it’s framed, what’s been clear is that the Blue Jays have been far more in control of the play during what’s now a four-game winning streak after Saturday’s 5-2 win over the sliding New York Yankees than they were during the 3-9 stretch that preceded it.
“It’s a real thing,” Schneider said before his team triumphed in the on-paper mismatch between Mitch White and Gerrit Cole. “If you’re dictating the pace of the game on either end it just allows you to do things you’re more comfortable with. It allows guys to come in out of the bullpen at the right time.
“If you can score early, if you can get good starting pitching, things usually fall into place the way you have them planned.”
By and large that’s happened in recent days, although Saturday’s victory definitely featured a healthy dose of can’t-predict-ball, too.
Through the first four innings, Cole did not allow a hit and faced only two batters over the minimum, while White was in constant traffic, forced to navigate around seven hits and constant pressure.
That might have been expected but the Yankees, now 3-14 in their last 17 games, managed just one run despite the disparity in offense and the Blue Jays’ relentlessness at the plate broke through in the fifth.
Santiago Espinal lined a double off the left-field wall to break up Cole’s no-hit bid and Danny Jansen then shrunk his zone to work a critical four-pitch walk. Jackie Bradley Jr., followed with his biggest moment with the Blue Jays so far by lining a two-run double into the right-field corner for a 2-1 lead.
“Huge at-bats by both of those guys,” said Bradley. “Danny kind of wore him down a little bit, mound visit and I knew he wanted to get ahead early. I swung at the first pitch my first at bat so I wanted to see a pitch and then from there I wanted to be aggressive with my pitch, get something I can handle, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Pivotally, they kept the heat on, with some help from the BABIP gods, as Raimel Tapia and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., both reached on infield singles to load the bases for Alejandro Kirk, who on the sixth pitch of the at-bat pummelled a 99.6 mph fastball to left center for a two-run double.
Guerrero, only a few feet behind Tapia who had to hold at second in case the ball was caught, was thrown out at the plate a hair after the speedy outfielder slid in safely.
By the time the inning was over, the Blue Jays had the game firmly in their grasp, with a crowd of 45,538 restless and booing their ace right-hander. One of them stood up and extended his middle finger at the Yankees dugout while shouting many words starting with the letter ‘f.’
“Guys worked the count,” said Bradley. “We were able to get some good swings. Obviously, Gerrit’s a really tough competitor, a very good pitcher and I felt like we were able to put together some good at-bats on him towards the middle of the game and made them count.”
The Yankees, of course, did not and the Blue Jays knew such misery at the beginning of this week, underlining how quickly things can turn.
That’s why Yankees manager Aaron Boone was slamming the table in his post-game availability afterwards, saying, “we’ve got to play better, period, and the great thing is it’s right in front of us. It’s right here. And we can fix it.”
Cole criticized himself for letting a good start – helped by Aaron Judge’s leaping catch by the right-field wall on a Bichette drive, likely stealing a home run – slipping away by not attacking Jansen and failing to field the Guerrero grounder.
“When you’re going well, sometimes you cover those mistakes,” he said, “and when you’re not you just have to be crisp.”
Over the past four games the Blue Jays have been just that, the completeness of their play changing the tide.
Stripling’s return from the injured list with six perfect innings Wednesday along with a crucial Bo Bichette barehanded play on a Ryan Mountcastle infield ball helped set the stage for a breakthrough and that level of attention to detail has followed since.
“You started to hear guys say like, look, we’ve got to … like we got to do the little things and we need to shore up the defense, we need to fill up the strike zone, the basic things, which sounds so corny, but we’ve got to do it,” said Stripling. “You can’t show up and expect Vladdy to hit a three-run homer every night or for Gausman to go seven shutouts every night. Baseball isn’t going to work that way. You need everyone on board with the process — once again, super corny — but that’s what it takes to win at this level, down a stretch in a playoff race. You started to see that the last couple days. That’s what good teams do and you’re starting to see that.”
White, making his first start since displacing Yusei Kikuchi in the rotation, did a strong job of limiting damage, helped by five strikeouts. After the Blue Jays took the lead, Adam Cimber — the first of five relievers — struck out Aaron Judge leading off the bottom half to start a three-up, three-out shutdown frame.
“Obviously not ideal to have all that action going on the bases, but made pitches when we had to,” White said of his four-inning, seven-hit, one-run outing. “In that situation with the way Gaus pitched the other night, and (Jose Berrios) too, there’s a fresh ‘pen, so it’s just my job to keep those first few innings as clean as possible, never give in and we got to the “pen.”
David Phelps and Anthony Bass each followed with a scoreless inning and, after Zach Pop allowed a Gleyber Torres solo shot in the eighth and Matt Chapman responded with one of his own in the ninth, Yimi Garcia — with Jordan Romano down after back-to- back days — closed out the ninth.
“They know they’re really good,” Schneider said of his team. “The Chappy homer was awesome in the ninth inning to kind of just say, ‘OK, yeah, we’re here.’ So they’re not going to back down from anybody.”
Under the circumstances, the Blue Jays could not have mapped out the game any better, seizing control and then dictating the outcome.