The last time the Yankees and Blue Jays met, back in mid-April, the Yankees were scuffling around .500, and the Blue Jays looked ready to contend for a playoff spot. The teams have gone in opposite directions since, with the Yankees ripping off long winning streaks en route to one of the league’s best records, and the Jays slipping to fourth in the AL East. Their fates continued to diverge tonight.
The starting pitching matchup pitted a pair of crafty veterans, CC Sabathia and Marco Estrada. Neither really ever bothers to push the radar gun above 90 mph. Rather, each prefers to dance through opposing lineups, relying on a mixture of command, sequencing, and guile.
Estrada was strong early. He is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, throwing his fastball and changeup about 90% of the time, and he used those pitches effectively early on. The Yankees looked particularly off balance facing the change, waving through 78 mph changeups with regularity as they were blanked through six.
Sabathia was also on his game. He kept the Jays scoreless through five, not even allowing a runner to reach scoring position. Sabathia needs to generate weak contact, and he can suffer the occasional frustrating stretch when batters do manage to do damage on balls in play against him. Tonight was not such a night.
The Yankees looked to have a chance to support Sabathia in the sixth. Brett Gardner led off and worked an excellent nine-pitch at-bat, emerging victorious after lining a base hit to left. Up next, Giancarlo Stanton worked the count to 3-0, and Gardner appeared to steal second. The ruling was overturned on replay, as Russel Martin and Devon Travis combined for a perfect throw and tag to nab Gardner:
It wasn’t the first time Martin burned the Yankees. An inning earlier, Estrada fanned Gleyber Torres, and Martin gunned down Tyler Austin attempting to steal, ending the fifth with a strikeout-em-out-throw-em-out double play. The Yankees’ finest display on the basepaths, it was not.
The scoreless tie was finally broken in the sixth. Rookie Teoscar Hernandez turned on an inside cutter from Sabathia and skied it over the left field wall. Hernandez really got under it, with a launch angle of 45 degrees per Statcast, but the ball carried and stayed fair to make it 1-0.
With Estrada’s pitch count rising, though, the Yankees had a chance to quickly erase the deficit as Estrada worked through the order a third time. Gary Sanchez laced a single to center to lead off the seventh, and manager John Gibbons immediately pulled Estrada in favor of Seung-hwan Oh.
Oh did not extinguish the threat. He hit Didi Gregorius with a pitch and walked Aaron Hicks to load the bases. They didn’t stay loaded for long, as Miguel Andujar crushed the first pitch he saw from Oh into the left field seats for a grand slam. Just as soon as the Yankees had fallen behind, they forcefully surged ahead:
The Blue Jays did get one back in the seventh. Kevin Pillar got a high cutter from Sabathia and lined it out over the left field fence. The solo shots by Hernandez and Pillar were the only blemishes for Sabathia, and neither Herandez nor Pillar really got all of it for their home runs. Statcast estimates neither shot had even a one-in-three chance of going for a hit, but nonetheless, they count as round-trippers in the scorebook.
Ultimately, this was Sabathia’s best outing in a month. He bounced back from a very poor four-start stretch with a sparkling line: seven innings, three hits, two runs, one walk, six strikeouts. He started to falter towards the end, but for the most part, the Blue Jays couldn’t square up Sabathia.
The Yankees put the game away in the eighth. Stanton singled, Gregorius walked, and Hicks brought them all home with his sixth homer of the year, an opposite field bomb. It turns out, smashing multi-run homers makes for a very efficient offense.
Sabathia was great, and even though Aaron Judge got the day off, he was backed up with power. It’s a simple recipe, and an effective one. The Yankees kept pace with the Red Sox, and have a chance to sweep this short two-game series tomorrow with Sonny Gray on the mound. A sweep of a division rival involving a pair of struggling starting pitchers getting on the right track would be just what the doctor ordered as the Yankees continue to fight for AL East supremacy.