This was just another series opener in late May, but the Yankees had a fair bit on the line tonight. Corey Kluber was on the mound looking to extend Yankees’ starters remarkable scoreless streak, the club’s overall six-game winning streak, and to further their undefeated series run. There would be no history tonight, as the Yankees ran out of gas, and fell to a Blue Jays club that came to the Bronx limping.
Kluber never really looked quite right, hamstringing himself right off the bat. He nibbled around the zone a bit in the first, issuing a pair of two-out walks to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernández. He managed to escape unscathed, but was forced to sweat almost immediately.
A pair of streaks ended in the third. Kluber allowed an infield single to Bo Bichette after navigating his previous 11.2 innings without yielding a hit. Guerrero Jr. followed with a missile into the Yankee bullpen, opening the scoring and halting the Yankees’ streak of 37.1 scoreless innings pitched by starters. Kluber left a cutter over the heart of the plate, and Vladito punished it, impressively lining it to the opposite field at 115 mph:
The third inning represented the end of Kluber’s night. Right-hander Michael King came on for the top of the fourth, capping Kluber’s line at three innings, two hits, two runs, three walk, and five strikeouts. Kluber clearly wasn’t as sharp as on the night of his no-hitter, frequently losing the zone and putting himself in tough spots. Even so, it says something about Kluber’s ability to deceive hitters, the sorry state of leaguewide hitting, or both, that a 35-year-old with sloppy stuff can still record five of nine outs via the strikeout against one of the game’s most dynamic lineups.
Kluber didn’t exhibit any obvious signs of discomfort on the mound, and his velocity held steady to the end of his outing. However, the Yankees announced during the game that the veteran departed due to tightness in his right shoulder, and that he would be further evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.
King was greeted rudely, with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. firing a solo shot, also into the Yankee bullpen, for a 3-0 lead. He never really settled in, working into multiple jams, but he limited the damage to the lone dinger.
Meanwhile, the Yankee offense looked mystified by Steven Matz. Cast off by the Mets, Matz had been off to a serviceable start in his first season with Toronto. He turned in his best start of 2021 tonight, holding the Yankees down into the seventh inning. Seven of Matz’s first eight outs came by the strikeout, as the Yankees flailed at his sinker and curveball.
King turned in three fine innings, and Aaron Boone opted for Lucas Luetge. The left-hander hadn’t allowed a run in over a month, but quickly loaded the bases with one out. Santiago Espinal grounded one to Gleyber Torres, who threw the ball away in an attempt to cut down the runner at home, ultimately letting two runs cross the plate in the process.
The Yankees finally showed a sign of life in the bottom of the seventh, when a two-out Clint Frazier double gave New York its first runner in scoring position against Matz. Kyle Higashioka promptly drove Frazier home with a single to make it 5-1. Brett Gardner’s walk gave the Yankees a further threat, but Luke Voit couldn’t cash in on the chance to make a game of it.
A Randal Grichuk homer off Justin Wilson in the ninth stretched Toronto’s lead back to five. Higashioka roped an RBI double to cut the deficit to 6-2, and to give himself a nice little game, but the Yankees failed to rally further.
For the most part, these two teams just didn’t resemble the clubs who had entered this three-game set on opposite trajectories. Rather, the Yankees looked like the team who had dropped six in a row, the Blue Jays the team that had won just as many consecutively. Toronto consistently had pressure on the Yankee pitching staff, and the Bombers never looked like they were close to stringing something significant together.
In a way, a game like this is a small indictment of the station-to-station offense the Yankees have run so successfully over the past month. When you get clutch hits and airtight pitching, sure, hoping to bunch a few singles together to produce runs works just fine. But on a night when the well runs dry and baserunners are hard to come by, it sure helps to have a couple dingers to fall back on to spark the offense and keep the team in the game.
Regardless, this is baseball, and the Yankees will have the opportunity to start a new winning streak, and keep their undefeated series streak alive, tomorrow night against the Jays. They’ll have Domingo Germán on the mound, squaring off with top Toronto prospect Alek Manoah, who will make his MLB debut. It should be a good one.