The way that the Yankees have been playing this week, every game — no matter how hopeless — has seemed winnable, and for a while, it looked like tonight might follow that script once more. After looking lifeless for half the game, the Yankees mounted a late comeback, but Bo Bichette capped off a three-hit day with his second home run of the night as the Blue Jays downed the Yankees at Rogers Centre, 6-5.
To put it bluntly, Gerrit Cole had nowhere near his best stuff tonight. Standing in stark contrast to José Berríos’ efficient first inning, Cole allowed three extra-base hits in the first four batters of the night — doubles by Bichette and George Springer, and a two-run home run off the bat of Marcus Semien. He did, however then get Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to ground out to limit the damage, as the Blue Jays jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately, that would become a trend throughout the early innings, as Springer and Santiago Espinal combined to plate a run in the second, while Bichette went deep in the third to stretch the lead to 4-0. Cole retired the side in the fifth after the offense cut the lead in half, but Springer opened the bottom of the sixth with a popup double that fell between Joey Gallo and DJ LeMahieu in left field. (It absolutely should have been caught.) Springer would advance to third on a Semien fly ball to right and score on a double off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to give the Blue Jays a 5-3 lead.
At the end of the day, Cole’s final line was the definition of “not great, but it probably should have been worse,” as he allowed five runs on nine hits (two homers), striking out six and not walking a single batter. He allowed lots of hard contact — Statcast recorded 10 hard-hit balls — especially off his fastball.
It’s not the type of performance that the Yankees want to see from Cole the next time he pitches. That could be either Sunday on three days’ rest if their playoff chances go down to the last game, or Tuesday for the AL Wild Card Game; either way, the 2021 season will be on the line, and the Yankees need a lot more from their ace than this.
The Blue Jays, on the other hand, got exactly what they were looking for from their starting pitcher. In fact, from the top of the first inning, it looked like tonight was going to be all about Berríos, as he struck out LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo, and Aaron Judge in order on only 15 pitches. The 27-year-old had command of his entire repertoire, generating both swinging and called strikes pretty much at will. As he mowed down the Yankees in order through the first four innings. striking out 5 of the first 12 batters that came to the plate and allowing only a pair of fly balls, I could not help but be reminded of Corey Kluber’s no-hit outing in Texas on May 19th earlier this year — that’s how good he was.
The ease with which Berríos struck out Gallo and Giancarlo Stanton to open the fifth gave no indication that the Yankees’ fortune was about to change, but as fate would have it, Gleyber Torres laced a double down the left field line to break up the perfect game. Gio Urshela followed it up with a seeing-eye RBI single through the middle. Brett Gardner then laced a double over the head of the right fielder Hernández, cutting the Toronto lead to 4-2.
Brett Gardner cuts the Blue Jays lead in half with a 5th inning double. pic.twitter.com/zoxsmqu1jA— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 30, 2021
Although the Blue Jays made up one of those runs in the bottom of the inning, the Yankees’ offense got right back to work in the top of the sixth. LeMahieu opened the frame with a double to right field that Hernández misplayed, before reaching third on a Rizzo slow roller to first base and scoring on a Judge sacrifice fly to right.
That was the extent of the damage, as Stanton grounded out to third to end the inning, but the inning was a major victory for the Yankees: not only had they clawed back within two, they worked Berríos’ pitch count, ending his night. He had stymied the Yankees bats all night, striking out seven and allowing only five hard-hit balls for an xBA of just .217; it was a gutsy performance by the Toronto righty, the type that the Blue Jays were hoping for when they sent two of their top prospects to Minnesota for him back in July.
After Berríos left the game, however, the Yankees offense immediately capitalized, taking advantage of Gallo being hit on the hand and Torres reaching on an infield single to put runners on first and second with nobody out in the top of the seventh. While Urshela and Luke Voit struck out (the latter pinch-hitting for Gardner and making his first appearance since September 22nd), Kyle Higashioka surpassingly dropped a two-run single into left field to tie the game after a wild pitch during Voit’s at-bat moved the runners over.
#66 Swingin’ through the 6. pic.twitter.com/V3mvmCHU4O— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 30, 2021
Unfortunately, that would not be enough, as Bichette led off the eighth inning with his second long ball of the night, drilling a 1-0 sinker 399 feet off Clay Holmes; to put it in perspective just how hard that is to do, this was just the second extra-base hit that Holmes has surrendered in pinstripes. Although Holmes was able to bounce back, retiring the next three hitters that came to the plate, the Yankees were unable to do anything against Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano, who recorded his 22nd straight save.
In some good news for the Yankees, Jonathan Loáisiga made his return tonight, striking out the first batter he faced and mowing down the top of the Blue Jays lineup in order in the seventh.
Adam Cimber improves to 3-4 with the win, Holmes gets tagged with the loss and drops to 8-4, and Romano records his 22nd save of the season. With the loss, the Yankees drop to 90-68, and while they remain atop the Wild Card standings, their Magic Number to clinch a playoff berth stays at 3. (Boston righted the ship against Baltimore tonight in a 6-0 win.)
More concerning than the defeat, however, might just be the pair of injuries that the Yankees suffered, as Gallo was unable to bat in the ninth inning after taking a fastball to the hand; he is currently undergoing C-rays, and the normally-optimistic Aaron Boone said that he is “concerned.” Voit, meanwhile, limped off the field after his one at-bat, and although the Yankees said that he “should be OK,” this is the Yankees we’re talking about.
The Yankees will finish their season series with the Blue Jays tomorrow evening, as Corey Kluber takes on Cy Young frontrunner Robbie Ray at 7:07 pm ET. As always, we will have all the coverage you need right here.