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Yankees 1, Blue Jays 2: Can’t win ‘em all

The Blue Jays snapped the Yankees’ 11-game winning streak as Nestor Cortes looked shaky and the offense went quiet. So it goes.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the 11-game winning streak was fun while it lasted, huh? It’s extremely difficult to carry one that long, and it’s easy to forget that before last year, the Yankees hadn’t posted one last beyond 10 since 1985. Even the late-’90s dynasty Yankees failed to capture this many in a row. Eventually, the breaks simply don’t go your way, and enough performances are off by just enough to upset the rhythm. That was the story of the Yankees’ 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

Nestor Cortes got the start for New York, but from the jump, it was clear that this was not exactly the Nestor who dazzled in April. Even as he worked a scoreless first, his command was all over the place, and at the start of the second, Matt Chapman clubbed a pitch 420 feet to dead center to give Toronto a 1-0 lead. Cortes walked the next batter, but got consecutive grounders to end the inning.

Playing in his first game since April 30th after sitting out three days with a groin injury, Joey Gallo picked Cortes up with an instant display of power on Yusei Kikuchi’s first pitch of the third:

Gallo had recorded a 1.014 OPS over his past seven games before leaving that April 30th contest early, so there was some reasonable concern that he might be a touch rusty in his return. Thankfully, 417-foot homers go a long way toward assuaging such concerns.

There was still the matter of the shaky Cortes though, and despite fanning Bradley Zimmer and George Springer back-to-back to begin the third, he ran into trouble again. Bo Bichette hustled into a double down the right-field line, and partner-in-crime Vladimir Guerrero Jr. drove him in with a bullet single to make it 2-1, Toronto.

It could’ve been worse too, as Lourdes Gurriel Jr. laced a double of his own to move Guerrero to third, and Chapman walked to load the bases. As Nestor’s pitch count for the inning exceeded 30 though, manager Aaron Boone stuck with him, and to his credit, Cortes induced a fielder’s choice from Santiago Espinal to end the inning. (The lefty got to start the fourth too and worked around a leadoff walk to get the next three batters in order, too.) He probably doesn’t get that leash last year, but he’s clearly earned faith from the Yankees’ brass for his work since last July onward.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense had its hands full with Kikuchi, seemingly unperturbed by the Gallo homer. He handled the hitters with surprising ease over five innings, holding them to just one hit (a DJ LeMahieu single in the first at-bat of the game) and one walk outside of the solo shot. In the sixth, the Yankees had a chance, as Kyle Higashioka led off with a double down the line to put himself into scoring position with the fearsome trio of LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Anthony Rizzo due up next.

Like Boone earlier with Cortes, Toronto skipper Charlie Montoyo stuck with Kikuchi, and he escaped the jam. LeMahieu grounded out, Judge unluckily went down looking on one of his patented “too-low strike calls” outside the zone, and Rizzo popped up. The inning was over and Kikuchi’s day was done.

Michael King had entered in relief of Cortes in the fifth, and he effortlessly steamrolled through this talented Blue Jays lineup. This time, he only fanned three, but he still retired nine batters in a row. After all, weak contact is just as good as a K. Clay Holmes played his part as well with a 1-2-3 eighth, giving the Yankees’ relief corps a perfect four innings of work.

Although the bullpen put forth its best effort, there wasn’t anything that the relievers could do about the lineup behind them. The batters went from plating nine runs on Tuesday night to doldrums at the dish. A one-out opportunity in the seventh on back-to-back walks from Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks went by the wayside when Tim Mayza relieved David Phelps with a strikeout of Gallo and a grounder from Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The Yankees went down quietly in the eighth too, though Boone did add some theatrics by getting himself ejected after another post-Judge strike argument with home-plate umpire Marty Foster.

The Yankees did have one last shot to prolong their winning streak in the ninth against closer Jordan Romano. Giancarlo Stanton scalded a 114.8-mph single with one down, and Donaldson kept the hopes alive by lacing a 106-mph single of his own. That moved the pinch-runner Tim Locastro into scoring position. Alas, the rally wasn’t meant to be. Hicks struck out, and after Gallo walked to load the bases, Kiner-Falefa rolled one over to third to end the ballgame. Bummer.

So that’s it for the Great Yankees Winning Streak of 2022. The goal now is to not do what the 2021 edition did after its 13-game winning streak ended. That disappointing ballclub lost 11 of its next 13 games and repeated the same frustrations from earlier in the season. No one really fancies watching the pre-Easter 2022 Yankees, so fans will have to hope that they come out swinging this weekend.

Next up for the Yankees is a day off before a three-game set with Corey Seager and the new-look Rangers back in the Bronx on Friday. Gerrit Cole is on track to get that start, and he’ll throw the first pitch at 7:05pm ET. Take note: This will be one of those Amazon Prime games, so don’t go looking for it on YES.

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