Toronto Trip Up the Yankees

Who: New York Yankees

What: versus Toronto Blue Jays

Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York

When: 14 to 16 September 2018

The plan must have been fairly simple as the Yankees returned to the Bronx for a nine-game home-stand – take 2 or 3 from Toronto, beat Boston 2-1 and blast past Buck Showalter’s weaker-than-ever Baltimore Orioles where a sweep seemed more than possible. What could go wrong?

Well, first of all, the Yankees evidently didn’t reckon on a gutsy, scrappy Blue Jays’ performance and their own all too apparent second half failings.

On paper, the Yankees were in fairly good shape. They still lacked powerhouse Aaron Judge and closer, Aroldis Chapman but all the other working parts were in good order and Luke Voit, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals, had taken every chance offered to him with both hands to displace the faltering Greg Bird at first-base. Here’s how the batters fared over the three games against the Blue Jays:

New York Yankees 2018 – Batting – Month – September
Series report – Against TBJ From 09-14-18 to 09-16-18
Torres, Gleyber 3 12 2 5 1 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 .417 .500 .462
McCutchen, Andrew 3 12 3 5 2 1 0 2 2 6 0 0 0 .417 1.000 .500
Gregorius, Didi 3 10 4 4 5 0 0 3 2 0 0 1 0 .400 1.300 .500
Stanton, Giancarlo 3 12 3 4 3 0 0 1 2 3 0 0 0 .333 .583 .429
Sanchez, Gary 3 12 1 3 0 1 0 0 2 5 0 0 0 .250 .333 .357
Andujar, Miguel 3 9 1 2 4 0 0 1 1 2 0 0 0 .222 .556 .300
Voit, Luke 3 10 2 2 2 1 0 0 3 2 0 0 0 .200 .300 .385
Hicks, Aaron 3 11 1 2 1 0 0 0 3 4 0 0 0 .182 .182 .357
Gardner, Brett 3 9 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 3 0 1 0 .111 .111 .100
Wade, Tyler 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
Walker, Neil 2 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 .000 .000 .333
102 19 28 20 4 0 7 17 29 0 2 0 .275 .520 .382

And the detail of the pitchers’ outings:

New York Yankees 2018 – Pitching – Month – September
Series report – Against TBJ From 09-14-18 to 09-16-18
Tanaka, Masahiro 1 1 0 6.0 4 0 0 2 8 1 0 0 0.00 .182 1.00
Tarpley, Stephen 1 0 0 0.1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 .500 3.00
Robertson, David 1 0 0 2.0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0.00 .000 .50
Britton, Zach 2 0 2 2.0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0.00 .167 .50
Cessa, Luis 1 0 1 3.0 3 0 0 1 4 0 0 1 0.00 .250 1.33
Holder, Jonathan 1 0 0 1.1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0.00 .000 .00
Green, Chad 1 0 0 2.1 3 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0.00 .300 1.29
Lynn, Lance 1 1 0 5.0 3 1 1 1 7 0 0 0 1.80 .167 .80
Betances, Dellin 2 0 0 2.0 5 2 2 0 2 0 1 0 9.00 .500 2.50
Sabathia, CC 1 1 0 2.1 7 5 5 0 2 0 1 0 19.29 .500 3.00
Kahnle, Tommy 1 0 0 0.2 3 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 40.50 .600 6.00
13 3 3 27.0 30 11 11 6 30 1 2 1 3.67 .273 1.33

Game 1

Two of the factors that would loom large in this home-stand were to be seen in the very first at-bat. Former Yankee, Billy McKinney started the Toronto half of the inning by striking out to Masahiro Tanaka who would dominate throughout this game whilst on the third strike, Gary Sanchez failed to catch the strike and had to toss to Voit to complete the out. It is cruel to see this as evidence of Sanchez’s defensive and offensive slump, but we have to start somewhere in discussing the obvious. It wasn’t quite a 1-2-3 inning but only a walk issued to Randall Grichuk was going to hinder Tanaka’s progress.

Toronto’s half of the inning wasn’t going to go anything as near as smoothly and by the end of it, it was very clearly evident that only a major change of direction was going to turn this one around. Andrew McCutchen started matters off with a double to left-field. This was followed by a five-pitch walk to Giancarlo Stanton and a single from Aaron Hicks. Hicks managed to stretch this on the throw, seeing him arrive on second while McCutchen put the first run on the board. Miguel Andujar popped out into foul territory on the first-base side, but this was only going to be a temporary let up for the Blue Jays. Their starter, Marco Estrada, was already getting battered and an infield grounder from Didi Gregorius brought Stanton home. An RBI single from Gleyber Torres followed before being followed by that rare thing – a hit from Sanchez. The aforementioned Luke Voit continued his tremendous run of form with a two RBI double before the inning closed on a foul popup from Brett Gardner. 5-0.

There was a further strikeout for Tanaka in the Yankees’ half of the second inning, but Estrada recovered enough to keep the deficit the same.

Luke Maile hit a single for Toronto in the third, but it was surrounded by two strikeouts and a weak popfly from leadoff man, McKinney to ensure that also came to nothing. Estrada’s night was to come to an end in the bottom of the inning. He began by hitting Gregorius with a pitched ball before seemingly turning things around with two outs. This was to prove optimistic thinking. He then issued a walk to Voit before a single from Gardner brought home Gregorius and saw Taylor Guerreri replace Estrada on the mound. The new pitcher began with a four-pitch walk to McCutchen to load the bases before Stanton hit a hard single to right-field to bring two of the runners home. 8-0.

Teoscar Hernandez’s fruitless double was to prove the only highlight of the Blue Jays’ fourth but fortunately for them the Yankees couldn’t add to their total either as Gardner struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning.

When Aledmys Diaz opened the fifth with a ground-rule double there was a slight glimmer of hope on the horizon for the Canadian outfit, but it was to prove nothing more than a mirage in a dry land. Two strikeouts and a Devon Travis’ pop up into foul territory was to put an end to all that nonsense. The Yankees on their part were going to take advantage of the slight disorientation brought about by the next pitching change. When Justin Shafer entered, McCutchen took his second pitch to deep right-field and far away. 9-0.

Rowdy Tellez, the Blue Jays’ first baseman, is proving one of the few promising finds of this season for them and he hit a single in the 6th but again it came to nothing. For his part, Shafer did enough to keep the Yankees mostly at bay for a while.

Surprisingly, the Yankees removed Tanaka at the top of the 7th. He’d given up only 4 walks and 2 hits whilst striking out eight and is making a good case for being the starter that the Yankees call upon in the one game playoff against the Oakland Athletics which will decide the fourth team to battle it out for the American League spot in the 2018 World Series.

Luis Cessa was called into action for the remainder of the game and did just fine. He must be running out of chances to prove himself on a club with a surfeit of long relievers but an outing like this can’t hurt if he finds himself in the shop window, He gave up a double and a walk in the seventh, and a pair of singles in the ninth before McKinney grounded out to end the game.

For their part, the Yankees were content just to gently add to their total. Joe Biagini replaced Shafer in the 8th and did well but when he in turn was replaced by David Paulino, it was Didi Gregorius’ opportunity to take advantage before the pitcher settled in with a leadoff homer in the 8th.

A double and a fielding error meant the Yankees were once again in a place to press home their advantage but a fairly odd doubleplay ended the 8th inning suddenly whilst still allowed pinch-runner Kyle Higashioka to score. 11-0.

The Yankees had begun the series by trouncing the Blue Jays. What could possibly go wrong now?

Well, pretty much everything as it turned out.

Game 2

Any notion that the New York club had that the Blue Jays would lie down and play dead proved to be a forlorn hope. This Toronto team are not going to win anything in their current formulation, but they are made of gutsy stuff.

The Yankees couldn’t have seen it coming when veteran starter CC Sabathia brought down the top of the Blue Jays’ batting order in 1-2-3 sequence with a flyout and two groundouts in the first, but by the third the Yankees were digging themselves out of a 5-0 hole and Sabathia was heading back to the dugout to be replaced by Chad Green.

The Yankees lead-off three of McCutchen, Stanton and Hicks had all been struck out by Sean Read-Foley in the first but it was the second where the difference from the night before began to be seen. Grichuk hit a home run to start the innings but Sabathia really began to wobble when a called groundout to first was challenged by the Toronto manager, John Gibbons, and was turned around. What would have been a second out became a single. This was followed immediately by a wild pitch and three more singles were interrupted only by a strikeout of Richard Urena. The third of these singles (by Lourdes Gurriel) was to result in a three to nothing lead which Toronto added to in the third. The Yankees did not aid their cause in the bottom of the second when after loading the bases, Neil Walker, Voit and Gardner were all struck out to end the inning.

Sabathia’s night was to come to a premature end when he conceded a pair of consecutive homers. We begin to wonder whether it might be time for him to consider drawing a curtain on what has been a great career.

The Yankees in the bottom of the third again had the energetic McCutchen on third but failed to press the advantage and gave up the last two outs cheaply. Chad Green achieved three strikeouts in the fourth, conceding only a double to Justin Smoak.

Read-Foley and Green were largely dominant through the fifth with Jonathan Holder presently coming in to replace Green for the Yankees. When Jake Petricka came in for Read-Foley in the bottom of the 6th, his 4th pitch was put over the outfield wall by Gregorius and his short appearance also involved hitting Torres by pitch and giving up a single to the ebullient Voit. Next to the mound was Tim Mayza who gave up a wild pitch and then a walk which put pinch-hitter Miguel Andujar on the last of the now loaded bases. Fortunately, Toronto have a very deep bullpen and Ryan Tepera was brought in to end the difficulty with a strikeout.

If the Yankees smelled in this a whiff of a turnaround then the decision to bring in Tommy Kahnle was surprising. This year he has alternated between struggling and being used in games where the Yankees feel that their chance has gone. Certainly, by the end of his outing on this night, it looked that way. He closed a brief outing by giving up a two RBI single to Diaz and left with Hernandez on third. Hernandez in turn came home on a Urena single off Kahnle’s relief, Stephen Tarpley. 8-1.

Games like this though often have a twist in the tail and this one was no exception. Tepera, Danny Barnes and, former Yankee, Tyler Clippard combined in the bottom of the 7th to give the Yankees’ opportunities to get right back in it. Tepera finished his outing, giving up a four-bagger to Stanton. Barnes conceded Gregorius’ second home run of the night as well as following it with a double to Torres and a walk to Walker. This left Clippard coming in with two on-base to face the tricky trio of Voit-Andujar-McCutchen. A walk to Voit loaded the bases and was followed by a huge left-field home run by the rookie, Andujar. McCutchen didn’t inflict anymore damage but now the win was looking like a possible. 8-7 to Toronto.

Nobody in the ballpark had been expecting that and now the place was exultant with expectation. Dellin Betances was the next reliever for the Yankees and a 4-6-3 double play enabled him to deliver the game to the batters with only that narrow deficit. Clippard, then, didn’t help himself with a walk and a wild pitch but closer Ken Giles successfully brought the 8th to an end.

Zach Britton who came on for the Yankees in the 9th was relatively untroubled and all that remained was for Torres and Walker and Voit to come up with two runs to deliver the win. Or one to take us into extra innings. Or for somebody to do something…

In the end, nothing came at all, and you could hear a pin drop in the Stadium as the otherwise very reliable Voit struck out to end it all.

Well, at least the Yankees showed that comeback spirit and that would be enough to carry them through to a series win… Wouldn’t it?

Well, no, actually.

Game 3

Whilst the momentum should have been with the Yankees, the self-belief was with Toronto. Despite a good performance from Lance Lynn, the Yankees starter, it wasn’t enough as the offensive line-up seized up.

Lynn induced McKinney to strike out at the top of the first before getting Smoak to completely misjudge a pitch and strike out looking. A weak grounder from Kendrys Morales completed the set.

It seemed like it was going to be the Yankees’ day from the outset when Andrew McCutchen hit Thomas Pannone’s second pitch over the wall between left and centre to provide a souvenir for some lucky fan. Pannone then walked Stanton and gave up a single to Hicks. With one out, a sac fly from Gregorius gave the Yanks another run. The inning closed 2-0.

Lynn came up with another straightforward inning including the strikeout of Grichuk swinging wildly. The Yankees also went down in order giving Toronto the opportunity to halve their lead on a single from Urena and double from Reese McGuire in the third. Lynn wrestled back control with consecutive strikeouts of the two batters at the top of their line-up. 2-1.

A pivotal play was to follow in the bottom of the 3rd. Giancarlo Stanton had reached first on a roller between first and second which had done just enough. Aaron Hicks hit a line out to the second baseman which was thrown to first in time for a close play which the umpire interpreted as having taken Stanton out as well. Tense moments followed as Yankees’ manager, Aaron Boone challenged the play and a rapt crowd waited on a call which could potentially end the inning or continue it. The original decision was upheld, and those fragile Yankees’ egos once again took a nosedive into lack of self-belief from which the hitters would not recover.

There were no hits for either team in the 4th and the 5th began to see Lynn’s pitching fray a little at the seams but despite giving up a single to Devon Travis and a wild pitch, the Yankees escaped the inning with their lead intact.

Lynn was replaced by David Robertson in the 6th who once again did enough to see the Yankees through intact but with the Yankees hitless in the 5th and 6th, the next hit was not to come until the bottom of the 7th, when Pannone walked Gregorius and then gave up a single on a blooper from Gleyber Torres which fell into short centre field. But with the chances to press their advantage coming very infrequently, the Yankees gave up the final two outs of the inning cheaply to waste another important chance.

The Yankees made two interesting choices at the top of the 8th. After two great innings, they replaced David Robertson with the hulking Dellin Betances and brought in Adeiny Hechavarria for Miguel Andujar at third base. Now Betances in tense situations can be overpowering or make the fans nervous and it tends to depend on how he settles in. Now, there is no question that Hechevarria is better on the left side of the infield defensively than Andujar but the question in a close game is whether you can afford to remove the power of “Mr Extra-base Hit” from your line-up: the two changes were to prove a potent recipe for Betances looked uncomfortable from the get-go. On his second pitch, he gave up a single to McGuire. He was able to dominate McKinney who was not enjoying his return to Yankee Stadium one little bit but then a second single was given up on a ground ball hit from Smoak which took McGwire to third.

Boone must have considered taking the 6’8″ pitcher out of this tight situation he had got himself into, but it was Toronto who were going to call the changes. The potent Tellez was brought into hit while Kevin Pillar was to pinch run for Smoak. A single from Tellez brought McGuire home before Grichuk’s double reversed the direction of the box-score. 3-2.

A famous name from the Yankees’ past was to tighten the stranglehold that the Blue Jays had brought on the Yankees’ batters in the final two-thirds of the game. Mark Leiter Jr. has never played for the Yankees, but his father briefly played in the Yankees’ organisation and his Uncle Al saw some success in the Bronx. This time the name was to haunt the Yankees rather than give them something to celebrate as he safely delivered the lead to closer Ken Giles.

Zach Britton was put in to relieve Betances who had wobbled so badly and ensured that the Blue Jays’ remained at the narrowest possible margin. However, the Yankees could not turn it around. Ironically, they were now left looking for the appropriate bat to sub for Hechavarria who had been deemed necessary to replace Andujar defensively. But Neil Walker despite a spate of homers in August is no Miggy and just proved to be the first out. A single from Gregorius gave a brief glimmer of light in the darkness but this was quickly stubbed out by Giles who finished off the remaining two batters. Indeed, the Yankees didn’t seem to think they could get back into it with both Torres and Sanchez striking out swinging to end the game and the series.

So, a series that the Yankees should have desperately fought to win, went from a 1-0 advantage to a loss in two straight games. This put immense pressure on them – not only in the important matter of maintaining their narrow lead over the Oakland Athletics for home field advantage in the one-game wild card playoff but also in the symbolic matter of their relationship and rival with the arch-enemy, Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox would now only need one win in their three-game series with the Bronx Bombers in order to be able to clinch the American League East on the New York team’s home turf. Enough to make the shadow of the Bambino, from the distant past, bow his head in shame.

But there’s more to follow…

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