Series Sum-Up: Yankees vs. Blue Jays

 Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak socked two home runs - including a clutch grand slam - on his bobblehead day on Sunday to help his club earn a series split with the New York Yankees. Photo Credit: Jay Blue

Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak socked two home runs - including a clutch grand slam - on his bobblehead day on Sunday to help his club earn a series split with the New York Yankees. Photo Credit: Jay Blue

By Emily @JaysGirlEmily

Blue Jays from Away

Game 1: Thursday March 29 (Afternoon game)
Jays lose, 1-6
Losing Pitcher: J.A. Happ

Welcome back to baseball season, everybody!

The big story of the day was how Giancarlo Stanton made a nuisance of himself in his first game in the AL East. With two home runs and a double, he scored three runs and drove in four. His first home run was a two-run shot in the first off of Happ, but one of the runs was unearned because Curtis Granderson had dropped a Brett Gardner fly ball hit right to him as the first play of the game. Happ allowed four hits and one walk in his start, including an infield single that deflected off his own foot.

Yankee starter Luis Severino carved up the Blue Jays lineup, after walking a pair in the first inning. Granderson got the first hit of the season for the Blue Jays, a single in the fourth. Happ left the game with two outs in the fifth after walking Aaron Judge. John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.), making his Blue Jays debut, entered and allowed two consecutive doubles, expanding the Yankees’ lead to 4-0, before getting a strikeout to end the inning.

Aaron Loup came in for the sixth and walked the leadoff man, but got Brandon Drury to hit into a double play. With a man on second, Josh Donaldson made a wide throw to first on a Tyler Austin ground ball, and Justin Smoak had to stretch and catch it. He then spun on the ground and threw to home because he didn’t see the umpire call Austin out at first. The Yankees asked for the play to be reviewed, but the call was confirmed and the run didn’t count. Donaldson then got the first stolen base for the Blue Jays, after taking a walk in the bottom half of that inning. Severino left the game after 5 2/3 innings, having allowed one hit, three walks, and seven strikeouts.

Danny Barnes pitched the seventh and allowed a leadoff home run to Gardner. Judge then singled, but was erased on a double play ball. Seung Hwan Oh also made his debut, in the eighth, and allowed the leadoff batter to reach on an infield hit when he didn’t cover first base in time to receive the throw. Then he allowed another runner when he hastily fielded a two-out dribbler in front of the mound and dropped it. Oh managed to escape the inning unscathed. Kevin Pillar put Toronto on the board with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 8th. Pillar and Granderson were the only Jays with hits. Tyler Clippard pitched the ninth for his new team and allowed Stanton’s second homer, bringing the game to its final score.

Game 2: Friday, March 30
Jays lose, 2-4
Losing Pitcher: Aaron Sanchez

The Jays scored multiple runs, which was an improvement over the day before. They also prevented the Yankees from hitting any home runs, which was another improvement. Unfortunately, neither of those things was enough to secure them a win. Aaron Sanchez made his first start since last July, and came away with a loss after allowing four earned runs on eight hits. He started off with some help from his defence – a double play erased a leadoff single in the first, and a smart throw by Yangervis Solarte resulted in an out at the plate after a leadoff triple in the second.

Gary Sanchez reached on the fielder’s choice, then scored on a Brandon Drury double. Drury would have come up the next inning, had the preceding batter (Yankees rookie Billy McKinney) not hit a single that just missed Devon Travis’ glove. Aaron Sanchez then got a strikeout to strand McKinney and Drury in scoring position. Randal Grichuk tied the game with a home run in the second. After allowing three extra-base hits in the first two innings (Grichuk’s homer, plus doubles to Justin Smoak and Kevin Pillar), Masahiro Tanaka set down the next thirteen Blue Jays in order – including four consecutive strikeouts at one point.

The Yankees scored next on a double, a force out and a Drury single in the fourth. Each time Sanchez faced the top three batters in the Yankee lineup, he set them down (including two double plays), but he had trouble with the bottom half. In the sixth, Didi Gregorius led off with a walk, then a single and another walk loaded the bases with two out, and Tyler Wade hit a two-run double, after which Danny Barnes was brought in to get the final out. The Blue Jays bullpen – Barnes, then an inning each from Ryan Tepera, Tyler Clippard, and Roberto Osuna – combined to throw 3 1/3 perfect innings. Tepera even struck out Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton (both swinging) as the first batters he faced this season.

The Blue Jays had two outs in the ninth, facing Aroldis Chapman, when they sparked a mini-rally. Steve Pearce pinch-hit for Curtis Granderson and doubled off the top of the wall in left, then Solarte drove him in with a double of his own. Grichuk struck out looking to end the game.

Game 3: Saturday, March 31
JAYS WIN!!! 5-3
Starting Pitcher: Marco Estrada
Winning Pitcher: Ryan Tepera
Save: Roberto Osuna

This game was full of drama, including three hits for Justin Smoak on his bobblehead day. Josh Donaldson got his first hit of the year, a double in the bottom of the first, and Smoak singled to score him. That gave the Blue Jays a lead for the first time this season. Steve Pearce scored the second Jays run when he reached on a Brandon Drury throwing error to lead off the third – Smoak then drove him in with a double.

Marco Estrada gave up three runs on four hits in his start, the first two of which scored on a Tyler Austin game-tying homer in the fifth. The Jays had two on base in the bottom half of that inning, thanks to a single and a walk against C.C. Sabathia, but Yangervis Solarte hit into an inning-ending double play. They got another chance in the sixth, when Adam Warren replaced Sabathia, walked Kevin Pillar, and was hit with an Aledmys Diaz ground ball (when the ball bounced to the first baseman, Diaz retreated backwards toward home plate, giving Pillar time to get to second base). Warren was removed from the game with an injury, and Luke Maile singled on the third pitch from Jonathan Holder to score Pillar.

That 3-2 lead was short-lived, however, because Austin homered off Estrada again the next inning. The Yankees brought in Dellin Betances and Curtis Granderson led off with a pinch-hit single, but was thrown out stealing. Ryan Tepera pitched a clean eighth for Toronto, and then Solarte led off the eighth with a home run to put the Jays on top for good. Then things really got interesting, because Pillar singled with one out, and stole second base with two outs. Luke Maile walked, and Pillar stole third. Maile followed suit, swiping second uncontested. Finally, Pillar danced down the third-base line, then began running, but Betances rushed the throw, forcing the catcher to chase after it, and Pillar successfully stole home. It was the first time he’d stolen three bases in one game in his career - and the first time any Blue Jay had ever stolen three bases in the same inning.

Roberto Osuna collected his first save of the year, without allowing a baserunner.

Game 4: Sunday, April 1
JAYS WIN!! 7-4
Starting Pitcher: Marcus Stroman
Winning Pitcher: Tyler Clippard
Save: Seung Hwan Oh

Marcus Stroman got into some early trouble when he walked a pair with one out in the first. But he came back and threw six straight strikes to get out of the inning. Sonny Gray did basically the same thing, allowing a leadoff walk and a single to Josh Donaldson, then striking out the side to strand a pair of Blue Jays. Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) took a walk in the second, then moved up on a Kevin Pillar single, but was thrown out at the plate when Gift Ngoepe singled to right field. Pillar scored on Devon Travis’ first hit of the year, giving Toronto a 1-0 lead.

After six strikeouts through the first 2 2/3 innings, and a nice fielding play in the second, Stroman ran into some trouble. He walked Giancarlo Stanton, then Stanton scored on a Didi Gregorius double. Neil Walker singled, cashing in Gregorius, and then Brandon Drury hit a two-run home run. It was 4-1 Yankees, and stayed that way when Stroman left the game after five innings, three hits, three walks, and eight strikeouts.

The Jays got the leadoff man aboard five times, but it wasn’t until the seventh that they successfully cashed in. Donaldson walked, and Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer to make it 4-3. David Robertson had been brought in with two outs in the seventh, but stayed in for the eighth. Martin singled, Aledmys Diaz doubled, and with two outs the Yankees decided to intentionally walk Donaldson, loading the bases. Smoak battled for nine pitches, before unloading with a grand slam to left-centre field. The bullpen worked four clean innings, including a one-hit save for Seung-Hwan Oh.

Overall Notes:

The Blue Jays held a nice tribute to Roy Halladay before the game on Opening Day. They retired his number with his family looking on, put his name on the Level of Excellence, and instead of a ceremonial first pitch, his sons placed the game ball on the mound.

A few roster moves were made in advance of Opening Day. Troy Tulowitzki was placed on the 60-day disabled list (with bone spurs in his heels). On Tuesday the team announced that Tulowitzki would be getting surgery on the bone spurs. John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) and Tyler Clippard, who had both been signed to minor-league contracts, were added to the roster, as was infielder Gift Ngoepe. Ngoepe said he wanted to cry with happiness when he got the news. Joe Biagini was optioned to triple-A Buffalo to work as a starter. Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) and Anthony Alford (who were expected to start the season in triple-A) were both placed on the 10-day DL - Pompey with a wrist sprain and Alford with a strained hamstring. Danny Espinosa was assigned to the minor leagues as well.

Josh Donaldson’s arm became a concern on Opening Day, after a few throws went wide or came up short of first base. Buck Martinez commented he didn’t seem to have the regular ‘zip’ behind them. Donaldson was also seen between innings putting a brace on his elbow. John Gibbons was asked postgame about it and said Donaldson’s arm wasn’t hurt, it was just ‘dead’. Take from that what you will, but he was used as a DH for the rest of the series while doing fielding practice in between games.

Weirdly Specific Record Alert:

- Kevin Pillar is the first player in Blue Jays history to steal second base, third base, and home in the same inning.

- It’s the first time an American League player has done it since 1996.

My favourite player(s) this series: Smoak/Pillar

Justin Smoak was the first baserunner for the 2018 Jays when he took a walk in the first inning on Opening Day. He also made two catches on hard-hit Brett Gardner line drives in Game 1. Then his bat took off, as he hit a double in Game 2, 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI in Game 3, and 3-for-4 with a walk, two home runs and six RBI in Game 4. All told, he hit .467/.529/1.000 for the series. Not a bad start to the season for the All-Star!

In addition to his base-stealing hijinks on Saturday, Kevin Pillar was the team's second-best hitter over the course of this series. He batted .462 and had at least one hit in every game, including a home run in Game 1, a double in Game 2, and a 3-for-4 day in Game 4. He also took his first walk of the year.

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Emily

Emily is a Communications student who grew up with a Roy Halladay poster on the back of her door. A baseball history nerd, she played softball for nine years and changes her favourite Blue Jay on a regular basis. She fondly remembers going to her first Jays game at age six with her father, and spending the whole time staring at the elevators going up the CN Tower.