Tuesday, February 27

‘We’re here’: Blue Jays leave Yanks fuming in series win

NEW YORK — Gerrit Cole walked to the mound for the fifth inning Saturday, having not allowed the Blue Jays to muster as much as a hit. Twenty minutes later, he was punching the roof of the Yankees’ dugout with both fists, cursing a New York sky that feels like it’s falling.

Toronto’s offense came in a quick blur, but that was enough against a Yankees team that has held the door open and allowed the rest of the AL East back into the race. The Blue Jays’ 5-2 win gave them four consecutive victories, but more important, it put them on the doorstep of a four-game sweep over the Yankees, who are 4-14 since the calendar flipped to August.

The Blue Jays haven’t been much better, with an 8-9 record in August, but they’ve rebounded from a dreadful stretch of play earlier in the month and now find themselves just seven games back of the Yankees in the division. Back on July 10, when that gap was its widest, Toronto was staring at a 16 1/2-game deficit.

It’s not likely that the Blue Jays will catch the Yankees, but it’s no longer impossible, especially if they’re handing headaches and losses to New York’s $324 million ace. Cole wasn’t the only Yankee left fuming Saturday, either.

“We’ve got to play better, period. And the great thing is,” Boone said before emphatically slamming his right hand down on the table, “it’s right in front of us. It’s right here, and we can fix it. It’s right here. It’s there, and we can run away with this thing. We’ve got the dudes in there to do it. We’ve got to do it. But if we don’t score, it’s tough to win, and I’ll answer these same questions. Am I perplexed? Yeah. I am.”

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When the other team’s manager is slamming tables and the starter is slamming dugout ceilings, you’re probably doing something right.

What opened as a relief of an inning for the Blue Jays, when Santiago Espinal broke up the no-hitter in the fifth with a double off the wall, quickly turned into some controlled chaos, which tends to be Toronto’s official brand when its rolling. It was the unlikeliest of bats, too, that broke it open, as Jackie Bradley Jr. knocked a two-run double into the left-field corner.

Bradley Jr. signed with the Blue Jays last week to serve as a fifth outfielder, but after spending nine seasons with the Red Sox, he knows how to play the role of villain at Yankee Stadium as well as anyone on this roster.

“I’ve always been impressed with this team,” Bradley Jr. said. “They’re an exciting young bunch and very talented. The sky is the limit with this group. We want to continue playing good baseball and fundamentally sound baseball. Hopefully, the wins continue as well.”

Soon after Bradley gave the Blue Jays the lead, Alejandro Kirk ripped a bases-loaded double, and while Bradley jogged home easily, Raimel Tapia and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. nearly got tangled up. Guerrero almost caught up to Tapia, who was waiting for the ball to drop, and the two rounded third base separated by just a few feet. Tapia slid in first and was safe, but Guerrero was tagged out in the mess of bodies around home plate.

“This is a top-two offense in the league,” Cole said. “You don’t ever really feel safe against these guys. … You start focusing on a lead against the Blue Jays, you’re going to be in trouble. Your focus needs to be on them.”

Mitch White was Toronto’s other unlikely star Saturday, going toe-to-toe with Cole and coming out on top. White allowed seven hits over his four innings, but he struck out five and danced out of danger when he needed to. It’s exactly what the Blue Jays envisioned when they swapped White into the rotation for Yusei Kikuchi.

The focus on the Yankees this weekend distracts from the AL Wild Card race, of course, which is far tighter. The win puts the Blue Jays into a more comfortable spot with the second Wild Card seed, a half-game back of the Mariners for the top spot with a 1 1/2-game cushion on the Rays.

With their swagger back, though, the Blue Jays are dangerous.

“They know they’re really good. They’re a really good team,” said interim manager John Schneider. “The [Matt Chapman] homer in the ninth inning was awesome to kind of say, ‘We’re here.’ They’re not going to back down from anybody.”

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