Tonight's matchup was a study in contrasting young pitchers: the extreme fly ball pitcher against the extreme ground ball pitcher. The lefty with a decent fastball who relies on command and mixing four pitches versus the right handed flamethrower who mostly lives and dies by his fastball.
For six innings, but for a couple of meatballs, Drew Smyly was almost untouchable, striking out 8 against just 1 walk while inducing a pile of weak contact in the air when he wasn't making Blue Jay hitters flail at balls out of the zone. In fact, he didn't allow a hit...again, but for those couple of meatballs (alas, as the line goes...other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?). Fortunately, the Jays made the most of those few mistakes.
With two out in the third inning, Smyly fell behind Michael Saunders 2-0. He threw a 91 fastball at the top of the zone, that broke right across the heart of the zone. And Saunders crushed it to right centre field to stake the Jays to a 1-0 lead.
Smyly followed that up by turning over the batting order in perfect fashion - five strikeouts, two popouts, and absolutely nothing hit hard - bringing Josh Donaldson to the plate with two out in the 6th inning. Just when it looked like the Jays might have to make that 1-0 lead stand up (a dicey proposition to say the least), Smyly made another mistake on a 2-2 fastball, belt high in the middle of the zone. And the reigning American League MVP hit an absolute no doubter that banged off one of the famous catwalks that make the Trop the endearingly quirky
hellhole place that we've come to know and love.
Smyly was done after six, and the Jays happily were able to tag on a bunch of runs to give Sanchez and the bullpen more breathing room. In the 8th, Saunders hit another solo home run to push the lead to 3-0. The Jays loaded the bases with two out via walks to Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, sandwiched around a Bautista ground ball single. Justin Smoak smorked a ball to right field to cash two, with Tulo out trying to take 3rd base to end the inning. In the 9th, Ryan Goins of all people got in on the action, with a fourth solo home run, an opposite field wall scraper.
Meanwhile, Aaron Sanchez was tossing zeroes on the board, going seven shutout innings. It was a bit of a tightrope act, as his command teetered at times and he had to work out of numerous jams, but he was still very good and the results speak for themselves. It wasn't his best, but the thing about having a mid-90s fastball with a lot of movement is it gives Sanchez a margin of error whereby "not his best" can still be "pretty darn good". Numerous times, he reared back and blew fastballs by the Tampa hitters in big spots. He kept the ball on the ground (13 of 20 balls in play), and benefited from strong infield defenders behind him who vacuumed balls up and saved a few hits.
In all, Sanchez scattered 6 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 6 batters, though he had only one clean inning. The first two batters reached in the 1st, before a pair of strikeouts and a popout ended the rally. A double and walk put two on with one out in the 3rd, but he worked out it and that was the last significant scoring opportunity. He allowed two out baserunners in the 5th and 6th, and a one out baserunner in the 7th. But each time, when it looked like things might be going downhill, he righted the ship with big pitches.
With the lead at 5-0 going to the bottom of the 8th, John Gibbons went to Drew Storen for the 8th, a good low pressure opportunity to figure things out. Instead, he gave up a leadoff bomb to Brad Miller and to his displeasure was removed after striking out Evan Longoria. Gibby might have had a bit of a quick hook, but it's hard to blame Gibby given recent events, and he brought in Brett Cecil who similarly stood to benefit from a low pressure situation to find his bearing. He didn't have his sharpest stuff, but got both batters easily to end the inning. I would have liked to have seen him come out for the 9th too - really give him something to build from - but Gibby went to Roberto Osuna who worked out a double. I hope the next two games are not both close, because using him tonight in a spot where it really wasn't necessary could well come back to bite the Jays.
In the end, the guy with the big fastball made big pitches when he needed them, and that was the difference over the other guy who dominated for most of his outing, but paid dearly for a couple mistakes.
Jays of the Day: Sanchez (+0.429 WPA), Saunders (0.158, 2/5, 2 HR), Donaldson (0.118, 1/3, HR, BB) are the three by the numbers. Ryan Goins was just 1/4 with 2K (-0.042) but when that one is a home run he gets a JoTD by default.
Suckage: None. In another universe, Storen might have had one and probably deserves one, but we'll be magnanimous in victory.
Tomorrow, the Jays will look to keep the winning ways going and clinch the series with J.A Happ taking the mound against Chris Archer at 6:10 eastern.