If you wanted a game to perfectly summarize baseball in general in 2017, this afternoon’s match up between the Jays and Yankees might be the ideal pick.
It ended with an elite young closer who was born in 1995 striking out the current MLB home run leader who was born in 1992. Neither starter made it deep into the game, the teams combined for six home runs, and it took three hours and 28 minutes to complete. This is where the sport finds itself right now.
Both Michael Pineda and Marco Estrada entered today in run of disappointing starts, and neither did anything in this game to rectify that situation. Pineda was awful from the start, surrendering singles to Jose Bautista and Justin Smoak in the first inning that allowed the Jays to draw first blood. He also gave up a pair of singles in the second inning, but a Miguel Montero grounded into a double play to douse that fire.
The big blows came in the third on back to back home runs from Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales, and again in the fourth when Kevin Pillar hit a Yankees Stadium home run to right. This put Toronto on top 5-0, but it wouldn’t be enough, and a first and second with nobody out situation they squandered in the fourth after the Pillar home run nearly came back to bite them.
Despite facing the minimum through three innings, Marco Estrada ran into big problems during the next two frames. First it was Aaron Judge launching a two run shot to get the Yankees back in the game in the fourth, and then it was Estrada coming completely unglued in the fifth. After Ji-Man Choi hit his first career home run to make it 5-4, Estrada walked two of the next three hitters, and then Gibbons left him in for three batters too long as Judge smashed a single to right, Gary Sanchez popped out to Tulo, and Didi Gregorius smacked a a double to right that gave the Yankees a 6-5 lead.
Whatever’s wrong with Marco was on full display in that fifth inning, and it would be the main topic of discussion here if the Jays didn’t come back to win. Usually a master at controlling his off speed stuff, Estrada couldn’t locate anything as pitch count mounted. He threw 35 pitches in the fifth, and couldn’t even get out of the inning. Estrada now has a 9.46 ERA over his last seven starts, and he’s actually walked more batters than he struck out over his last four starts. If the Jays have any shot of getting back into the playoff race, they need Estrada to be right, and something is very, very wrong with him right now.
The good news for Estrada is that on his birthday, his teammates gave him the best gift of all. Aaron Loup cleaned up what was left of Estrada’s mess in the fifth when he stranded Judge and Gregorius at second and third, and then he, Danny Barnes and Roberto Osuna combined to shut out the Yankees for the rest of the afternoon.
The offense of course had to help out too. Russell Martin led off the seventh inning inning with a home run to right that tied the game at six, and then, Dellin Betances self destructed in the eighth, walking four batters in the inning. At one point he threw ten straight balls out of the zone before being rescued by home plate umpire Chris Conroy who’s strike zone expanded to about 27 inches wide during the Jose Bautista strike out. The Jays didn’t record a hit that inning, but if it wasn’t for questionable strike calls to Bautista and Smoak, they might have put a huge number on the board.
To be fair, the Jays also got the benefit of Conroy’s ridiculous strike zone in the bottom of the eighth when Chase Headley struck out on a pitch that was clearly out of the zone. At least Conroy was consistently terrible.
After that, the game was left to Roberto Osuna who mopped up the Yankees for his 20th consecutive save. Osuna didn’t even have his best stuff today, but he’s turned into such a dominant relief man that he can still find ways to get batters out when he doesn’t have his “A game.” The Yankees probably liked their chances when Judge came to the plate with a man on, but Osuna still had him way off balance on a couple of sliders down and away.
For the Jays, it’s the first time they’ve won back to back games since June 19. For the Yankees, they’re 6-16 in their last 22 games and haven’t won a series in nearly a month.
Jays of the Day: Martin (.271) with his game tying home run and bases loaded walk in the eighth, Smoak (.157) with his team leading 23rd home run of the season, and Pillar (.127) with his home run and key walk in the eighth. Danny Barnes (.288) and Roberto Osuna (.203) also get one for their relief work. And for that matter, let’s give one to Dellin Betances for his relief work (-.335) where he handed out walks like they were candy on Halloween.
Jays Suckage: Estrada (-.453) for blowing a five run lead. Typically the starter giving up six runs in less than five innings and the offense going 0-9 with runners in scoring position isn’t a recipe for a win, but they found a way to pull this one out today. I’m also assigning one to Chris Conroy for his efforts behind the plate in both halves of the eighth inning. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that many pitches off the plate called strikes.
The Jays will now come home for a four game set against the Astros to wrap up play before the All Star Break.