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Jays turn the tables with a trio of Yankee Stadium specials

Did hell freeze over for a day?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Over the many years I’ve watched the Blue Jays, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve watched Blue Jays pitchers have a start ruined by a cheap home run in Yankee Stadium that ends up a decisive blow. Few things are as dis-spiriting for me as a baseball fan as watching an otherwise routine fly ball in Yankee Stadium barely sail over a fence a few rows. And naturally, almost always to the benefit of the Yankees (I’d throw a seemingly in there, but let’s face facts).

The original Yankee Stadium was like many turn of the 20th century parks, built around square city blocks, shallow to the corners before angling into deeper alleys and a very deep dead CF. But it was notably shallow to right-centre to enable lefty power: as much “The House Built for Ruth” as “The House That Ruth Built”.

Despite significant modifications over the years, the new Yankee Stadium was allowed to retain the dimensions of the last iteration of the original, securing an exemption from MLB Rule 1.04(a) that any stadium constructed after June 1, 1958 have fences at least 325 feet away down the foul lines. More egregiously, despite these band box dimensions, the Yankees were allowed to lower the fence height to eight feet. And thus the proliferation of Yankee Stadium Specials into the 21st century.

Given this history, beyond the fact that the Jays blanked the Yankees to open up a critical September series, it was particularly gratifying to me for the fact that of the four home runs, not one, not two, but THREE were Yankee Stadium specials.

(Fun fact: apparently either “trio” or “of” is an impermissible word for a title of a MLB Film Room video)

The trio of Yankee Stadium Specials covered the gamut, so let’s break them down in glorious detail:

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hits a reasonably well struck 347 foot fly ball to right field. The metrics say it was 96.5 MPH off the bat, which is decent, but at 32 degrees most of the time that’s getting caught and hence at estimated 22% hit probability. And in fact, the outfielder was more or less right there, and likely catches that if he could run full speed to the spot. A fly out becomes a home run!
  2. Tesocar Hernandez hooks a fliner 341 feet almost right down the left field line, just over the fence into the first row. At 95.4 MPH off the bat, it was hit similarly hard to Vladdy’s, but the lower launch angle of 26 degrees is key. Statcast says the estimated hit probability was only 23%, but that’s not considering the spray angle. Down the line, that’s a legit double... it’s just not going out of any park that has regulation dimensions.
  3. Marcus Semien lofts the coup-de-grace grand slam 336 feet down the left field line, just over the fence into the first row. At an arcing 42 degree launch angle and 95 MPH off the bat, this is almost always a can of corn fly ball (estimated hit probability of 2%). Indeed, the leftfielder was right there and just helplessly ran out of ground as game was put away. Quelle dommage.

An aside on the fly ball distances: that’s the distance to where the ball would be forecast to land, and the distances marked on fences are to the base. Accordingly, a 380 foot fly ball to a 375 foot fence is routine caught, but that’s why the reported distances above are significantly greater than the field dimensions despite just sneaking out.

To boot, those three were on top of Semien’s first home run. At 380 feet, while it was not cheapie enabled by Yankee Stadium, neither was an overwhelming blast that was absolutely mashed. On another day, or a bit more to centre, it could have been a different outcome.

A very satisfying afternoon, indeed.

In doing so on the heels of their three game sweep of Oakland, the Jays have breathed life into their previously flagging postseason chances. As I noted on Thursday, their wild card odds were down below 10% and a poor week against fellow contenders would have sent them below 5%.

Instead, five days later, they’ve passed Oakland and while dealing them a massive and perhaps psychologically if not mathematically fatal blow. Having shaved one-third of Boston’s 4.5 game margin and almost half of the 6.5 game Yankee margin as the curtain closed on August, they’re suddenly right on their heels. FanGraphs has their odds up to 25.7%, roughly the same one-in-four odds they faced at the trade deadline and after their West Coast swoon. It’s still well short of the ~50% nadir a month ago, but in less than a week they rolled back three weeks of lost ground.

They’ve got momentum now, but that’s the ficklest of mistress. Just ask the Yankees, who a week ago seemed unstoppable and inevitable. Will we look back a month from now at a launching point, or with Gerrit Cole taking the mound as a jubilant yet ephemeral high watermark?