In big-league appearance No. 2, Aaron Sanchez was once again thrust into a difficult situation for the Toronto Blue Jays.
And while his performance against the New York Yankees was not exactly to his liking, the outcome certainly was.
The 22-year-old Sanchez only pitched two innings but it was an adventurous outing, as he blew a one-run lead in the eighth inning before his teammates picked him up with a run in the ninth to earn the rookie pitcher his first Major League victory.
It was a whale of a ballgame between the two American League East rivals and by the time the dust had settled, in this back-and-forth affair the Blue Jays had fashioned an entertaining 5-4 victory Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
More importantly, after breaking a 0-for-17 goose egg of consecutive losses suffered here against the Yankees (dating back to 2012) with a 6-4 victory on Saturday, the Blue Jays strut out of town with a 2-1 series victory.
The Blue Jays have now won each of the three series they have played since the All-Star Game. They have moved one game ahead of New York into second place in the AL East standings, 2 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles, who were playing later on in Seattle.
Now it is on to Boston for a three-game set against the Red Sox, beginning Monday night in Fenway.
Jose Bautista scored the winning run in the top of the ninth after getting on base through a fielder’s choice.
With two out, Bautista took advantage of the high leg-kick from New York closer David Robertson and stole second base without even drawing a throw.
“I wished I’d done a better job of holding Bautista on first,” Robertson said. “I just kind of let it slip from my memory there and that’s all it took and he was on second.”
Bautista would then come in to score when Dioner Navarro delivered a clutch hit into shallow right field, the catcher making an emphatic fist-punch as he ran to first base.
Casey Janssen would come on to work a perfect ninth for his 16th save.
Bautista said the series outcome should go a long way toward fostering the belief in the players that the Blue Jays are a team to contend with.
“We need to sometimes have that swagger and that attitude that we are a good team,” Bautista said. “And at times when we lose a couple in a row it seems like we lose it a little bit, we lose that edge. I’m not saying we don’t compete, we don’t show up on time and do our work and do our preparation. We’re great about that.”
What the team is not so great about, he said, is maintaining positive energy, especially after losses.
“We need to realize that not every one win or every one loss means that the season is done,” he said. “We need just to believe sometimes that we’re that good of a team and act like it too.”
The Blue Jays would hold leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3, each time allowing New York to come back and tie.
J.A. Happ was solid in the start for Toronto, lasting 5 1/3 innings where he allowed three of the New York runs off just four hits.
But two of those hits were homers, stroked back-to-back in the Yankee fifth by Chase Headley and Francisco Cervelli, that levelled the score at 2-2.
Sanchez entered the game in the seventh with the game tied at 3-3 and enjoyed a three-up, three-down session.
In the top of the eighth, Colby Rasmus drew a leadoff walk.
He then scooted all the way to third base when New York reliever Dellin Betances caught his cleats on a pickoff attempt and threw the ball into foul territory down the right-field line.
Rasmus would then score to move Toronto in front 4-3 on a sacrifice fly by Munenori Kawasaki.
But Sanchez gave it right back in the bottom of the inning when he allowed a leadoff hit by Brett Gardner, who took second on a sacrifice bunt by Derek Jeter.
Gardner would then score on a single by Carlos Beltran.
For Sanchez, Toronto’s top pitching prospect who was just called up to the team from Triple-A last week, it wasn’t exactly the way he envisioned his first Major League victory.
“Maybe not so much the way I would have liked it,” he said. “We score a run there in the eighth, I go back out there and for me I need to do a better job of shutting that inning down.
“But these guys picked me up and it’s such an awesome feeling right now to get my first win, especially here at Yankee Stadium.”
The Blue Jays made a roster move before the game, activating outfielder Nolan Reimold from the disabled list. To make room on the roster, relief pitcher Esmil Rogers was designated for assignment.