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Jays take edge off with Travis T-shirts – and a big win over New York

Josh Donaldson celebrates after hitting a two-run homer in the eighth inning against the New York Yankees on Friday.

John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports

It was not necessarily about good taste in fashion, but the Blue Jays were certainly making some sort of a statement in their choice of attire heading into the start of their series against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on Friday night.

Almost to a man in the clubhouse before the start of the game, the Blue Jays were parading around as if they were proud peacocks in Devon Travis T-shirts, with his name and No. 29 plastered on the back.

On the front was the cute face of a baby emoji with a big, brown curl dangling over his forehead, a supposed likeness of the 25-year-old Toronto second baseman.

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Most of the players continued to wear the T-shirts on the field during batting practice in a show of support for Travis, who has taken some heat of late for some lapses in his defensive play.

"[Travis is] the baby," Ryan Goins, the Blue Jays' utility infielder and one of the ringleaders behind the T-shirt caper, told reporters before the game. "All he does is eat, sleep and go to the bathroom … and get hits."

The Blue Jays had a more pressing statement to make against the Yankees in the first of a four-game set that should go a long way toward ironing out the playoff-race logjam that exists in the American League East.

Consider it done, with the Blue Jays riding a strong starting pitching performance from Francisco Liriano to a convincing 9-0 victory over New York to help maintain Toronto's tenuous grip on the AL's first wild-card playoff berth.

The Blue Jays started fast against the Yankees with Troy Tulowitzki raking a two-out, line-drive, bases-loaded single in the first inning off New York starter Bryan Mitchell that provided Toronto with a quick 2-0 lead.

Tulowitzki finished the game going 2-for-4, driving in four of the Toronto runs.

None of the runs in the first was earned after New York first baseman Billy Butler somehow mishandled a slow-roller stroked his way by Josh Donaldson for an error that provided Toronto with its first base runner of the inning.

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In the second inning, Edwin Encarnacion worked a bases-loaded walk that forced in Toronto's third run that was more than enough for Liriano to work with.

He left the game after stifling the New York offence to just three hits over six innings while striking out six, his record now 2-2 since joining the Blue Jays in a trade from Pittsburgh on Aug. 1.

Toronto put it away with a four-run outburst in the seventh, when both Jose Bautista and Tulowitzki clouted two-run hits.

The road has not been kind of late to the Yankees, who arrived in Toronto having won just two of their past seven, a slide that has seriously jeopardized their playoff hopes.

The Blue Jays entered the night 51/2 games behind division-leading Boston.

But the Blue Jays were in possession of the first wild-card spot by one game over the Tigers, who held a half-game edge over the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto's next opponent after the New York series is through.

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Despite a crummy September, in which the Blue Jays had won just seven of their first 19 games, the players still feel pretty good about their lot in life.

"We haven't played our best ball at all," Travis said before the game. "We're in a good situation, an opportunity to control our own destiny. I think at this point of the year, that's all you can ask for."

Still, you can sense some edginess starting to creep into the clubhouse by a Blue Jays team that is obviously sensitive to some of the criticisms falling their way as a result of their helter-skelter play of late.

Hence, the T-shirt show of support for Travis.

Travis has been one of Toronto's most consistent hitters all season, entering Friday's game with a team-best .306 batting average.

But his defensive play at second base has lagged of late and some of the Blue Jays are upset at some of the criticism that has flowed his way as a result.

"I think the people at home and I think the media need to relax," Goins told Rogers Sportsnet earlier this week in Seattle. "This guy's going out there every day, grinding his ass off."

The site of his teammates all wearing T-shirts in his honour before the game prompted Travis to sport a grin roughly the size of a grille on a '57 Chevy. "I thought it was only going to be a couple shirts," he said. "I didn't know the whole freakin' team was going to have baby shirts.

"So everybody calls me the baby now – everybody."

As for playing meaningful baseball in September and the accompanying increased pressure, Travis has one piece of advice to keep him going. "Just got to keep breathing," he said.

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