If there is one thing that these Toronto Blue Jays will have mastered before the season ends, it will be the art of losing.
Heading into the first of a three-game set against American League East rival New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night, the Blue Jays record was a squalid 21-38, third worst in all of MLB.
Time was when the Blue Jays could at least count on the Baltimore Orioles to provide plenty of last-place ballast in the division, but no more. The Orioles have closed the gap in the race for the basement, thanks to a 7-24 nosedive the Blue Jays have stumbled into over the past month or so.
With the majority (53 games) of their remaining 102 contests against heavyweights such as the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, there is a strong possibility that the Blue Jays will soar over the 100-loss plateau for the first time since 1979, their third season of existence.
Against that backdrop – before the Blue Jays (22-38) went out and handed the Yankees (38-21) a 4-3 setback in their first meeting of the season – Toronto’s rookie manager Charlie Montoyo said it is important that the young Blue Jays take the proper approach when it comes to having your keister handed to you on a semi-regular basis.
No more, said the manager, will the clubhouse be as silent as a crypt following setbacks. Candlelight vigils as players try to figure out what went wrong – again – will not be allowed. Uplifting music will be encouraged, excluding anything by the Smiths.
Oh, the players will be allowed a few minutes at their lockers for quiet reflection on that 0-for-5 night at the plate, but that’s about it.
“Whenever we lose another game you can see, we can sit and think about what we just did in the game, the right things and the wrong things,” Montoyo said. “And then let it go. You can turn the music on and here we go, just move on. That’s how it should be.”
Montoyo said the new game plan moving forward was formulated by himself and his coaching staff after the dreary 0-6 road the Blue Jays just slunk home from.
“Honestly, I don’t like seeing a quiet clubhouse,” Montoyo added.
After a slow start that was helped along by a long list of injuries, the Yankees arrived in Toronto for the three-game series at the other end of the spectrum, back on top of the AL East, a major-league-best 30-10 since April 19.
And the Yankees keep on finding ways to succeed without the services of two of their slugging mainstays – Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who are still working their way back from injuries.
Randal Grichuk and Freddy Galvis each homered for the Blue Jays in the victory as Toronto began a six-game homestand in style. Clint Frazier and Aaron Hicks went long for the Yankees.
And a defensive gem turned by Galvis and Eric Sogard in the seventh will also be a lasting memory.
With one out and DJ LeMahieu stationed at second base after leading off the inning with a double, Gary Sanchez hit a hard-hit grounder to shortstop where it was gobbled up by Galvis.
The instinct would have been to go to first for the easy out with the score 4-2 in Toronto’s favor. But Galvis noted that LeMahieu had taken a couple of steps toward third and he smoothly relayed the ball to second where Sogard had alertly moved in behind the bag.
Sogard was able to put the tag on LeMahieu as he tried to scramble back to safety and then made the throw to first to complete the double play.
“Freddy and Sogs [Sogard], that play up the middle, I don’t think I’ve seen a play like that,” said Clayton Richard, the Blue Jays starting pitcher. “That’s two guys thinking ahead of the game and being on the same page. That’s pretty special.”
Hitting, or lack thereof, has been at the forefront of Toronto’s many problems. The Blue Jays entered the New York series hitting .218 on the season, dead last in the majors.
The Yankees opened the scoring in the fourth inning when Frazier, who was taking heat back in New York for his recent defensive indifferences in the outfield, clobbered his 11th home run of the season off Toronto starter Clayton Richard. It was a two-run shot for a 2-0 New York lead.
Richard would last just 4.2 innings, allowing those two New York runs off four hits.
True to form, the Blue Jays could only muster one hit through the first four innings, but they broke out in a big way against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka in the fifth, when they piled on four runs for a 4-2 lead.
Grichuk cranked his 10th home run to get things going and that was followed up by a two-run shot skied by Galvis for a one-run Toronto lead.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. then put the team further ahead when his single into left field scored Eric Sogard, who enjoyed a three-hit evening, from second base. For the heralded rookie, it was his 13th run batted in in 32 games.
Hicks lit up Toronto reliever Joe Biagini for a solo home run to the second level in right field in the eighth that cut the Blue Jays lead back to one.
Toronto closer Ken Giles was summoned into the game in the eighth inning by Montoyo for just the third time this season after Biagini surrendered another hit to Gio Urshela. After walking pinch-hitter Kendrys Morales, Giles got Brett Gardner to line out to centre to end the threat.
Giles then worked the ninth, stranding runners at first and second to earn his 11th save.