Remember everything I said about the Toronto Blue Jays' pitching before the series started? Well, it was even better than advertised. Over the first 30 innings of the three-game set between the Yanks and Jays, Toronto allowed the Yankees just three runs. That's a 0.90 ERA.
Brandon Morrow continued the Jays' string of absurdly excellent starting pitching in Sunday's contest, throwing 7+ innings of one-run ball, giving up four hits and notching eight strikeouts. Despite giving up one more earned run than Morrow, Javier Vazquez may have been even better, tossing 7 innings with a season-high nine strikeouts, and only one hit -- unfortunately the one hit was a two-run homer off the bat of Vernon Wells that gave the Jays a lead in the 6th and looked like it might be enough against the Yanks' punchless offense.
However, the Jays' staff finally showed some weakness this weekend in the eighth inning. After both Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner reached base as hit batsmen -- giving the Yankees runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs -- Derek Jeter took a 1-2 pitch the other way against Scott Downs that just stayed fair for a huge run-scoring double, bringing the Yankees within one. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, no outs and the 2-3-4 hitters coming up, the Yankees had to at least tie the game.
They did, although it wasn't easy. Nick Swisher was called out on a check swing that he didn't go around on and the slumping Mark Teixeira was then questionably intentionally walked to bring Alex Rodriguez up with the bases loaded and one out. We've already seen this happen twice this season, and both times A-Rod has made teams pay with a grand slam. Unfortunately this time Alex couldn't get it done, striking out and doing do rather weakly, but during the sequence Jason Frasor uncorked a wild pitch that got away from Jose Molina, allowing Gardner to race home and tie the game.
With the prospect of another tie game on the road going into extras -- something the Yankees historically seem to have trouble with, especially in Toronto -- I was practically begging Robinson Cano to get a hit. Thankfully he apparently was listening, as he laced what would be the game-winning two-run double to right-center.
Joba Chamberlain came on in the 8th and gave up a run before recording an out, but fortunately settled down and got a huge double play, before Damaso Marte relieved him for the final out of the inning -- a huge swinging strikeout of Adam Lind.
The Yankees wasted an opportunity to add to their lead in the top of the ninth as no one was able to plate a Gardner leadoff walk, but it wouldn't end up mattering as Mariano Rivera closed the game out with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth for his 13th save of the year and securing the Yankees' 4-3 victory.
I have to admit, after the Wells home run I was starting to mentally write the game recap about how the Jays not only swept the Yanks, but made them look like a complete joke in doing so. Even with the four-run eighth inning, the Blue Jays' pitching staff did an absolutely tremendous job of shutting the Yankees' AL-leading offense down, holding the Bombers to an anemic .174 average over the three-game set.
Not only that, but the Jays' offensive attack was on full display, with eight of their 13 runs scoring via the longball, on the strength of six home runs. The Yankees hit only one home run all weekend.
It's tough to single anyone out when basically no one on the team was able to get much of anything going on offense, but the Yankees' three and four hitters were fairly culpable. Alex Rodriguez -- who was removed from the game in the 9th due to a slight groin strain but will apparently be ready to go for Tuesday night in Baltimore. Whew. -- was 3-14 with no walks, while Tex was 1-14 with one walk and seven(!) strikeouts.
I still don't know what to say about Tex, but I'm going to continue harping on him until he starts hitting. A .211 average out of the team's number-three hitter isn't just not getting the job done; it's detrimental to the offensive attack.
On the plus side of the ledger, how about that Javy Vazquez? Carrying a no-no into the sixth against the Majors' most prodigious home run-hitting team was quite the feat, and in a way it was rather fitting that the no-hitter was broken up by a home run. Still, the Yankees (and I) will happily take seven innings of two-run ball all day every day -- if Vazquez can start turning performances like this in with regularity, the Yankees should be in good position to start burning the league up in the second half a la 2009.
In any event, if one thing was made abundantly clear -- at least to me -- over the weekend it's that the Blue Jays are for real. I still don't necessarily expect them to hang in there until the bitter end -- some of these insane FIPs and SLGs are gonna have to regress at some point -- but in no way should Yankee fans view the Jays as pushovers. I'd even go so far as to say that they Toronto might still be in the mix come September, but they have to show me they can beat the Red Sox first before I start talking that kind of crazy talk. A 1-5 record against Beantown, Toronto? Maybe you guys can come to play like you did this weekend against the Yankees next time you face the Sawx.
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