After two long years, the Blue Jays streak of futility in Yankee Stadium has been put to bed. The team won Saturday and Sunday to end a 17-game losing streak in New York, moving them back into second place in the East.
More importantly is this: as of right now, July 28, 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays are a playoff team, holding down the second Wild Card.
After losing Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion, and putting out a lineup full of waiver pickups and minor leaguers, for the Jays to be able to say that is truly impressive. It’s only a matter of time until the troops come back, meaning the team is only a few days or weeks away from reaching full strength.
Meaning we just may yet see some meaningful games in September.
Here are three things from week 17:
Week 17: July 21 – July 27
Record: 5 – 2
1. Absolutely Huge
August 29, 2012. That was the last time the Toronto Blue Jays won a game in Yankee Stadium. The last place Jays, led by John Farrell, beat the first place Yankees 8 – 5 behind a 4-hit, 5-RBI game by Yunel Escobar. Since then, Toronto has experienced nothing but misery in New York, and it didn’t look like this trip would be much different. 16 straight losses became 17 on Friday night, after Mark Buehrle squandered an early 3 – 0 lead and the Jays lost 6 – 4.
But something happened on Saturday, something that many fans might not have expected. An injury ravaged team, paced by a pitcher who was absolutely crushed in his previous start, showed some resolve and finally won a game in Yankee Stadium. Dan Johnson played the hero with 4 RBI, and Drew Hutchison redeemed himself with 6.2 strong innings. Not to be outdone, the Jays won again on Sunday. Despite blowing three leads, Bautista and Navarro came up big in the 9th to bring home the victory.
At the end of the day, this will go down as a series victory for the Jays, but this represents so much more than a series win. This is the exorcising of demons, this is the proof and the belief that this team can win, and this is the type of confidence builder that propels teams on to bigger and better things. The Blue Jays now find themselves alone in second, holding down a Wild Card spot, and only 3 games back of Baltimore. They now face seven straight games against weak teams (Boston, Houston) before a showdown with the Orioles in Toronto.
If the team keeps up this hot streak, we can point to this win in Yankee Stadium as the catalyst.
2. The Kids Are Shining
What a week for the rookies.
On Monday the Blue Jays were humiliated at home by the Red Sox 14 – 1, and responded by calling up top pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez. They didn’t waste any time using him either, bringing Sanchez in for his major league debut on Wednesday night. And the team didn’t simply hand him an easy assignment, asking him to pitch the 7th and 8th innings against the heart of the Red Sox order with a one-run lead. All the kid did was go 6-up, 6-down with two strikeouts, preserving the lead and earning a hold. He was at it again yesterday, earning his first major league win despite finally allowing his first hit and first run. All-in-all, a very solid first week.
But solid will not describe the week that Marcus Stroman had. The other Jays rookie was spectacular. Facing Boston on Thursday afternoon, Stroman was tossing a no-hitter through six innings, completely dominating Red Sox hitters. A soft single by Shane Victorino ended the no-no bid but didn’t take the shine off the outing: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. It was one of the best starts all year by a Toronto pitcher and gave the team a series win.
We can’t expect performances like those each time out, but one thing we can say with certainty: the future looks bright, and so does the present.
3. The Reawakening
Last week in this column I detailed the recent struggles of Jose Bautista. Since the injury to Encarnacion the slugger had fallen on hard times, and he needed to turn things around for the team to have any chance at the playoffs.
Well, consider Joey Bats to be reawakened. In seven games last week Bautista was key in leading the team to a 5-2 record. He went 9 for 24, with a .375 average, .500 OBP, 1.375 OPS, 3 HR, 7 RBI, and 3 2B. He almost single-handedly willed the Jays to a win yesterday by coming up with a huge stolen base in the ninth subsequently scoring on Dioner Navarro’s single.
There’s no surprise that Bautista’s success and the team’s success are directly correlated. Hopefully he keeps it up in the weeks ahead.