NEW YORK - In this summer of deep, dark discontent, the Blue Jays will inhale positive reinforcement whenever and wherever they can.
Wednesday they found some in an unlikely place.
Yankee Stadium has been as unkind to Toronto as any ballpark in the majors, but Wednesday's 8-5 victory produced the first Blue Jay series win here in more than two years against a first-place New York Yankee team that is starting to feel the heat of pursuit.
Indeed, in this series, the Yankees looked ragged and vulnerable.
“This was a day where we got big contributions from a number of guys,” said Jays manager John Farrell. “Yunel (Escobar) had a big game offensively with the two-run homer and then the two-run double in the eighth to give us some breathing room.”
“And Jay Happ had to grind his way through five innings. (The Yankees) challenged him but he did a good job.”
With both Baltimore and Tampa closing in on the Bronx Bombers, who once led the AL East by 10 games, they needed to beat up on the struggling Jays but managed to lose two of three to a club that came into this series on a seven-game losing streak, winners of only three of their previous 18.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar was the offensive star for the Jays, belting a home run to go along with his three doubles and driving in five runs during his third four-hit game of the year.
The Jays now come back to Toronto for a seven-game homestand against both the Rays and Orioles, while the Yankees play those same two teams in reverse order.
Toronto starter J.A. Happ continued to impress, limiting the Yankees to just five hits and four runs over five innings, despite falling behind 2-0 in the first inning. Happ walked five, one intentionally, but generally managed the Yankee lineup, making good pitches when he needed to.
Happ was especially resourceful in the fourth inning when the Yanks loaded the bases with one out. The lefty then struck out two of New York's best hitters in Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano.
The Jays scored three times in the third inning against CC Sabathia to overcome New York’s early lead. Sabathia has a long history of dominance over the Jays lineup but not this day. They loaded the bases with nobody out on two singles and an error but the Yanks appeared to have muted the damage with a double-play, cutting off a run at the plate. Toronto responded with three consecutive two-out hits, producing RBI’s for Edwin Enarnacion, Adam Lind and Yunel Escobar.
After New York regained the lead on a line drive that was misjudged by left fielder Rajai Davis that turned into a two-run double, Escobar reclaimed the lead for Toronto with his eighth home run of the season, a two-run shot with nobody out in the sixth. Toronto added an insurance run in the eighth on a successful squeeze by catcher Jeff Mathis, scoring Escobar from third.
They would need that run. A leadoff double by pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez in the eighth, followed by a freakish double by catcher Russell Martin on a ball that hit the third base bag and hopped high over Adeiny Hechavarria’s head, pulled the Yanks to within a run. Ichiro Suzuki then hit a looper into short centre field but Colby Rasmus made an outstanding diving catch for the first out before reliever Brandon Lyon got Eric Chavez on strikes and Derek Jeter on a flyball to right.
“You can’t say enough about the big pitches Brandon Lyon had to make in the eighth inning,” said Farrell.
The Jays put it away in the top of the ninth on Escobar’s third double, a two-run opposite-field shot that scored a pair.
Happ has been a much-needed breath of fresh air for the beleaguered Toronto starting rotation since coming over from Houston. In the last three of his five starts he has faced Yu Darvish, Justin Verlander and now Sabathia and has kept his team in each of those games.
Wednesday, he limited the Yankees 2-3-4-5 hitters to a total of two hits.
“J.A. is not pitching against the other starting pitcher,” said Farrell. “But he’s been in low-run games and been in tight situations where he’s pitched effectively. Situations have called for him to make key pitches and he’s been able to get a strikeout with men in scoring position on a number of occasions.
“It speaks to the type of stuff he has. When you talk about the uncertainty of pitchers coming from the National League to the American League, the swing-and-miss capability, no matter which league you’re pitching in, is definitely a positive.”