TORONTO -- Justin Smoak is out to prove that he is no one-year wonder. Sunday afternoon against the Yankees was a pretty good start.Smoak capped a two-homer day with the second grand slam of his career as the Blue Jays rallied for four runs in the bottom of the eighth
TORONTO -- Justin Smoak is out to prove that he is no one-year wonder. Sunday afternoon against the Yankees was a pretty good start.
Smoak capped a two-homer day with the second grand slam of his career as the Blue Jays rallied for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off reliever Player Page for David Robertson to steal a victory away from the Yankees with a dramatic 7-4 win at Rogers Centre.
The late-inning heroics allowed the Blue Jays to avoid their first series loss to the Yankees in Toronto since Aug. 14-16, 2016. Smoak was the main reason why, finishing the day 3-for-4 with six RBIs and a pair of runs scored.
"He's off to a great start," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "A big year last year … and he has turned into a pretty good hitter. You can't do any better than he did today. Game on the line, down a run, two outs, against one of the top relievers in baseball. He's just really coming into his own, I think. A late bloomer."
Smoak was one of baseball's biggest breakout stars last season. He made the American League All-Star team for the first time, finished with 38 home runs and finally tapped into the potential that made him a first-round Draft pick and a former top prospect. There was some skepticism about Smoak being able to repeat that success again, but so far he has showed no signs of slowing down.
The 31-year-old has seven hits and eight RBIs through the first four games. Smoak is a completely different hitter than he was earlier in his career, and his at-bat against Robertson showed why. First, Smoak showcased improved plate discipline by taking two balls. Then, after he got to two strikes, Smoak fouled off three extremely difficult breaking balls before getting a fastball down the middle that he could handle.
"I feel like off of him it's always a battle," Smoak said of Robertson. "He throws any pitch, any count, and I knew I was going to be getting some curveballs in there. Once I got to two strikes, I tried to battle. He snuck a heater by me that I took earlier in the at-bat and I figured he might try to do it again and I was able to get the last one."
Neither starting pitcher factored into the decision. Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman showed no lingering effects from a right shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of Spring Training and was charged with four runs on three hits and three walks while fanning eight in five innings. Yankees right-hander Sonny Gray struck out eight and allowed just one run but had to be pulled with nobody out in the fifth because of a high pitch count.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Unsung hero:Aledmys Diaz's first hit with the Blue Jays turned out to be a big one. Diaz was held out of the starting lineup on Sunday afternoon after going hitless in his first three games with the Blue Jays. He entered in the seventh as a defensive replacement and then stepped to the plate for the first time in the bottom of the eighth. Diaz was 0-for-9 on the season, but he came through with a one-out double off Robertson, which put runners on second and third. That later prompted the Yankees to intentionally walk Josh Donaldson to get to Smoak with the bases loaded. The move quickly backfired.
"It's one of those things, it's going to happen to JD a lot," Smoak said. "He's an MVP. He's one of the best players in the game, so it's going to happen. I'm ready for it."
Stroman struggles with slider: The bottom half of New York's lineup caused a lot of problems for the Blue Jays during this four-game series and Sunday was no different. With two runs already in, Brandon Drury gave the Yankees some breathing room with a two-run shot to left-center field in the third. According to Statcast™, Drury's first homer in a Yankees uniform was estimated to travel 387 feet and left his bat at 101.4 mph. In this series, New York's final four batters in the order were responsible for five extra-base hits and nine RBIs.
"The 0-2 to Drury, I went back and looked at film, it was probably one of the worst sliders I've ever thrown in my life," Stroman said. "I'll just cast it out. That's something I think I'll hit on going forward. Just looking forward to my next start." More >
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The last time a Blue Jays player had six RBIs against the Yankees was catcher Ernie Whitt on Sept. 12, 1987. The only other Toronto player to do it was Roy Howell on Sept. 10, 1977.
The Blue Jays have homered in all four games to start the season for the first time since 2011 when the club went deep in five straight contests.
Left-hander Jaime Garcia will make his Blue Jays debut when Toronto opens a three-game series against the White Sox on Monday at 7:07 p.m. ET at Rogers Centre. Garcia has spent almost his entire nine-year career in the National League, and the White Sox are one of only four teams he has never faced.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.