NEW YORK -- The Blue Jays have scored more runs in the seventh inning or later than any team in the Major Leagues. The lineup has made comebacks part of its regular routine, and Toronto nearly pulled it off yet again on Thursday night.The Blue Jays were trailing by two
NEW YORK -- The Blue Jays have scored more runs in the seventh inning or later than any team in the Major Leagues. The lineup has made comebacks part of its regular routine, and Toronto nearly pulled it off yet again on Thursday night.
The Blue Jays were trailing by two after seven innings in the series opener against the Yankees but loaded the bases with nobody out vs. setup man Player Page for David Robertson. An eighth come-from-behind win appeared to be in the cards, but in the end the Blue Jays came up just short in a 4-3 loss to the Yankees.
Curtis Granderson cut New York's lead to one in the eighth inning, but then the ice-cold Randal Grichuk struck out on four pitches and Luke Maile followed with a flyout to left. In the ninth it was three consecutive strikeouts against the overpowering closer Albertin Chapman, and the Blue Jays dropped to 2-3 against the Yankees this season.
"That's what those guys do, that's why they're pretty good," manager John Gibbons said of Robertson and Chapman. "We had our chances. I felt good that whole night. We had the right guys coming to the plate, even in the ninth."
The Blue Jays entered Thursday leading the Majors with a .276 average, .386 on-base percentage, .509 slugging percentage and .877 OPS vs. relievers. It's one thing to put up those numbers against such weaker bullpens as those of the Royals and White Sox, but it's another beast when facing Chapman, Robertson and Dellin Betances, all of whom pitched in the series opener.
Toronto's lack of production with runners in scoring position was an issue for most of the night, with the lineup going 2-for-14 in those situations. The lack of execution was too much to overcome, even for a team that leads the Majors with 46 runs in the seventh or beyond.
"We've definitely given ourselves an opportunity to come back," Maile said. "We've had a few games where we have come back, where the game had a chance to come back, where the game had a chance to get out of hand early on and the pitching staff has kept us in it."
That was the case again on Thursday, as Aaron Sanchez tossed his third quality start in four outings this season. Sanchez took the loss despite limiting the Yankees to three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out two. One potential cause for concern is that he lost velocity as the game progressed, a continuation of a recent trend.
During Sanchez's first full season as a starter in 2016, he averaged 95.4 mph on his two-seam fastball. Last year, in limited action because of a lingering blister issue, his fastball experienced a slight dip to 95 mph. In his first three starts of 2018, his velocity dropped to 93.8 mph, and on Thursday night the two-seam fastball fell to 92.8 mph.
"It has been like that the last two starts," Sanchez admitted after the game. "I'm just trying to stay in my delivery in games like this. I don't care what my velocity is doing. Everybody knows what I can do, and when it gets hot, I'm sure you guys will see it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Judge's chambers: New York slugger Aaron Judge provided a much-needed insurance run in the bottom of the seventh. He hit his fifth home run of the season, a solo shot off reliever Tyler Clippard, so Granderson's single in the top of the eighth only cut New York's lead to one instead of tying the score. Clippard has allowed three home runs in 9 2/3 innings, and two of them were courtesy of New York.
The Maile Man delivers: Maile entered this season with a career batting average below .200, but he surprisingly has become one of Toronto's most consistent producers during the early stages of 2018. Maile singled in his first at-bat and then singled again in the fourth inning with a pair of runners on base. That tied the score at 2 and gave Maile his ninth RBI, which is two more than he had all of last year. Maile is a perfect 7-for-7 with runners in scoring position this season and has at least one hit in each of his seven games.
"I didn't know that," Maile said, somewhat confused, when asked about his seven-game hitting streak. "I feel good, I feel good up there, and I hope it continues."
Maile started the 2017 season going 0-for-23 with RISP. Since Sept. 9, 2017, he has gone 12-for-13 with RISP, including a current streak of 9-for-9 dating back to last season, a franchise record.
The Blue Jays will continue their four-game series against the Yankees on Friday night, when right-hander Marco Estrada takes the mound, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 ET. He will be opposed by New York's Sonny Gray. Estrada dealt with back spasms in his last start but is making this outing on three extra days' rest following three games that were postponed because of poor weather. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales is expected to be activated from the DL prior to this game.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.