TORONTO -- Justin Smoak isn't generating any All-Star buzz, but maybe he should be.The 31-year-old isn't having the same kind of year he had in 2017, when he broke out by hitting 38 home runs with a .270 batting average, but he's still been one of the best first basemen
TORONTO -- Justin Smoak isn't generating any All-Star buzz, but maybe he should be.
The 31-year-old isn't having the same kind of year he had in 2017, when he broke out by hitting 38 home runs with a .270 batting average, but he's still been one of the best first basemen in the American League this season. He launched a three-run shot, his 12th home run of '18, to cap a five-run second inning and lift the Blue Jays to a 6-2 win over the Yankees on Friday night at Rogers Centre.
With Smoak's second-inning home run off Sonny Gray, Toronto's first baseman has 45 RBIs and 37 runs this season. It was his third home run in his last seven games after hitting only one in his previous 24.
"[My] timing has been a little better," Smoak said. "Trying not to do too much, and that's what happens."
It's been a down year for first basemen in the AL. Jose Abreu led the voting for AL first basemen on the final ballot update, but the White Sox slugger is not producing like he has in the past. After Friday night's action, Smoak is hitting .234 with an .800 OPS in 80 games. His batting average is low, but he leads AL first basemen with 52 walks and a .358 on-base percentage.
"I know what he means to us and to me. The big home run tonight," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I hadn't thought about the position in the big leagues. ... I don't know who's leading the All-Stars. But he really turned it on last year for us. ... He's started to heat up again a little bit now."
Abreu has 12 home runs and a .774 OPS, but the biggest difference between the two first basemen is on the defensive side. Smoak ranks second in the AL among qualified first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved with 4. Abreu ranks seventh with -6. Oakland's Matt Olson ranks first with 6 DRS.
Blue Jays starter Sam Gaviglio cruised through four innings, striking out six, but came undone in the fifth when he left the game with one out and the bases loaded after walking in a run. He allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks while throwing 101 pitches.
"He has been much better than I expected, but I didn't know much about him," Gibbons said. "He has been really good. Today was a tough one. He pitched well, but he threw a lot of pitches to do it and it caught up a little there at the end."
Toronto's bullpen closed the door on New York, pitching 4 2/3 scoreless innings. In the ninth, Gibbons turned to Tyler Clippard to finish the game.
Yangervis Solarte chipped in with three hits, his team-leading sixth game with at least three knocks. Devon Travis, Curtis Granderson and Teoscar Hernandez all added RBIs.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Biagini escapes jam:Joe Biagini got Gaviglio off the hook in the fifth by fighting out of a 3-0 hole to strike out Giancarlo Stanton with the bases loaded. Gaviglio had been cruising through four innings when he gave up a leadoff single to Austin Romine. Two batters later, Brett Gardner hit a line-drive single to center and Aaron Judge followed by hitting a dribbler to third that Solarte fumbled for an error to load the bases. Gaviglio couldn't get Aaron Hicks to chase on a full-count outside sinker to walk in a run and end his night. After striking out Stanton, Biagini got Didi Gregorius to line out to end the inning.
"He looks like he did a couple of years ago," Gibbons said of Biagini. "His stuff is better and he has proven that he can be a good reliever."
Biagini recorded a win in Friday night's game, ending his streak of 10 consecutive losing decisions. He last earned a win on July 26, 2017.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Gibbons' 80-year-old mother, Sallie, threw out the first pitch to Friday night's game. According to Gibbons, his mother decided she wasn't getting any younger and after seeing other mothers throw out the first pitch, she wanted to give it a shot. Sallie walked out to just in front of the mound and threw a one-hopper to her son standing in front of the plate. After the pitch she signed the ball for her son.
"It made my night, that's for sure," the manager said. "Good thing we got the win, now she'll think she's responsible. … It's something she will always remember, I know that." More >
J.A. Happ (10-4, 4.03 ERA) could be making one of his final starts for the Blue Jays when he takes the mound against the Yankees on Saturday at 4:07 p.m. ET. The 35-year-old is a likely trade chip for Toronto, and the Blue Jays are hoping he can recover some of his trade value after he surrendered seven runs in a 5 2/3-inning outing against the Tigers last time out. New York will send Luis Severino (13-2, 1.98 ERA) to the mound at Rogers Centre. Severino has allowed only one run to the Blue Jays in two outings this season.
Aaron Rose is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.