Monday’s Blue Jays series finale against the Yankees had everything, and it could be pivotal in the Jays season — not necessarily because of the result, but due to the fallout from two bench-clearing incidents in the second inning.
Ok, the result may be a critical factor too. Going into the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead, Jason Grilli came on for the save (Roberto Osuna had pitched in back-to-back games). Every ball hit off him was hard, including Mark Texeira’s game-tying homer and Aaron Hicks two-run blast which highlighted a five-run Yankees outburst. Despite a valiant comeback effort, the Jays fell short 7-5.
Fans should be quite concerned with the state of the bullpen going into these final six games. Osuna’s fastball was down 3 to 4 miles an hour in his blown save on Sunday and now with the possibility set-up man Joaquin Benoit (0.42 ERA with the Jays since being traded from Seattle) has suffered a significant leg injury in the melee (he was seen on crutches after last night’s game), who in the pen can be relied upon? The bullpen is going to have to find a way to lock down three wins this week if the Jays are to host next week’s wildcard game. Joe Biagini and Brett Cecil may end up in a spotlight much bigger than they anticipated in this final stretch. Add to that the questionable status of second baseman and leadoff hitter Devon Travis, who left the game in the 6th with shoulder trouble, and you’ll excuse me if my mind wanders back to the final week 29 years ago (see my previous blog).
I’m not sure if it’s me (I was at last year’s bench-clearing fracas with the Royals as well), or if it was Team Canada’s visit to the dressing room Sunday, but it’s evident there is plenty of fight on this Blue Jays club. There is plenty of blame to go around for the series of events last night. Full blame for the second bench-clearing goes to plate umpire Todd Tichenor, who didn’t have the courage to back up his own warning when Luis Severino’s first pitch to Justin Smoak in the bottom of the 2nd was clearly aimed at him. Everyone in the park knew it. If he ejects Severino right there, the second brou-ha-ha doesn’t happen.
Whether or not Severino was trying to hit Donaldson intentionally an inning earlier is irrelevant, the enforcement of the “code” should have ended after Happ hit Headley, causing the first bench-clearing. Instead, the Yankees acted like the 1987 Soviet world junior team in the Piestany punch-up. Out of contention for a medal and Canada playing for gold, the Soviets started an epic brawl which saw both teams disqualified from the tournament. If we’re not going to win it, neither are you. Hardly the Yankee way.
So instead of a two-game lead over Baltimore, it’s one game as the Orioles and Jays begin a three-game set tonight at Rogers Centre. The Jays have won 5 of 7 over the Orioles at home this year, and have traditionally fared well against the O’s when the chips are down (see the final weekend of the 1989 season). Winning 2 of 3 sets the Jays up well to host the AL wildcard next week…but winning two of their final six is an absolute must if this veteran-laden team is to make the post-season. The margin for error is now that razor-thin.