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Blue Jays in control of own fate as remarkable run brings Yankees sweep

Blue Jays in control of own fate as remarkable run brings Yankees sweep

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NEW YORK – Just how well are things going for the Toronto Blue Jays right now?

Well, in the fourth inning Thursday night, Giancarlo Stanton led off the frame with a laser to left field, turned for second base and then went all Neo from The Matrix to avoid the tag from Marcus Semien after getting beaten to the bag by Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s strong throw.

Second base umpire Ryan Blakney called him safe, the Blue Jays asked for a review and while one replay appeared to show Semien getting Stanton’s right leg just before his hand touched the bag, there was enough grey to think the call wouldn’t be overturned. It was.

Leading off the next inning, Randal Grichuk had battled Nestor Cortes for six pitches when the lefty fired in a four-seamer right at the bottom of the zone for pitch No. 7.

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Gary Sanchez did a rather poor job of framing it, Doug Eddings called it a ball, the count went full and two foul balls later (pitches eight and nine), Grichuk turned on No. 10, another four-seamer, and sent it 422 feet at 106.1 m.p.h over the wall in left.

And even after fortune sent a nod the New York Yankees’ way in the sixth inning, when Aaron Judge’s grounder to third deflected off the base for a single ahead of Anthony Rizzo’s game-tying two-run homer, a Blue Jays lineup decision quickly corrected the ledger. Bo Bichette, moved up to the leadoff spot against Cortes, came up with two on and two out in the seventh to deliver a go-ahead RBI single in a 6-4 win that was his team’s eighth straight victory.

Bichette also went deep to open the game, Jose Berrios was brilliant again and after sweeping a four-game set in the Bronx, the Blue Jays are now a mere half-game back of the Yankees for the second wild card, and 1.5 games behind the idle Boston Red Sox for the first.

Given that they still have games in hand on both clubs, the Blue Jays are fully in control of their own fate. A remarkable run that began with a rally from a six-run deficit in the eighth inning against the Oakland Athletics last week is wholly responsible for that, a stretch in which they’ve played some of their best, most consistent and smartest baseball of the season.

An example came in a high-leverage, high-drama bottom of the eighth, when D.J. LeMahieu and Aaron Judge opened the inning with singles against Tim Mayza, who was facing the Yankees for the third time in four nights. Anthony Rizzo followed with a grounder to first that Vladimir Guerrero Jr., fielded and immediately fired to second to leave runners on the corners with one out.

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It was a difficult play and he easily could have opted to play things safe and take the out at first base. But that played huge when three pitches later, Stanton hit into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play and then he doubled down in the top of the ninth when he clubbed home run No. 42, giving him 100 RBIs for the season.

While Mayza wasn’t credited with a save, his inning was the latest of several pivotal frames delievered by an oft-maligned bullpen that for months was a soft spot. Breyvic Valera followed Guerrero’s solo shot in the ninth with an RBI double that eased the pressure on Nate Pearson in the ninth, and the righty gave up two-out homers to Sanchez and Luke Voit before closing things out.

Berrios, of course, was the foundation for the night with 6.2 innings of dominance, his only mistake coming on a centre-cut fastball that Rizzo launched over the wall in right. He allowed five hits and walked two while striking out eight, shoving his sinker down the Yankees’ throats before cork-screwing them into the ground with a mesmerizing curveball that was part filth, part art.

Having swept through the Bronx, the Blue Jays head to Baltimore for four games, including a double-header Saturday in which both Ross Stripling and Thomas Hatch could be used in the nightcap after Hyun Jin Ryu handles the opener.

They could also get George Springer back Friday after the star outfielder felt much stronger Thursday after fouling a ball off his troubled left knee earlier this week. Springer ran and took batting practice on the field, and the discussion the Blue Jays are having is whether it makes more sense for him to rest up more and get stronger for the final stretch or return now to find a groove in the coming games.

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