TORONTO — This is the time when experience becomes pivotal.
With over 28,000 fans in the stands and their season on the line, the Toronto Blue Jays didn't need anyone to tell them Tuesday's game against the New York Yankees was a big one.
A young team, hungry to prove itself, walked onto the field at Rogers Centre two games back of a wild-card spot with a chance to make up for it against a direct rival in the Yankees. But it was New York's cold-blooded discipline that prevailed in the end.
"It wasn't so much us," said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo after his team's 7-2 loss on Tuesday. "Their bullpen did a good job. Those arms are coming out of there and they're good pitchers."
The Yankees acted like they'd been here before from the very first pitch. They didn't budge when Bo Bichette drove in George Springer to give the Jays an early lead in the first, or when their starter, Jameson Taillon, was forced to exit the game with an aggravated ankle injury just 2.1 innings in.
New York's pitchers — six of them in total — allowed just three hits, while its offence combined for 11, twice coming back from one-run deficits and keeping their cool until the right opportunity presented itself.
"All these games are going to be very important," said left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu after his start on Tuesday. "I'm going to prepare for my last start of the season and I hope that our players are going to compete and do their best until the very end."
In a game that looked like a nail-biter until the seventh frame, it seemed like luck just wasn't on the Toronto pitcher's side after dealing with neck issues last week. Ryu was solid, though far from spectacular. His velocity was up, but Ryu struggled to find his command, much to the benefit of Aaron Judge, who took advantage of a hanging sinker and crushed a solo shot in the third inning.
"I was able to execute my pitches tonight better than I was in previous outings," Ryu said after the game. "Overall I felt pretty good. ... Today, I came in and I wasn't really thinking about how many innings I was going to throw or how many pitches I was going to throw. I just wanted to focus hitter by hitter, and that's what I tried to do today."
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Ryu's second earned run was the definition of a blip. With Gio Urshela at third, Anthony Rizzo sliced up a good pitch to right field for a single. Corey Dickerson had Urshela beat on the throw to home plate, but the ball hit the Yankees baserunner and deflected away, allowing him to score easily.
That ended Ryu's night, as he left with 4.2 innings pitched, six hits allowed, three earned runs, a walk and three strikeouts.
"It's not really something that pitchers can control," Ryu said of that strange RBI single to Rizzo. "It was a very frustrating hit, especially since it led to runs and gave up the lead. I think I can speak for all pitchers when I say that it was a very frustrating hit."
Bo Bichette's night may serve as a micro illustration of the entire Blue Jays season: Flashes of genius sprinkled by youthful yet costly mistakes. Bichette finished the game with two singles and an RBI, but a bad out at third base as he tried to advance on a wild pitch stained his otherwise great performance.
Huge play by Gary Sanchez to stick with this and throw Bo Bichette out at third
The Blue Jays challenged and the call was upheld pic.twitter.com/mDrcjBgRt6
— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) September 29, 2021
After a heads-up jump that allowed him to advance from first to second on a wild pitch by Clay Holmes, Bichette thought he had enough to go from second to third when Holmes had yet another errant throw. But Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez was faster, quickly recovering and sending the ball over to DJ LeMahieu, who tagged Bichette just in time to get an out call on the field.
After a lengthy review, as the Rogers Centre crowd pleaded for an overturn, umpire Brian Knight announced the call was upheld. Instead of a man in scoring position with the game very much within reach, the Blue Jays suddenly had nobody on and two out.
That New York made it 6-2 the very next inning didn't help at all.
Giancarlo Stanton, an 11-year MLB veteran and former National League MVP, was the one who blew it wide open for New York. Stanton kept his cool through a two-out, 2-2 count until he found a pitch to hit, sending it 421 feet off Trevor Richards for a three-run homer and a 6-2 Yankees lead in the seventh.
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Richards certainly wasn't to blame for it, as Stanton's homer came off a well-placed, down-and-away changeup. The Yankees slugger is simply that good.
"I don't know how you can hit a ball like that," said Montoyo. "Richards has been good. You gotta give Stanton credit for that."
Urshela added a solo shot of his own off Anthony Castro in the ninth to seal the Yankees win when several of the available seats had already been emptied by disappointed Jays fans.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. returned to Toronto's lineup after suffering a hand injury against the Minnesota Twins on Sep. 24. Still unable to play defence, Gurriel Jr. took the DH spot, with George Springer at centerfield and newly reinstated Cavan Biggio emerging as a bench option for Toronto's outfield.
The gut-wrenching loss severely diminishes the Blue Jays' chances of reaching a wild-card spot, even with the Red Sox's 4-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. Toronto now sits one game back of Boston, while the Yankees — now three up on the Blue Jays — assume the top position in the American League wild-card race with five games left in the season.
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