TORONTO – Three cities, 10 games, 10 days.
The Blue Jays embark on the longest remaining road trip of the season having concluded a successful 5-2 homestand against Texas and Boston, two of the American League's weaker sisters.
The fun begins at House of Horrors North (with deference paid to Tropicana Field, the Jays' original House of Horrors), also known as Yankee Stadium, where Toronto is winless in its last 16 games dating back to an August 29, 2012 victory. On that day, J.A. Happ got the win in relief and CC Sabathia took the loss.
Players insist they pay no mind to the skid in the Bronx.
"Playing a team in our division that's right there with us, having said that the success or failures in New York, we just don't think about it," said closer Casey Janssen. "I know that the media loves to take this on but we just haven't played well there. We can beat them at home. We can beat them on the road. We can. We just haven't."
"Those guys are aware of it but I don't know if you need to have a team meeting over it," said manager John Gibbons. "Go out and play harder? I don't know."
There was no Curse of the Bambino. No billy goat has prevented the listless Cubs from reaching a World Series since 1945. There is no hex on the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, even if it feels like it.
The coaches discuss the Yankee Stadium issue in meetings.
"The bottom line is it's always been a tough place to win anyway," said Gibbons. "I don't remember it being this difficult and it's strange because we've always played pretty good at Fenway."
Gibbons hinted he'll make one change prior to Friday's game. The team won't take batting practice on the field, opting for the underneath cage instead. The skipper joked that he wants to avoid seeing the "Yankeeography" show the hometown team runs on its scoreboard during visitor's batting practice. On a daily basis, the Yankees pump out content reliving one of the franchise's numerous excellent decades or profiling one of club's legendary players.
The Blue Jays go to Boston for three games to start next week and follow that up with four games against the Astros in Houston. The non-waiver trade deadline, July 31, falls on the day the club arrives deep in the heart of Texas.
The Jays will enter Yankee Stadium tied with New York for second in the American League East, three games behind Baltimore for the division lead and a half-game ahead of Seattle for the second wild card spot.
Both Toronto and New York have won three straight games heading into their series. The Jays throw, in this order, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ. The Yankees throw, in this order, Hiroki Kuroda, Shane Greene and Chase Whitley.
Surely, the odds would suggest the Blue Jays will nip this Bronx skid in the bud.
"Half these guys weren't here to lose with us or turn it around," said Janssen. "When we walk in to any place we expect to win. Yankee Stadium is no different."
STROMAN BRILLIANT AGAIN
There isn't much to be said about Marcus Stroman. His pitching is doing the proverbial talking.
The 23-year-old rookie tossed seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball in Thursday afternoon's 8-0 win over the Red Sox, a victory which gave Toronto a three-out-of-four series victory. He teased a no-hitter through six complete. At that time, Stroman had thrown 91 pitches.
Would manager John Gibbons have allowed Stroman to work into the ninth, likely at 120 pitches or more, had Shane Victorino not led off the seventh with a single?
"You'll never know. You'll never know," joked Gibbons.
"I think they would have let me go," said Stroman. "I'm pretty sure they would have let me go. But, yeah, they're definitely watching pitches so it becomes tough if I would have got up into the ninth and I would have had 120, 130 pitches, it's almost like, what do you do? I'm pretty sure they would have let me go. I think they have the confidence in me to let me go now."
It's a double-edged sword.
"I can't say I'm glad he gave up a hit," said Gibbons. "That was going through our minds. This keeps going, you know you've got a young kid, you're trying to win a division, you know, do you keep throwing him out there over and over? I don't know if relief is the right word but (giving up a hit) didn't hurt."
Stroman, in 10 big league starts, has a 2.21 ERA. In four of his last five starts, each at least 6 2/3 innings, he has held his opponent scoreless while still in the game.
He was charged with two earned runs in a loss to the White Sox on June 28. Those two runs crossed when Dustin McGowan, in relief of Stroman who had left with two runners on, allowed a three-run home run to Chicago's Dayan Viciedo.