NEW YORK – Make it two in a row for the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium following Sunday's grind-it-out, 5-4 victory, a monumental accomplishment when contrasted with the 17-game losing skid that ended with Saturday's win in the Bronx.
Suddenly, after six weeks of bad baseball compounded by a rash of injuries to vital cogs like Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind, the Blue Jays (56-50) are 7-3 out of the All-Star Break and have crucial series wins over the Red Sox (three out of four) and the Yankees (two out of three).
The Blue Jays will travel by train to Boston on Sunday evening in preparation for a three-game series with the Red Sox. Regardless of the result of the Orioles-Mariners game in Seattle, the Blue Jays will wake up on Monday morning in sole possession of second place in the American League East and, perhaps more importantly, in sole possession of the lead for the American League's coveted second wild card spot.
It wasn't pretty at times. The Jays blew leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 on Sunday but in a test-of-the-mettle type of game, the club went ahead for good when Dioner Navarro singled home Jose Bautista with two outs in the ninth. That the base hit came off Yankees' closer David Robertson and combined with the fact that Bautista had stolen second to get into scoring position, it seemed a solid way to cap a solid weekend.
Bautista wants his team to believe it's good.
"We need to sometimes have that swagger and that attitude that we are a good team," said Bautista. "At times when we lose a couple in a row, it seems like we lose it a little bit, lose that edge. I'm not saying we don't compete, we don't show up on time and do our work and do our preparation. We're great about that but at times you can see it on the field and in the clubhouse, if we lose a couple in a row and they're tough games, it's like the energy goes down a little bit."
Sanchez wins his first game
Rookie Aaron Sanchez picked up his first career major league victory in Sunday's win.
He wasn't entirely satisfied.
"Maybe not so much the way I would have liked it to have," said Sanchez of the way the win played out. "We score a run there in the eighth and I go back out there and for me, I need to do a better job of shutting that inning down so they don't have to fight for another one but those guys picked me up and it's such an awesome feeling right now to get my first win, especially here in Yankee Stadium."
Sanchez pitched a three-up, three-down seventh on three groundballs to preserve a 3-3 tie.
After Colby Rasmus drew a walk and advanced two bases on a pickoff attempt throwing error by Yankees' reliever Dellin Betances, Munenori Kawasaki's sacrifice fly scored Rasmus to give Toronto a 4-3 lead in the eighth.
Sanchez gave up a leadoff single to Brett Gardner in the eighth. Gardner advanced to second on a Derek Jeter sacrifice bunt and scored on a two-out single by Carlos Beltran. The game was tied 4-4.
Sanchez was still the pitcher of record when the Blue Jays went ahead in the ninth. Casey Janssen worked a clean inning for his 16th save.
One day after revealing publicly that Edwin Encarnacion isn't close to returning to the lineup due to a right quadriceps strain, the Blue Jays trimmed their bloated infirmary by one in welcoming back outfielder Nolan Reimold.
Pitcher Esmil Rogers was designated for assignment to make room for Reimold on the active roster.
"To get another position player up here," said manager John Gibbons, explaining the move. "Another right-handed bat instead of having eight bullpen guys."
Reimold arrived at Yankee Stadium about two hours before Sunday's game and wasn't in the starting lineup. Coming off a left calf strain suffered while running the bases in the July 11 game at Tampa Bay, Reimold won't be in the outfield for at least "a couple of days," according to Gibbons.
He was available to pinch hit and will be used as a designated hitter. Expect to see him in Wednesday's starting lineup when the Jays face Red Sox ace lefthander Jon Lester.
"He's a good pitcher so it'll be good to get back in there and compete again," said Reimold.
Reimold was just getting settled with his new team when he was bitten by the injury bug. It's been a consistent theme throughout the 30-year-old's career. He's had two major neck surgeries, spinal fusion. The second procedure was required to correct the first, which didn't take.
The calf strain happened as he was running to third on a base hit. He'd never had a problem in that area before.
"It's very frustrating," said Reimold. "But it's behind me now. No issues; you know, get back at it again and start over."
In four games with the Jays, his first big league games of the season after being picked up on waivers from the Orioles, Reimold showed flashes of the player the Blue Jays believe he can be. He had two hits, including a double, and three RBI in an 8-7 loss to the Angels in Anaheim.
Rogers, who turns 29 on August 14, will be exposed to irrevocable waivers for the second time this season. While it's likely he clears and is assigned, once again, to Triple-A Buffalo, the Blue Jays would be content for another team to take a flier on Rogers and pick up the remainder of his $1.85-million salary.
Rogers played a significant role in Toronto last season, making 44 appearances, including 20 starts to cover for an injury-depleted rotation. He was initially shipped out in mid-May, following a series at Fenway Park. At the time, he led the entire staff with five home runs allowed. His regression isn't a story exclusive to Rogers. The Jays' relief corps also has been burdened by down seasons from two 2013 All-Stars, Steve Delabar (now pitching for Buffalo) and Brett Cecil.
What makes the Rogers situation hurt more is what general manager Alex Anthopoulos gave up to get him. Catcher Yan Gomes is a regular in Cleveland and Mike Aviles is a serviceable utility infielder. For the cash-strapped Blue Jays, Rogers' salary is burdensome with ownership apparently unwilling to take on money in a midseason trade.
There's no timeline for Encarnacion's return to the lineup after he suffered a setback in his rehabilitation from a right quadriceps strain, an injury sustained on July 5.
In Encarnacion's absence, Reimold's potentially potent righthanded bat will be a welcome addition to Gibbons' lineup.