TORONTO – In the aftermath of a doubleheader sweep that pushed the Toronto Blue Jays’ season-high losing streak to five games, manager Charlie Montoyo didn’t like the vibe around his young club. Between a three-game pummelling in the Bronx from the New York Yankees to the messy twin-bill against the Philadelphia Phillies, it hasn’t been a banner week. The struggles are especially ill-timed amid the pressures of trying to secure a post-season berth.
So, Montoyo decided it was time for the group hold its first meeting of the campaign. He ran the idea by the rest of the coaching staff, and they agreed that the time was right. Before batting practice, the Blue Jays gathered and talked.
“I told them how proud I am of our team after everything they’ve gone through and that we’re still in a good spot,” said Montoyo, pointing out how back in July the team would gladly have taken a four-game lead in the standings with nine games to play. “Guys forget, we’re a young team going through this right now. I just told them basically, embrace it. I saw the guys’ faces, it looks like they’re going to embrace it and go out and have fun.”
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Trying to ease the current burden makes sense, although turning around the recent run of poor play isn’t nearly that simple. Even with Hyun-Jin Ryu continuing to serve as a stability post in an unsteady rotation, the Blue Jays’ inability to sync up good pitching with productive hitting cost them once again Saturday night in a 3-1 to the Phillies that made it six straight losses.
This time it was Vince Velasquez who kept them under wraps, allowing only two hits – an infield single to Teoscar Hernandez in the first and a Travis Shaw solo shot in the fifth – and three walks over six strong innings. That the Blue Jays swung at 14 pitches blatantly out of the strike zone, likely a byproduct of the urgency they’re feeling, certainly helped him out.
“Our approach was not really good,” said Montoyo.
Relievers Blake Parker, David Phelps and Tommy Hunter locked things down for the Phillies, who made a pair of runs scratched off Ryu in the fifth stand up. Taijuan Walker starts Sunday trying to keep the Blue Jays (26-26) from both suffering a second consecutive sweep, and from dropping beneath .500 for the first time since Aug. 19.
“It was a good time for (a meeting),” said Shaw. “(Montoyo) is spot on with the vibe, it’s been a little bit down the last couple of days, New York was a shell-shock in a way. We were playing really well and to get beat like that three games in a row, opens your eyes a bit, a little bit of humble pie. We were playing so well, we were on such a high. That can be a good thing, too.
“We still have a week to right the ship here, get a little bit better momentum heading into the playoffs,” Shaw continued. “It did show us that there are some good teams out there, we’re going to play some good teams going into the post-season. The few I’ve been a part of, pitching is always going to be really good in the post-season. Offensively, we need to pick it up a little bit. The last three games here haven’t been very good. Hopefully we can get it going (Sunday).”
A saving grace for the Blue Jays is that despite the bad week, they remain in firm possession of the final wild-card berth thanks to the struggles of the teams behind them in the standings. It will take an epic collapse on their end and a significant rally by one of the laggards to keep them from capitalizing on the shortened season and expanded playoffs.
Still, the last thing the Blue Jays want to do is stumble into the post-season to be someone else’s first-round fodder, which was another factor in Montoyo’s intervention.
“We’ve gone through so much and we’re in this spot, this late in the season – I’m so proud of this team. I wanted them to know that, coming from me,” he said. “I felt like today was good timing after everything we’ve gone through, the doubleheader (Friday) to talk to them.”
At one point, Montoyo called on veteran infielder Joe Panik, a member of the 2014 World Series champion San Francisco Giants, to address the group, and he reinforced the idea that things aren’t easy at this time of year, but the challenge is something to relish.
“He did a great job,” said Montoyo.
So, too, did Ryu, who cruised through the first four frames but was in trouble immediately in the fifth, after Shaw’s homer had opened up a 1-0 lead. Jay Bruce opened the inning with a double, Scott Kingery sacrificed him to third, and Andrew Knapp followed with a single that tied things up.
After an Adam Haseley single, Andrew McCutchen snuck a base hit up the middle to push across the go-ahead run. Ryu settled down after that and finished with eight strikeouts over six frames.
“This week has been tough mentally for the pitchers but also for the hitters,” Ryu said through interpreter Bryan Lee. “We’re definitely in a touch stretch, there’s no denying that. Especially in today’s game, when we did get the go-ahead run, I thought it was very crucial for me to make sure I keep the team in a better place than giving up runs right after. A lot of it was my part in the way we couldn’t finish the game today and going forward we definitely need a win because losing this many games will definitely hurt us in the long run.”
Velasquez did him one better, throwing a fastball that averaged 93.7 m.p.h., 63 times in 104 pitches. And instead of finding relief, they found more frustration.
“Right now, I think that that comes with losing six in a row, guys are just pressing a little bit,” said Shaw. “We get something good to happen and it can snowball from there. When it’s going negatively, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s all hitting us at once this road trip. Sucks to be going through it this late in the season, as we’re approaching the post-season, but we still have a week to get back on the right side of things.”
The sooner they do, the lower the stakes in their remaining eight games.
Mighty Heart, horse with N.S. connection, falls short in bid for Canadian Triple Crown – CBC.ca
Mighty Heart, the one-eyed colt with a Nova Scotia connection, narrowly missed winning the OLG Canadian Triple Crown on Saturday.
“It’s been a crazy journey,” Cape Breton’s Siobhan Brown, Mighty Heart’s groom, said from Toronto before the Breeders’ Stakes race, the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
The three-year-old horse took an early lead at the Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, but fell short after he ran out of steam, finishing seventh.
His stablemate, Belichick, captured the title instead.
Mighty Heart, nicknamed Willie, lost his left eye in a paddock accident when he was just two weeks old — but he’s never let that stop him.
Last month, he won the Queen’s Plate, the opening leg of the Triple Crown with a winning time of 2:01.98, the second-fastest since 1957. He went on to capture the second jewel, the Prince of Wales Stakes, only a couple weeks later.
If he had won the Breeders’ Stakes, he would become the first horse since Wando in 2003 to capture the Triple Crown — and the first to do it with one eye.
Brown has been Mighty Heart’s groom since last year. She said she understands Mighty Heart’s disability because she has epilepsy.
“I totally get, you know, not being all there so we just kind of bonded from that and it’s been really nice,” she said.
But she said it was his personality, sense of humour and his kindness that made her want to be his groom.
“He just needs some love and he’s one of those [horses] that needs that confidence boost and time and patience,” she said.
“… And the more I’ve worked with him now, I’ve just absolutely fallen in love with him.”
Earlier Saturday, Brown said her family back home in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were rooting for Mighty Heart.
“It’s so amazing to see such a community come together for something that nobody really knew anything about, because we don’t have thoroughbred racing at home.”
UFC 254 results: Robert Whittaker outstrikes Jared Cannonier to win unanimous decision – MMA Fighting
The former champion put on a technical striking showcase to avoid Jared Cannonier’s power for the better part of all three rounds before earning a unanimous decision in the co-main event on Fight Island. The judges all scored the fight 29-28 with Whittaker earning his second straight win after defeating Darren Till back in July.
“I’m very happy,” Whittaker said. “Obviously we got the result we wanted. It was a good fight, he’s a tough guy.”
The middleweight clash was really a display of speed and accuracy against a whole lot of power as Whittaker was fast with his hands and feet while Cannonier was looking for the knockout with almost every shot thrown. While Whittaker was connecting with better volume, Cannonier fired back with a series of thudding leg kicks that left a serious mark behind the former champion’s knee.
As time passed, Whittaker really started to establish his lead jab, which Cannonier was struggling to avoid. Whittaker continuously flicked out the jab and the straight punches were giving Cannonier problems as he looked for a way to counter.
While the leg kicks were still paying dividends for Cannonier, he just couldn’t keep up with Whittaker’s pace where he was throwing and connecting with much more regularity.
With Cannonier trying to find an answer to the punches, Whittaker set up a beautiful combination that he capped off with a staggering head kick. The shot glanced off Cannonier’s head and he was immediately rattled but he managed to survive the subsequent onslaught.
As the final round was coming to a close, Cannonier cracked Whittaker with a hard punch that wobbled the former champion momentarily but he wasn’t able to capitalize. The fight ended with both fighters launching shots at each other as the middleweights left everything in the cage.
After losing his title to Israel Adesanya almost exactly one year ago, Whittaker has now dispatched two top ranked middleweights in a row. With these past pair of performances, Whittaker may be looking at a rematch with Adesanya once both fighters are ready to return in 2021.
Time check! Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje will fight at UFC 254 around 4:15 p.m. ET today – MMA Mania
We are just hours away from one of the biggest lightweight battles in recent UFC history as undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov meets interim titleholder Justin Gaethje for the undisputed belt this afternoon (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020) at UFC 254 live on ESPN+ PPV from inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.
Nurmagomedov, who is currently 12-0 in UFC competition, is hoping to push his overall MMA record to 29-0 with a win over “Highlight.” It won’t be easy, though, even for a dominant champion like Khabib. That’s because “Eagle” will be competing for the first time in over 13 months, the first time without his father by his side, and the first time in front of no fans. It will be a shock to say the least, but one that Nurmagomedov should be able to handle.
Gaethje, who destroyed Tony Ferguson this past May to claim the interim strap, is hoping to pull off the biggest upset in recent UFC history. The “Most Violent Man in the Sport” has all the ingredients to take it to Khabib and give him his toughest test to date, but it’s all going to come down to whether or not Gaethje can keep his back off the cage and feet on the ground. If he can do that and utilize his elite collegiate wrestling background then maybe Gaethje can actually pull it off.
It will be a lightweight title fight for the ages, but when exactly should fight fans expect Khabib and Gaethje to step inside of the cage on a loaded PPV card smack dab in the middle of the day?
With five other fights taking place on the PPV main card starting at 2:00 p.m. ET, Khabib vs. Gaethje is likely to begin sometime around 4:30 p.m. ET. The co-main event will showcase a middleweight scrap between former UFC champion Robert Whittaker and rising contender Jared Cannonier, which could very well end in spectacular fashion early. Mix in a heavyweight class between Alexander Volkov and Walt Harris, as well as a rematch between light heavyweight finishers Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba, and UFC 254 might move along quicker than anticipated.
If things run early/late Mania will be sure to provide an updated start time for today’s Khabib vs. Gaethje main event.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 254 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN2 at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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