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Vlad Guerrero Jr., and the Blue Jays stick it to the Yankees in series opener

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Damn the Yankees, indeed.

That’s certainly the mindset of the Blue Jays as it pertains to their chief American League East adversaries from the Bronx, a rivalry that gets more heated by the season.

And those feelings were the backdrop on Friday night at Yankee Stadium, where the Jays rode the bats of Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Brandon Belt and another strong showing from starter Yusei Kikuchi to a cruising 6-1 win.

They did so as the temperature of the emotions between the two continued to heat up on the opener of a weekend series.

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Take, for example, Guerrero’s off-season assertions that he likes “to play in New York and kill the Yankees” and that he “would never sign with the Yankees, not even dead.”  The Jays’ Gold Glove first baseman re-iterated those remarks to reporters in New York prior to Friday’s game and then became one of the lead characters in their first meeting of the season.

Besides a home run in the first inning and an infield single in the eighth, Guerrero was in the spotlight in the ninth inning when he took a pitch off the left elbow from Yankees reliever Gregory Weissert.

While he shook off the initial blow, the shot didn’t sit well with Guerrero. As he walked slowly to first base, he glared at the Yankees dugout and at first baseman Anthony Rizzo though umpires intervened before more trouble could ignite.

Don’t be surprised if there are some more fireworks as the three-game weekend series unfolds, however, starting with a potentially explosive Saturday afternoon matchup. That’s when Jays starter Alek Manoah’s developing verbal feud with Yankees ace Gerrit Cole moves centre stage, especially since each are getting the start for their respective teams.

And then there is the Jays’ pointed pre-season goal of winning the division, a task that back in spring seemed to mean besting the Yankees rather than the sizzling Tampa Bay Rays.

Heading into their first of 13 meetings this season — reduced from 19 with the new balanced schedule — the Jays were 24-24 against the Yankees dating back to the start of the 2020 season. That included an 8-11 mark in 2022, 5-5 in the Bronx.

With the win on Friday, the Jays pulled even with the Yankees at 12-8, four games behind the division-leading Rays.

KIKUCHI ROLLS

It was another effective outing from Kikuchi as the Japanese lefty scattered four hits and allowed just one run in six effective innings.

Kikuchi’s control was on point all game as he struck out three, including a big sixth-inning fanning of Yankees star Aaron Judge.

Four starts in, Kikuchi is settling in as the fifth starter the Jays signed him to be prior to the 2022 season. He’s allowed a single earned run in three of those starts, including the past two, and lowered his ERA to 3.80.

Kikuchi has pitched the Yankees well in his time as a Jays, holding batters to a .197 average in his six appearances last season.

For a season that started with Kikuchi heading to spring training having to earn the fifth starter’s spot, it’s been quite an emergence for the personable southpaw. And when stacked on a stellar outing by Jose Berrios in Houston on Wednesday, suddenly the back end of the rotation is showing some strength.

And how is this for the 2023 version of Kikuchi through four games: He’s 3-0 with a 3.80 ERA (21.1IP, 9ER) and 20 strikeouts and has gone six complete in each of his past two starts.

VLAD TIMES

Guerrero may have zero interest in wearing Yankee pinstripes, but the Jays slugger loves to swing a bat in the Bronx.

His first-inning homer to get the series started was his 11th in 31 games in Yankee Stadium, his most in any big league park not named the Rogers Centre.

Guerrero’s latest was a two-run blast, cashing in a leadoff double from George Springer, who ended an 0-for-20 stretch at the plate.

While it was just the fourth homer of the season for Guerrero, it renewed his powerful performances at Yankee Stadium, including a three-homer effort last April.

His persistent baiting of the Yankees is turning into an amusing sideshow as well, a regular opportunity for Guerrero to show his personality. And when he backs it up at the plate, even better. After Friday’s game, Guerrero’s average on the season is a healthy .346.

In his career, Guerrero is hitting .296 at Yankee Stadium.

IN THIS CORNER …

When it comes to Jays starter Manoah, we’ve never been a proponent of the “shut-up and pitch” crowd that thinks the big righty is too outspoken. Frankly, most in that group love his intensity when he’s out there winning ball games.

That said, what a juicy match-up in the Bronx on Saturday when Manoah looks to snap out of the worst stretch of his pro career while one of his major foils, Cole, gets the ball for the Yankees.

While both pitchers will be locked in — Manoah on returning to form, Cole on resuming one of the best early-season runs by a Yankees starter — expect fans in the Bronx to be fired up.

Manoah made comments to Cole last season, essentially challenging him to a brawl if the Yankees ace was interested in escalating things. The chirping carried into the off-season when Manoah labelled Cole as “one of the biggest cheaters in the game.”

It’s all part of the Manoah personality, a brashness that for the most part has been backed up in his performance.

He’s been fighting it so far, however, taking his 6.98 ERA into Saturday’s contest against Cole’s skimpy 0.95.

AROUND THE BASES

Belt struck out for the second time in the fourth inning — his 21st K in 41 trips — and then his form reversed dramatically. In the sixth inning he, uh, ‘belted’ his first home run as a Jay — another two-run blast — and then followed that with a two-run double in the eighth … With the win, the Jays have taken six of their past nine against the Yankees … The Jays improved to 8-6 on the road and 5-2 in series openers. 

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Blue Jays’ Chris Bassitt announces birth of child to cap ‘perfect weekend’

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The Toronto Blue Jays had a memorable few days in New York, thanks to a three-game sweep of the Mets, but that’s not the biggest reason starting pitcher Chris Bassitt is all smiles these days.

Bassitt and his wife, Jessica, welcomed their second child over the weekend, with the veteran right-hander reporting that both mother and baby are doing well.

“Perfect weekend complete,” Bassitt wrote on Twitter. “Momma and Colson are doing great.”

Jessica went into labour Friday, while her husband took his normal turn in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Bassitt channelled all of his “dad strength” in that outing against the Mets, firing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts in a 3-0 Toronto win. In a cruel twist from the universe, the start of the game was delayed more than 90 minutes due to inclement weather.

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Once his outing was over, Bassitt rushed back to Toronto via private plane to be with Jessica for Colson’s birth. He made it in plenty of time, tweeting Saturday morning that the baby hadn’t arrived yet.

The 34-year-old will now be able to enjoy a few days with his family, as the Blue Jays placed him on the paternity list Saturday. Reliever Jay Jackson took his place on the 26-man roster.

Blue Jays pitcher Chris Bassitt dominated the Mets in his outing Friday. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Blue Jays pitcher Chris Bassitt dominated the Mets in his outing Friday. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Bassitt’s Blue Jays teammates gave him even more reason to cheer by eking out a 2-1 victory Saturday before getting the brooms out with a 6-4 win in the series finale.

Brandon Belt was the hero Sunday, connecting for a go-ahead, two-run home run in the seventh inning after Toronto squandered an early 4-0 advantage. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also went deep for the Blue Jays, while Whit Merrifield delivered a two-run double in the second inning.

Next up, Toronto welcomes the Houston Astros to Rogers Centre for a four-game series that begins Monday. Bassitt is listed as the probable starter for Wednesday’s contest.

 

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Rory McIlroy (T-1) falls back on short game, stays positive with chance at Memorial

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DUBLIN, Ohio – Rory McIlroy will set out Sunday afternoon at Jack’s Place looking to secure the second leg of the “Legends Slam” with a swing that’s well short of perfect and no shortage of would-be spoilers lurking.

He couldn’t be happier.

For the third consecutive day at the Memorial, McIlroy leaned on luck and grit to keep pace with the co-leaders – Si Woo Kim and David Lipsky – at 6 under par with 10 other players within two shots of the lead. Betting lines will undoubtedly favor the world No. 3 against the other contenders, but the truth is he has no idea what to expect when he sets out in the week’s final group.


Full-field scores from the Memorial Tournament

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“I don’t think I hit a green from the eighth hole through the 14th hole, and I played those holes in even par,” McIlroy shrugged following his third-round 70. “Chip in on 12 [for birdie] and got it up-and-down from some tricky spots. I was really happy with how I scored out there and how I just sort of hung in there for most of the day.”

If McIlroy’s happy-to-be-here take doesn’t match with his world-beater persona, it’s the honest byproduct of a swing that he’s repeatedly said is a work in progress. Saturday’s round on a hard-and-fast course was the most-recent example of his very real struggle.

There was the chip-in for birdie at No. 12 from 25 feet and scrambling pars at Nos. 8, 11, 13 and 14. The major champion, whose career has been written with an overwhelming driver and sublime iron play, has now fully embraced the scrappy life.

“Embracing it,” he smiled. “There was a couple of shots out there when I missed the greens that I was sort of looking forward to hit. I think it’s embracing that challenge and embracing the fact that you’re probably not going to hit more than 12 or 13 greens out there. I think with how my short game’s been this week it’s something I’ve been able to fall back on, which has been great.”

To be fair, Rory is still Rory off the tee. He’s eighth this week in strokes gained: off the tee and second in driving distance, which at Muirfield Village is an accomplishment considering host Jack Nicklaus’ mission is to take driver out of the hands of the game’s top players.

Where the challenge has come is from the fairway and, despite his lofty status among the leaders, Saturday’s effort was his statistically worst of the week with just 7 of 18 greens in regulation and a loss to the field (1.71 shots) in strokes gained: approach the green.

Still, he’s the easy favorite with 18 holes remaining and for good reason. Other than Kim, who has four PGA Tour victories including the 2017 Players Championship, the next six players on the board have a combined four Tour victories.

“It’s a big tournament and I’ve got quite a bit of experience in that and you would like to think that gives you a little bit of an advantage,” McIlroy said. “Everyone’s going to go out there tomorrow and, regardless of where you are in the tournament, this golf course makes you a little uncomfortable anyway. So, everyone’s going to be feeling like that. With the way the leaderboard is and how bunched it is, it’s just going to come down to who can sort of hold their head the most coming down the stretch.”

 

 

 

Scottie Scheffler isn’t happy with what he’s been putting out on the course as of late, despite some solid results.

 

Considering his own assessment of his swing, keeping a positive outlook doesn’t seem to be a problem for McIlroy this week. It might have something to do with what has admittedly been a rough couple of weeks, which stretch back to his missed cut at the Masters. Or it might just be the opportunity.

When he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2018, it was two years after that tournament’s host and legend had died. For a player who grew up idolizing The King, it was a bittersweet accomplishment and a part of why Sunday at Muirfield Village is likely to mean more than the sum of its parts.

“To be able to walk up that hill from 18 and get that handshake from Jack would be pretty nice,” he said. “I won Arnold’s tournament a few years ago, but he had already passed by that time. So it would be so nice to be able to do it and have Jack be there.”

It’s been an interesting year for McIlroy both on and off the course, which at least partially explains a lightness in his step that had been missing. There was also a message from his sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, last week that appeared to resonate with the 23-time Tour winner: “You are going to win your fare share of golf tournaments. You tee it up to see what your fare share is.”

 

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Vladimir Guerrero Drives Home Winning Run, Jays Beat Mets

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Jays 2 Mets 1

Off the top, I’m pretty sure that’s the worst job we’ve seen from a plate umpire this year. He had no clue where the strike zone was. John Schneider got thrown out of the game after a particularly bad strike call on Vladimir Guerrero in the ninth.

Fortunately, Vlad still doubled down the third base line to bring in the winning run. Pretty amazing job after being down 1-2. George Springer had a one-out single and steal.

Our only other run came in the sixth. Brandon Belt led off with a double. Matt Chapman walked. Two outs later, Alejandro Kirk, singled home Belt.

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We had the bases loaded in the first but couldn’t get a run in. There were other chances but no luck.

In all we had 10 hits. Springer, Bichette, Belt and Kirk had two each. Chapman, Merrifield and Kiermaier had the 0 fors.


Jose Berrios was terrific. 5 innings, 4 hits, 3 walks and 6 strikeouts. 1 earned, scoring in the second inning, when he gave up a single to Starling Marte and a double to Daniel Vogelbach. But then he got three quick outs, and the Mets didn’t do much against him the rest of the way.

Trevor Richards, Nate Pearson (getting the win) and Erik Swanson (save #1 of the season), each pitched a scoreless inning. I didn’t understand pulling Richards after the one inning, but it all worked out. I think Pearson would have stayed out for another inning if the Jays didn’t take the lead.


Jays of the Day: Vlad (.310 WPA), Belt (.222), Swanson (.177), Berrios (.164), Pearson (.098) and Richards (.082).

The Other Award: Merrifield (-.376 for his 0 for) and Kiermaier (-.175 for his 0 for).

Tomorrow the Jays go for the sweep with Yusei Kikuchi (6-2, 4.47) vs. Kodai Senga (5-3, 3.44). It is to be a 1:30 Eastern start, but then today’s was to be a 4:00 Eastern start but the Mets had Al Leiter talking for 30 minutes about how great he was.

 

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