TORONTO — It's as close as a half-inch.
Between home run near-misses and one single bad inning from their ace, the Toronto Blue Jays once again were undone by their minuscule margin for error on Thursday, falling to the New York Yankees 6-2 and taking the loss in a season-defining series.
Facing Cy Young candidate Robbie Ray and counting on a much larger cushion as the Wild Card leaders, the Yankees stuck to a very simple approach.
"I think it was just, kind of the product of the whole game," said Ray after a game in which he allowed four hits and four home runs. "I think that their game plan against me was to try to lay off the slider and get a fastball out over. And the home runs, I think they were all on fastballs. So, I just gotta do a better job of being able to land that slider early. Because I feel like if I lay my slider early in the counts and during the game, then I start to get those chases later in the game."
It took until the sixth inning to yield results, but that's the beauty of controlling one's own fate. Eventually, New York's patience towered over Toronto's urgency.
Aaron Judge opened the scoring with a 455-foot solo shot in the first inning. The Blue Jays took a brief lead in the fifth and then the top of the sixth came around. With a man out, Ray allowed two consecutive solo shots to Anthony Rizzo and Judge — his second of the night. Then, the Blue Jays lefty walked Giancarlo Stanton and allowed yet another homer, this time to Gleyber Torres on an 0-2 count.
"They put some good swings on the ball," said Ray. "They can hit. They've proven it all year. It's a tough lineup from top to bottom. ... They just battled, they put together good at-bats the whole night."
The Blue Jays had their share of good at-bats on Thursday night.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s near-homer RBI double served as the perfect illustration of this American League Wild Card race.
The MVP candidate sent a rocket to centre field that looked like it had enough to clear the wall in the bottom of the fifth.
"It's a game of inches," said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. "And that's one of those. (It looked like) that ball was going to keep going, but for some reason it didn't go out."
Instead, it bounced just off the top and gave Brett Gardner a chance to make a play. Instead of a two-run homer, Guerrero Jr. cashed in Marcus Semien, and celebrated giving his team a tight 2-1 lead.
"But that was good to see, Vladdy hit that ball." Montoyo added. "Maybe it'll get him going for the (last) series."
With that RBI double, Guerrero Jr. mirrored his Wednesday performance, when he snapped an 0-for-20 slump. Bo Bichette closed out the month of September in the same way he started it, finishing the Yankees series at 6-for-11 with two home runs and three RBIs.
It was certainly the most important series of the season — as Montoyo likes to say, from now on every game will be more meaningful than the next. Wednesday night's incredible 6-5 win excluded, it seemed like the Blue Jays offence didn't have enough in the tank to counter the Yankees' phenomenal pitching staff.
The biggest contributor on Thursday was bottom-of-the-lineup defensive-specialist Corey Dickerson, who ended the night with an RBI double and a single.
"It wasn't so much our offence. It was that their pitching did a great job," said Montoyo. "They got a great bullpen and that's why they're doing so well."
This series looked a lot different from the one earlier in September, when the Blue Jays swept the Yankees in the Bronx and sent New York fans spiralling over the prospect of missing the playoffs after seven consecutive losses.
The Yankees found their stride at the right time, and now sit at a 91-68 record, two games ahead of the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners, who are tied for the second wild-card spot.
Toronto, long removed from its own scorching-hot run that saw it sweep the Yankees and win six consecutive series, will enter the final three games of the year with an 88-71 record, one game back of the second wild-card spot.
"I'm proud of how this team played the Yankees in September," Montoyo said on Wednesday. "We played them seven games, we beat them five. Of course, two tough losses, but it's just tough to sweep people."
The only guarantee is that there will be chaos.
"We just gotta go one game at a time and win every game now, for sure."
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