By Gregory Strong
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin was just trying to make solid contact when he stepped to the plate with two runners on in a tight one-run game against New York on Wednesday night.
When Andrew Bailey‘s inside fastball leaked out over the plate, Martin turned on it for a three-run homer that gave Toronto some valuable insurance runs in a 4-0 win over New York. It also helped give the first-place Blue Jays some much-needed breathing room on the Yankees in the American League East.
“Really I’m just trying to get a base hit,” Martin said of the seventh-inning blast. “I’ve got two guys in scoring position. Maybe I should take that approach more often.”
Relievers Brett Cecil and Roberto Osuna each provided an inning of relief after Toronto starter Marcus Stroman turned in seven scoreless innings. The win gave Toronto a 3 1/2-game lead on the second-place Yankees with 10 games to play.
“Once Russ hit that homer, it was a big sigh of relief,” said Stroman. “I knew Cecil was coming in and then Osuna, I knew it was pretty much game over.”
New York (83-68) has a game in hand on the Blue Jays (87-65), who entered play 1 1/2 games behind Kansas City for top spot in the American League. The Royals had a late game against the Seattle Mariners.
The sold-out Rogers Centre was electric at times but a nervous energy still hung over the 48,056 spectators on a comfortable fall evening.
Toronto got on the board in the sixth inning once Yankees starter Ivan Nova was pulled after issuing a two-out walk to Martin. Left-hander James Pazos gave up a single to Ryan Goins that moved Martin to third base and Kevin Pillar drove him in with a single off reliever Caleb Cotham.
The plucky Yankees hit the ball hard from time to time, but usually right at Toronto players. Pillar made a couple of nice running catches in centre field, including a drive from Dustin Ackley in the seventh that would have scored a pair if it fell in.
Stroman (3-0), meanwhile, making his third start after missing most of the season while recovering from knee surgery, allowed five hits and a walk. He had five strikeouts and trimmed his earned-run average to 1.89.
“I’m a very emotional person,” he said. “I pitch with a huge chip on my shoulder and I feel like every time out there I have to prove a lot of people wrong. So I’m pretty determined and motivated.”
Nova (6-9) was the hard-luck loser, allowing one earned run, four hits and two walks while striking out six.
“I thought he did a tremendous job for us,” said New York manager Joe Girardi. “It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to score him any runs.”
Stroman retired the first eight batters he faced before Didi Gregorius hit a flare that landed in shallow centre field. Jacoby Ellsbury flew out on the next pitch to leave him stranded.
The Blue Jays put runners on in the first two innings but couldn’t capitalize. Justin Smoak struck out with two runners in scoring position in the first inning and Revere lined out to end the second.
In the seventh, Josh Donaldson led off with a double _ his third hit of the game _ and moved to third on a Jose Bautista grounder. Edwin Encarnacion was intentionally walked and stole second as Smoak struck out.
Martin followed by sending a 2-2 pitch into the Toronto bullpen.
“I liked the way Bailey had been throwing,” said Girardi. “He got Bautista, (then) he made a mistake and you can make a mistake to anyone.
“He made a mistake there to Russell.”
Cecil has not allowed an earned run over his last 28 innings pitched. Toronto outhit New York 8-6 and the game took two hours 52 minutes to play.
Notes: Martin’s homer tied his season-high set in 2012 with the Yankees. … A moment of silence was observed before the game for Yankees legend Yogi Berra, who died Tuesday at age 90. The Hall of Fame catcher won 10 World Series championships with the Yankees. … The game was televised on ESPN in the United States for the second straight night. … Blue Jays infielder Devon Travis underwent shoulder surgery to have a cyst drained along with some “general cleanup” in the area, the team said. There was no structural damage and he’s expected to be ready for spring training. … It was the 10th straight sellout at Rogers Centre and 24th on the season. … The Blue Jays have a day off Thursday before closing out their nine-game homestand with a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
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