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Estrada, Blue Jays rocked by Yankees in series opener: Griffin

Estrada, Blue Jays rocked by Yankees in series opener: Griffin
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Nothing will quiet a Rogers Centre crowd faster than a four-run, first-inning outburst by the visitors. That’s exactly the scenario Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada allowed to happen on Thursday in an 12-2 loss to the first-place Yankees.

With fans just reaching their seats for the start of the crucial — at least to the Jays — showdown, Yankees rookie Aaron Judge opened the scoring with a ground-ball single to left field. Centre fielder Aaron Hicks then drove in three with a bases-loaded double over Jose Bautista’s head in right-centre field. Sounds of silence.

This has been a disturbing recent trend with Estrada. Over his last five starts, Estrada has allowed 10 first-inning runs on 13 hits — including four doubles and two home runs — plus a pair of walks for a 16.20 ERA. But the Jays are 3-2 in those five games.

Opposing hitters leading off games in Estrada’s past five starts have gone 4-for-5, including a pair of doubles and a first-pitch home run by the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo on May 27.

Estrada may have avoided Thursday’s fate if second baseman Darwin Barney — starting to give Devon Travis a break — had been able to make a sliding backhand play on a hard ground ball that got through for a single by Matt Holliday. Starlin Castro then walked to load the bases. If Barney had been able to make the play, even one out, the Didi Gregorius strikeout that followed would have ended it with just one run.

Later, with two men out in the seventh, Barney booted a routine ground ball for an error. That was followed by another Hicks double. Then in the ninth inning, Hicks doubled for a third time, his fourth hit of the night, this one against lefty J.P. Howell. The two RBIs gave him six for the game.

“He’s banged up,” manager John Gibbons said of Travis’ absence from the lineup. “He’s been hobbling a little bit, but you wouldn’t know it. I figured this is the night anyway. (Yankees left-hander C.C.) Sabathia, for whatever reason, he’s been tough on (Travis). He’s had a tight hamstring and all that. We didn’t want him going down.”

Travis had a fabulous month of May, batting .364 with four home runs, 16 doubles and 19 RBIs. However, he’s just 1-for-20 lifetime against Sabathia.

The loss dropped the Jays two games under .500 and 6 1/2 games behind the Yankees. They are now 5-2 on the homestand with three games remaining. It was a tough way to start the crucial series and the month of June.

“It’s early in the season, but any time you play the front-runners you’ve got to make up ground,” Gibbons said prior to the game. “You don’t feel it as much as later in the year, when things are really tight and getting down to the wire, but it’s always important to play good against guys you’re chasing, especially with the hole we dug early. It’s been a long climb. It would be nice to get (to .500) and get past there.”

The Yankees have starry sophomore catcher Gary Sanchez back in the lineup after starting the season on the disabled list. Sanchez homered in the second and fourth innings against Estrada, driving in three runs. He now has six home runs for the year. Since Sept. 17 last year, 11 of his 12 home runs have come on the road. He now has five home runs lifetime in 38 at-bats against the Jays.

The Yankees’ starting rotation continues to be solid. The veteran Sabathia won his fourth straight start, pitching 6 1/3 innings and allowing only a seventh-inning solo homer to Kendrys Morales. Over the course of his win streak, Sabathia has a 1.48 ERA in 24 1/3 innings and he is 16-9 against the Blue Jays.

The Jays added another meaningless home run in the eighth inning, a solo leadoff blast by Ezequiel Carrera against right-hander Chad Green.

Centre fielder Kevin Pillar had another hitless night in the leadoff spot for the Jays. Even though it has only been eight games, since a homer in Milwaukee on May 23, Pillar is on a 1-for-28 slide. Despite that, the Jays have kept on winning as he has contributed with stellar defence, but he understands the importance of these games vs. the Yankees.

“These are as important games as you can play this early in the year,” Pillar said. “It’s a big series for us, a big series for them. They’re on top of the AL East; we’re still on the bottom. This is a big test for us collectively, as a group. We’re kind of all starting to click on all cylinders. It’s as big of a series you can have for June 1, just from the standpoint of where they’re at in the standings, where we’d like to get to in the standings, and just how well we’ve been playing.”

The Jays will count on left-hander Francisco Liriano, back from the DL, on Friday against Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda to get the series even. Liriano has been out of action since May 11 with inflammation of the left shoulder.
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