Any thought that the Smoak Show was merely a one-act vignette can pretty much be put to rest.
Off to a booming start to 2018, Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak belted a grand slam in the eighth inning on Sunday afternoon at the Rogers Centre, powering his team to a 7-4 win over the New York Yankees.
The blast came just an inning after a two-run homer from Smoak, who is letting his bat rather noisily tell us that the breakthrough 2017 all-star campaign was not a fluke.
The winning shot, which cleared the wall in deep centre field, ended an epic, nine-pitch at bat with dangerous Yankees reliever David Robertson. And it allowed the Jays to gain a 2-2 series split against the powerful Yanks as they reached the .500 mark for the first time since the end of the 2016 season.
“The goal is to go out there and help your ball club win, so when you do that it always feels really good,” said Smoak, who has hits in six of his past nine at bats. “Honestly, I feel like I puts us down in the first inning — first and third and nobody out and punching out.
“To come up there and have another opportunity, you want to capitalize on that.”
The winning shot, which electrified an Easter Sunday crowed of 29,091, was just the second grand slam of Smoak’s career, both of which have come against the Yankees.
His 38 homers last season were a rare bright spot for the Jays and, best of all, so many of his big homers have come in clutch situations.
“You can’t do any better than he did today, the game on the line down two runs against one of the top relievers in baseball,” Jays manager John Gibbons said of Smoak, whose six RBIs matched a single-game career high. “He’s really coming into his own, a late- bloomer here. It’s nice to see.”
ANATOMY OF AN AT BAT
The opportunity presented itself first in the form of a snub.
With two out and runners on second and third, Yankees manager Aaron Boone opted to walk Josh Donaldson to load the bases and get to Smoak.
And then began the duel between Smoak and Robertson.
“Once I got to two strikes, I was just battling, honestly,” Smoak said. “Just trying to square it up and put it in play. I got a fastball, I think it was middle, middle-in and I was just able to get it out of there.”
The big hit came on a fastball after Smoak had faced four consecutive curves from Robertson as the big switch- hitter exhibited tremendous discipline at the plate.
“(Robertson) is one of the best in the game, so you know it’s going to be a tough at-bat. You just try to battle and battle and battle and I was able to get a good swing on it.
“I knew I got that one.”
QUICK OUT OF THE GATES
The Jays can talk all they want about it being one series early in the season, but earning a split in the opening four-game set against the Yankees has some significant implications for a team that started 1-9 last season and never once made it to the .500 mark.
“It’s a long season, six months, but it’s always good to get off to a good start,” Gibbons said. “I think it’s big. We got a nice one yesterday and to come back today after being down (4-1) is huge.
“There are nights you’ve got to slug it out (in this division) and that’s what we did.”
The Jays offence was a work in progress in this one — going 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position and striking out 12 times.
“It’s a really good team over there and they beat us pretty good the first two games,” Smoak said. “To come back and win the last two and get a split, I think it means a lot.”
Jays starter Marcus Stroman’s season debut was humming along rather nicely through the first 11 batters he faced. The Jays right-hander had struck out six and with his team up 1-0, was delivering the type of performance he expects of himself.
And then the New York Yankees happened.
Pitching around Giancarlo Stanton in the third inning, Stroman lost the Yankees slugger to a walk then surrendered a double to Didi Gregorius, a single to Neil Walker and a hanging-slider two-run homer to Brandon Drury.
Suddenly a 1-0 Toronto lead was a 4-1 deficit. But Stroman, who had his spring training interrupted by inflammation in his shoulder, felt he gained enough from the start.
“I’m really happy with the way my arm has progressed,” said Stroman, who struck out eight in his five innings. “I felt strong. My stuff is where it needs to be. I think I just made some bad pitches in certain counts.
“The 0-2 to Drury, I went back and looked at the film. It was probably one of the worst sliders I threw in my life.”
AROUND THE BASES
With closer Roberto Osuna having pitched the two previous days, Gibbons went to newcomer Seung Hwan Oh for the ninth and the South Korean reliever allowed just one hit to earn his first save with his new team … The bullpen as a whole was stellar, with no runs allowed from the four relievers who saw action. Tyler Clippard, who pitched the eighth, got his first win with the Jays … With the split, the Yankees are now 0-6-2 in their past eight series at the Rogers Centre.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies