NEW YORK — It’s not often that a starting pitcher begins the sixth inning with a no-hitter intact and well before the frame is over he’s no longer the story of the game.
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But welcome to MLB 2022, the year of the ump show/gong show and an endless run of wild Blue Jays ball games.
Yes, Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi was dealing until he allowed his first two hits from Yankees batters — a pair of singles to start the sixth, ending his best night to date with his new team.
And then came the mayhem and then heartbreak in what ultimately was the most frustrating and gut-wrenching loss of the season for the Jays, a 6-5 defeat at the hands of their AL East rival New York Yankees.
The lethal blow came in the ninth, a walkoff homer from Yankees slugger Aaron Judge who destroyed an offering from Jays closer Jordan Romano over the wall in left field. The three-run blast ruined a sensational start from Kikuchi.
And just like that, what would have been an emotional Jays win was a devastating defeat as they dropped to 17-14 and saw their season-long losing streak extended to three games.
You want crazy? There was plenty of it to go around on a bizarre night, the opener of a mini two-game series that will wrap up here with a Wednesday matinee.
Two batters after Kikuchi exited, Giancarlo Stanton hit an opposite-field 335-foot home run to right field, a cheap-shot three-run shot to tie the game at 3-3.
When Josh Donaldson was hit on the elbow during the following at-bat by reliever Yimi Garcia, things truly turned bonkers in the Bronx.
With Yankees players hurling obscenities at Garcia following a pitch that barely caused Donaldson to flinch, the umpires met in conference with crew chief Alfonso Marquez before making the call to eject Garcia.
It certainly seemed like a stunning call, given it came with no warning and with the dodgy state of the baseballs giving pitchers fits around the majors.
Predictably, the Jays dugout erupted. Out came manager Charlie Montoyo, trying to restrain Garcia. Pitching coach Pete Walker joined the fray as did bench coach John Schneider. By the time the dust settled, Walker and Garcia were headed to the showers, ejected from the game.
But the fireworks weren’t done yet and, as you would expect, the 41,522 on hand were in full throat as the proceedings escalated.
When Bo Bichette took a 97 mile per hour Jonathan Loaisaga fastball near his chin Montoyo did get tossed as home plate ump Lance Barrett didn’t seem concerned by the close pitch. Ignored it, in fact.
Even more bizarre than the ejection of Garcia and the non-call on Bichette was Marquez’s explanation. Read it and weep:
“Earlier in the game, there were some words exchanged with Donaldson and (Jays catcher Tyler Heineman), so that definitely played into it,” Marquez told a pool reporter. “They were pretty strong words.
“Then you have a game-tying home run and the second pitch, which we deemed intentional, was the reason for the ejection.
“It had nothing to do with (Donaldson’s) reaction. It had everything to do with the game situations that led up to that specific incident.”
Did the geniuses in charge consider a warning — for both sides, even?
“Given all the situations up to that specific moment, we just deemed it intentional,” Marquez said. “And when that happens, we have to eject and/or (issue) warnings. But we felt ejection was the way to go.”
As you would expect, Montoyo was livid in the moment and afterwards and certainly wasn’t buying Marquez’s bunk.
“Of course we were very upset because we didn’t think that was right,” Montoyo said. “I’m proud of my team for coming back after all of that (bleep). We could have said: ‘Oh, the umpires were against us.’ We battled back.”
What has long been a decent rivalry certainly seems to have added juice this season given the expectations for the Jays to compete for the division. With the win, the Yankees improved their MLB best record to 21-8 and are now 14-2 in their past 15. They’re also 5-3 in eight meetings with the Jays thus far.
With a 12:35 p.m. first pitch scheduled for Wednesday, the Jays will have to shake off the latest loss in a hurry. Not that it will be easy.
“No, none of it,” Bichette said when asked if the toss of Garcia (who declined to discuss the incident post-game) made any sense. “There’s no reason anybody would try to hit anybody in a 3-3 game. There was just as much reason for (Garcia) to hit (Donaldson) as them to hit me, which is none.”
After the ejections, the Jays thought they had salvaged what they would have felt was some justice with a pair of runs in the eighth on a double that scored Vlad Guerrero Jr. all the way from first base. When Lourdes Gurriel Jr., came home on an Alejandro Kirk sac fly, the Jays finally had some breathing room.
But the drama wasn’t done yet in a loss that will be tough to digest.
“What a game,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said afterwards. “That was a heavyweight game.”
Says the man who landed the last punch.
GET A GRIP
Among the many things that upset the Jays in this one was the state of the baseballs used in the game, a problem that several Jays pitchers complained about in a Sunday loss in Cleveland.
Romano and Garcia both told members of the Jays coaching staff about the difficulties they had getting grip on Tuesday, yet another layer to the drama that unfolded.
Lost in the wildness was the effort by Kikuchi, who Walker told us on Sunday was beginning to show improvement. Despite not allowing a hit until the penultimate batter he faced, Kikuchi was on the hook for two earned runs from the two leadoff hits in the seventh. Earlier he had walked three Yankees hitters while striking out seven … Kikuchi exited after throwing 89 pitches, 54 for strikes … The Jays got on the board as early as possible with a solo home run from George Springer, his seventh of the season to lead it off, then added a pair of runs on a Santiago Espinal double in the second. That shot to left centre was inches away from being a homer, and in fact was originally ruled as one. A review ruled that the ball hit the wall, however, taking a run off the board … The shot was Espinal’s team-leading 11th double of the season … In for his 15th appearance of the season, Romano fell short in his bid for save No. 13. The right-hander issued a one-out walk to the Yanks No. 9 hitter, Jose Trevino and then leadoff man DJ LeMahieu before the fatal blast to Judge who, prior to the belt, was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts against Romano.
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AROUND THE BASES
The reeling Jays are now 1-4 on their nine-game road trip, their longest of the season … It was the Jays’ second walkoff loss of the season after Romano suffered the same fate in a game in Houston on April 24 … The Jays are 2-6 in their past eight games after starting their season 15-8 … Springer’s homer was the 47th leadoff blast of his career … Kikuchi walked three of his first six batters but didn’t allow a hit until the 18th batter he faced … The winning Judge blast was just the second walk-off homer of his career and his 27th round-tripper against the Jays since 2017 … It was the Yankees’ fourth walkoff win of the season, most in the majors. With their 21-8 record, they are off to their best start since 2010.