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Josh Donaldson celebrates bobblehead day with game-winning homer against Yankees

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson is congratulated by teammate Kendrys Morales after hitting a solo home run against the New York Yankees in Toronto, on June 4, 2017.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The optics were all wrong for the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday at Rogers Centre, where they desperately needed a win against the New York Yankees.

It was pouring rain for much of the morning, which made things soggy for thousands of fans who endured long lineups outside the stadium to collect a free Josh Donaldson bobblehead.

Inside, things did not go any better for an unfortunate employee at Sightlines, the open-air restaurant tucked way back in centre field, just below the huge video screen.

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You would think that area would be safe, but not when Aaron Judge, the Yankees' prodigious hitter, is putting on a show during pregame batting practice.

Major-league baseball's home-run leader cranked one of his practice hits high and long, and the ball carried right into the restaurant and clipped some poor woman in the head.

The woman was said to be okay after receiving some medical treatment.

And with New York flame-thrower Luis Severino pitching for the Yankees and on his game, everything seemed to indicate that this was not meant to be Toronto's day.

Justin Smoak and Donaldson had other ideas.

The Toronto first baseman cranked his team-leading 14th home run in the sixth inning, a two-run shot that erased what had been a two-run New York advantage.

And then Donaldson, on his own bobblehead day, celebrated the moment in style, leading off the eighth with a home run against Yankees reliever Tyler Clippard that provided the winning margin in a 3-2 Blue Jays victory.

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"I don't know if I've even gotten a hit on one of my bobblehead days before," Donaldson said afterward.

"So it was kind of nice to be able to go out there and contribute and help the team win. We had a lot of guys do some really nice things today," Donaldson said.

The third baseman's winner, his fourth homer in his past five games, sent the capacity crowd of close to 47,000 heading home in a good frame of mind, many of them clutching Donaldson's bobblehead just a little bit tighter.

The four-game series against the American League East-leading Yankees was pumped up beforehand as being crucial to the Blue Jays, who have made solid strides with their play but went into the showdown in last place in the division.

With Sunday's hard-fought win, behind another good outing from starter Marcus Stroman, Toronto finished with a 2-2 split against its archrival.

Toronto manager John Gibbons said the victory was big considering his team's early-season struggles, and coming against a quality opponent such as the Yankees.

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"I think we needed it," Gibbons said. "It would have been a kick in the teeth had we not won that one and you lose three out of four at home. That's never good."

Both starters were on their game early Sunday and the hits were few and far between.

The Yankees broke through against Stroman in the fourth inning when Matt Holliday stroked a long double over the head of Kevin Pillar in centre field that sent Judge home from third base.

New York added another run in the sixth to make the score 2-0 when Brett Gardner came home on a fielder's choice.

Smoak then changed the complexion of the game for Toronto with one swing in the sixth inning, with Kendrys Morales on board with a single.

The Toronto first baseman continued his renaissance, with a two-run home run shot to centre off Severino to knot the game 2-2.

Smoak's 14th homer equalled his total of last season. He is well on his way to his career best of 20, set in 2013 when he was with the Mariners.

"It's amazing," Donaldson said of Smoak's season. "It's every day and that's what we need, we need guys that are gonna come and have great at-bats and professional at-bats all day.

"He's in one of those zones right now that you could say that, when he's getting those pitches to hit he's very rarely missing it."

The Blue Jays are hoping they dodged a bullet with Devon Travis, who was plunked in the left hand by a Severino pitch in the seventh inning.

The second baseman came out of the game the next inning and the Blue Jays said afterward that X-rays on the hand did not reveal any broken bones.

The Blue Jays hit the road for a six-game trip, beginning Monday night in Oakland against the Athletics. After that, Toronto heads to Seattle for three games against the Mariners, starting Friday.

Video: Aaron Sanchez says Blue Jays are ‘excited’ for home opener (The Canadian Press)
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