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Donaldson’s power display leads Blue Jays to win over Yankees

Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson celebrates his two run homerun against the New York Yankees in the first inning of a game in Toronto, on Aug. 8, 2017.

Fred Thornhill/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The feeling was a bit different a year ago, when the Toronto Blue Jays were battling the Baltimore Orioles for first place, with the New York Yankees struggling to maintain a .500 record.

Now it is the Yankees in the playoff seat, with the Blue Jays all but bidding bon voyage to a poor season.

There was still a sense of anticipation at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night, as there always is when the Yankees roll into town. The fans, in excess of 41,000, still surged through the turnstiles for the first of a three-game set.

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Obviously, many of them were there to see the Yankees; Aaron Judge in particular, judging from the yelps of delight when the rookie phenom blasted ball after ball into the seats during an impressive batting-practice session.

And when Judge jettisoned one into the fifth deck in his first at-bat in the first inning – just foul down the left-field line – the crowd rumbled at the sight.

J.A. Happ, the Toronto starter, obviously took notice. He walked Judge the first two times he came to bat.

But the night ultimately belonged not to a Yankee, but a Blue Jay, with third baseman Josh Donaldson putting on a bit of a power display of his own.

Combatting injury for long stretches this season, Donaldson seems to be hitting his stride – even as his Blue Jays fall – swatting two two-run home runs to lead Toronto (53-59) to a taut 4-2 victory over the Yankees (59-52).

Donaldson is on a nice little roll of late, accumulating 11 extra base hits over his last 19 games. Of his 15 home runs this season, seven have come in the first inning and six of those have opened the scoring in games.

"I just think, honestly, it's not missing pitches I'm getting to hit," Donaldson tried to explain about his recent run of good fortune. "I feel like over the past month or so, mistakes that I'm getting for at bats aren't happening as much, so I have to capitalize on pitches that are mistakes when I do get the opportunity."

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With less than two months left in the regular-season schedule, the Blue Jays remain ensconced in last place in the American League East, starting the series against the Yankees five games back of the second wild-card playoff berth.

That may not sound like a big span to bridge with 51 games left, but it is a formidable task when you consider the Blue Jays will have to hurdle six teams to do so. Internet baseball site FanGraphs.com was listing Toronto's chance of snagging a wild-card spot at 5 per cent before the Yankees game.

The only positive to the Blue Jays' plight is that 32 of their remaining games are against A.L. East opponents – the majority of the teams they will have to leapfrog in order to realize a third consecutive postseason appearance.

On the flip side to that, Toronto's record against the East this season is poor – 17-27 – heading into the New York series.

Still, Toronto manager John Gibbons will take his chances that his Blue Jays can forge a reversal of fortune against the East and somehow claw their way back into contention.

"You know what, it's always been a slug-it-out division," he said before Tuesday's game. "We haven't played our best ball against those guys and we need to now.

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"It goes back to, we know these guys [A.L. East teams], they know us. It's whoever executes. But we've had a tough time in the East this year, no doubt. It's definitely contributed to where we're at."

With pitcher Cesar Valdez being placed on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday with right-shoulder soreness, the Blue Jays were not prepared to say before the New York game who will start against the Yankees on Wednesday.

Reliever Leonel Campos was called up from Toronto's Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo to take Valdez's spot on the 25-man roster.

Donaldson raked his two home runs in his first two at bats, in the first and third innings, and provided Toronto with a 4-1 lead. Both came at the expense of New York starter CC Sabathia, the hefty lefty who would not report for duty for the start of the fourth inning.

Gibbons said Donaldson personifies what being a clutch performer is all about.

"Some guys do it in the moment," he said. "Like some guys make big shots in the NBA when games are on the line, quarterbacks make big plays. There's something to that."

It all provided a nice cushion for Happ, who allowed one New York run off four hits over 5.2 innings of work to pick up the win and improve to 5-8 on the year.

Things got a bit harried in the New York eighth when Toronto reliever Ryan Tepera hit the first two Yankee hitters he faced and then walked Todd Frazier with one out to load the bases.

Garrett Cooper hit a sacrifice fly to left to bring in the second New York run before Ronald Torreyes hit a loud liner that was caught in centre by Kevin Pillar to end the uprising.

Gibbons called upon closer Roberto Osuna to close things out in the top of the ninth. Osuna has struggled in recent outings, blowing saves in three of his previous five outings.

Facing the top of the Yankee batting order, Osuna got the side in order to record his 29th save of the season.

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