Here’s what happens when you’re on an 11-game winning streak: You instantly look for good things and not bad, bright skies and not dark. When you’re on a winning streak, you don’t brace yourself for the other shoe to drop; you just assume that when you peek inside there’ll be a C-note stashed away in there.
So there was the ninth inning Wednesday night at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. So it was that with one out and the Blue Jays leading 2-1, Giancarlo Stanton rifled a single through the middle and Josh Donaldson followed suit with a bullet through the hole on the left side of the infield.
There were 29,057 people inside the erstwhile SkyDome, and while they tried to camouflage their concern with a roar, they knew better. Teams on winning streaks win games just like this. Eleven in a row? One more hit and the Yankees were staring at 12 in a row, and a three-game sweep of the Jays, and a message sent in 60-point bold-face type …
But Aaron Hicks struck out.
And Isiah Kiner-Falafa grounded out to third, and Vlad Guerrero Jr. flashed some leather by scooping Matt Chapman’s low throw while executing a painful-looking split and keeping his spike on the bag. Barely.
And so the streak ended. The Jays salvaged one. And these two teams, who sure look like the two best teams in the American League, retreated to their neutral corners. There will be 12 more of these games the rest of the way, and who knows what may lurk in October. Buckle in. This is going to be fun.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t quite break through tonight,” said Aaron Boone, who wound up nose-to-nose with home plate umpire Marty Foster after seeing one too many pitches below Aaron Judge’s knees called strikes. “They’re really good. Obviously they have a lot of good position players and they can pitch too. We know you’ve got to play well to beat them.”
Lamented Donaldson: “We just weren’t able to get on the right side of it. We had a great opportunity in the ninth and I would’ve bet we’d get it done there. We will next time.”
The streak died but a rivalry has been reborn, into full bloom. The Yankees and the Jays are going to be in each other’s crawlspace all year. And the streak served a purpose. It’s hard to say the Yankees were a whole lot different at 18-6 than they were at 7-6. But streaks like this do add so much to a team’s profile: confidence, swagger, belief in who they are. They don’t clinch anything. But they surely help.
Trivia question: How long had it been since the Yankees compiled a winning streak of at least 11 games in a row before this one? A few years? A few decades?
Less than a year ago.
Yep. You can look it up. On Aug. 12 last year, the Yankees lost the “Field of Dreams” game against the White Sox in Iowa in an epic 9-8 finish. Two days later, back in Chicago, the Yankees beat the Sox, 7-5 in 10 innings. From Chicago there was a makeup win at home against the Angels, three wins each against the Red Sox and Twins, two wins in Atlanta, two in Oakland.
Add it up: That’s 13 games in a row.
Now think of all the narratives attached to last year’s Yankees. Think about all the frustrating limitations they supposedly had, how they’d helped abandon the grand Yankees tradition of winning, how the players were mismatched and the manager overmatched and the pitching uninspired.
And, oh yes, by the way:
They won 13 games in a row. In August.
All that did was turn their season upside-down. That didn’t help a bit in October, when the Yankees went and got steamrolled in Boston in the AL play-in game. This 11-game streak won’t much matter if they stumble again in October. But ordinary teams don’t win 11 in a row. You start there.