Kirk’s breakout game against Yankees comes at perfect time for Blue Jays

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TORONTO – Last week the Yankees swept the Blue Jays in such a one-sided streak that manager Charlie Montoyo began to regularly answer questions about a potential mercy rule in baseball. No team in baseball history has allowed as many homers in three games as the Blue Jays have in the Bronx, and the three losses that followed in Philadelphia may not have been shocking given that the team was, to use Travis Shaw’s words, still a little “shell shocked.”

Even Monday afternoon, as the Blue Jays prepared for their final series of the season against the Yankees, Bo Bichette hesitated when asked about the rivalry between the two AL East teams.

“I don’t know if you can call it a rivalry,” Bichette said. “They beat us pretty well. Hopefully we can do one soon, but I wouldn’t call it a rivalry when we’ve lost three pretty bad games. But we’re going to come here and try to show everyone that we can compete with them.

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For at least one night, the Blue Jays did just that, beating the Yankees 11-5 in a game that included some encouraging developments beyond the result itself. More importantly, the victory gives the Blue Jays a 28-26 record and reduces their magic number to three with six games to go. There’s no guarantee, as last week’s slippage shows, but the Blue Jays’ chances of reaching the playoffs remain in the 98% range, according to FanGraphs.

Of course, not all wins are created equal, and in this case, how the Blue Jays won is also important. Alejandro Kirk, the 21-year-old wide receiver who had never played above Class A until this month, has now exceeded any realistic expectations the Blue Jays might have had when they made the decision surprise to promote it nine days ago. He became the youngest wide receiver in home run franchise history and ended the night with four hits.

“It was awesome,” Kirk said through performer Hector Lebron. “The satisfaction that I felt. When you make contact and sometimes you don’t even feel the bullet hitting the barrel. It was just amazing. I can’t describe it.

Montoyo added, “His approach to the plate has been amazing.”

If and when the Blue Jays reach the point where they are building a playoff roster, Kirk must now be a part of it. And to make sure they’re getting the most out of his perceptive eye, consistently hard touch and underhanded power, the Blue Jays might even want to field a third receiver like Reese McGuire. In theory, this would allow Montoyo to use Kirk’s bat off the bench without fear of him being put at a disadvantage later in the game.

Meanwhile, Matt Shoemaker pitched well on his return from the injured list, completing three innings against a Yankees team that offers little room for error. Despite missing a month with lateral tension, the right-hander threw harder than usual with a fastball that peaked at 95.9 mph on 54 total throws.

“I didn’t even know I hit that until some of the guys told me,” Shoemaker said. “My body is in good shape and maybe the speed is increasing accordingly.”

Radar gun readings aside, Shoemaker felt strong during and after his departure. Already he is looking forward to his next chance to throw.

“It was phenomenal,” he said. “When you’re over there on the mound, that’s your place. It’s very exciting. I am so grateful to be back.

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His command slipped away at times and two second-inning marches helped the Yankees score their first inning of the game, but some rust is understandable after an extended absence. Holding New York to a point over three innings must be seen as a success for Shoemaker, who suddenly looks like an option to start a playoff game.

On paper, his next start would be Saturday and the next one would be a week from Thursday, when the third game of the wild card round would take place if necessary. At this point, it’s still too early to make final calls on who’s tossing when, but if nothing else Shoemaker belongs to this conversation.

“If we can stretch him enough, he’ll be in the conversation for sure,” Montoyo said. “You can count on that. ”

Contrary to those good points, the Blue Jays’ reading pen looks weaker now than it has been in weeks (and even before Wilmer Font appeared in the ninth inning). The club announced Monday that closer Ken Giles will undergo surgery on Tommy John, officially removing him from the equation. Even beyond Giles, Rafael Dolis remains hand to mouth with right knee discomfort and Julian Merryweather has been placed on the injured list with right elbow tendonitis.

Considering Merryweather was starting to look like a valuable reliever in multiple innings, his absence will hurt the end of the streak and potentially the playoffs. Perhaps Nate Pearson, who was up to 97-98 mph in a 25-length live batting practice on Monday, can fill that role, but there are only six days left in the regular season and as As shown by the start of Shoemaker, there are some things that help working out before the playoffs start.

Either way, this isn’t the first time the Blue Jays have had to adapt on the fly. Several times their momentum slowed down before the Yankees shut it down completely last week. And yet the Blue Jays are here, firmly in the playoff position with less than a week to go into the season.

“Internally, we are not at all surprised. We are where we expected. Maybe even a little less, ”said Bichette. “We are delighted to start last week and hopefully win.



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