Donaldson does dam­age as Jays cruise

Slams first pitch he sees into sec­ond deck; adds an­other shot for good mea­sure

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - LAURA ARM­STRONG SPORTS REPORTER

MIN­NEAPO­LIS— Asked about near­ing 40 home runs ear­lier this week, Justin Smoak mar­velled at the num­ber.

For your av­er­age big lea­guer, 20 homers is big. Thirty? That’s re­ally big. Reach­ing 40 is elite. When it comes to Josh Donaldson, though, num­bers like those have come to be ex­pected. The third base­man is clos­ing in on that 30-homer mark af­ter hit­ting his 27th and 28th dingers of the year in the Blue Jays’ 7-2 win over the Min­nesota Twins here Saturday night.

Donaldson is 8-for-13 with a stolen base in this series, which Toronto now leads 2-1. Nine­teen of his home runs have come since the all-star break. His 17 long balls and 42 RBIs in the sec­ond half of this year — 55 games to date — al­ready best the 14 home runs and 36 RBIs he man­aged over the fi­nal 66 games in 2016. Donaldson is one dinger away from match­ing the 20 he pro­duced in the lat­ter half of his 2015 MVP sea­son.

This sea­son — an in­jury-rid­den year for the in­fielder that will see him play fewer reg­u­lar-sea­son games than any year since 2012 — the vintage Donaldson per­for­mances of late won’t amount to any­thing. There is no post-sea­son in Toronto’s fu­ture, no pos­si­bil­ity of a World Series ring. This series against Min­nesota amounts to lit­tle more than play­ing for pride and putting a dent in an­other team’s play­offs hopes.

But Donaldson, a free agent come 2018 whose fu­ture is likely to dom­i­nate off-sea­son talk, is re­mind­ing that while this sea­son may be more for­get­table than oth­ers, the Jays re­main spoiled to have the third base­man within their ranks.

He showed that in front of an­other pro-Toronto crowd early on Saturday night, hit­ting the first pitch he saw — a 93.5-m.p.h. four-seam fast­ball from lefty Twins starter Adal­berto Me­jia — 438 feet, into the sec- ond deck at Tar­get Field. The nodoubter earned Donaldson a show­er­ing of cheers for “bring­ing the rain” in front of the trav­el­ling blue­clad fans.

Donaldson wasn’t the only Blue Jay who looked back to their best af­ter a topsy turvy year. Right-han­der Marco Estrada al­lowed a pair of solo homers to Ed­die Rosario and Ed­uardo Es­co­bar but noth­ing else on the night. He gave up just three hits and a walk, notch­ing four strike­outs over eight in­nings. Left-handed re­liever Matt Der­mody fin­ished off the game for Estrada in the ninth, the 34-year- old vet­eran pulled just short of his first com­plete game in his decade­long ca­reer. He threw 101 pitches on the night.

By the time Min­nesota put its first run on the board, Toronto al­ready had three. Donaldson scored the Blue Jays’ sec­ond run in the top of the fourth frame, cashed in from first by a Smoak dou­ble. The first base­man move to third af­ter a sin­gle from Jose Bautista, who went 3-for-4 on the night, be­fore Kendrys Mo­rales hit an RBI sin­gle to put Toronto up 3-0. It was the end of the line for Me­jia, mak­ing his first start since Aug. 8 thanks to a mus­cle strain in his up­per arm. He al­lowed the three runs off five hits over three frames;

Toronto reached its fi­nal tally with a three-run eighth in­ning against re­liever Trevor Hilden­berger, a frame in which the vis­i­tors twice loaded the bases. Bautista, an er­ror by Twins sec­ond base­man Brian Dozier and Kendrys Mo­rales scored pinch-hit­ter Eze­quial Car­rera, Donaldson and Smoak, re­spec­tively.

Donaldson whacked his sec­ond homer just over the cen­tre field wall, flum­mox­ing By­ron Bux­ton, who had been dom­i­nant against the Blue Jays this sea­son.

It was the 14th multi-homer game of Donaldson’s ca­reer and his fourth thus far this sea­son.

Toronto’s win clinched a sec­ond straight Amer­i­can League Cen­tral ti­tle for the reign­ing AL cham­pi­ons, the Cleve­land In­di­ans.

JIM MONE/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Jays’ Josh Donaldson heads for home af­ter crush­ing the first pitch he saw into the sec­ond deck at Tar­get Field.

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