Donaldson does damage as Jays cruise
Slams first pitch he sees into second deck; adds another shot for good measure
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.
The Jays’ Josh Donaldson heads for home after crushing the first pitch he saw into the second deck at Target Field.