NEW YORK — On Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, the Blue Jays decided the job wasn’t done after Saturday’s thrilling victory. Good vibes emanated from the visitors’ clubhouse: high-fives were plentiful and Danzel’s 2004 track “Pump It Up” blared from the loudspeakers, as Toronto celebrated their fourth sweep of the season after winning a 6-4 victory over the Mets.
The franchise’s first sweep of New York was punctuated by a complete victory for the team. Bursts of power from the club’s stars fueled the win, as Jordan Romano, rested from a day’s rest in Saturday’s win, closed the door in ninth for his 15th save of the year. The victory gave the Blue Jays the momentum they needed before their pivotal series with the Astros.
Here are three key elements to satisfying victory:
Yusei finds a return to form
Facing compatriot Kodai Senga for the first time in the Majors, Yusei Kikuchi largely dominated his Japanese counterpart, making one of his best starts of the season. He pitched five solid innings, allowing two runs on two solo homers from Tommy Pham. Kikuchi allowed just four total hits and walked a batter, striking out eight.
“I think overall today he threw the ball extremely well,” manager John Schneider said. “Lots of swings and misses, and the breaking ball was on point.”
Kikuchi has caused 19 puffs over his five innings — a season high and one shy of his career high — with 11 of those coming from his slider. Even though average speed (88.7 mph) was down on the slider from his season average, spin speed, vertical break, and horizontal break were all up, showcasing a more efficient version of his main weapon.
“I was getting ahead with sliders and curveballs,” Kikuchi said through translator Yusuke Oshima. “We were also working on form in the bullpen, so I think that worked really well today.”
Kikuchi has been working to find consistency this season after a tough 2022. He started hot to start 2023, but his last starts in May have been plagued with control issues and loud contact. On Sunday, the version of himself he was struggling to find began to appear.
“These last three or four starts, the rotation hasn’t worked out so well,” Kikuchi said. “So, yeah, we were able to make the adjustment today and I think it went really well.”
Vladdy warming up
After Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s brace on Saturday, Schneider hoped the big moment could give a spark to the young star, who has enjoyed a quiet start to the season (by his standards). He broke out in major fashion on Sunday, smashing a solo homer out to left field off Senga as part of a 2-for-4 day.
Guerrero pulled off an impressive swing, igniting a 94.1 mph radiator that was high and inside, and sending him deep into the stands at 108.3 mph from the start. The loud home run marked the beginning of the end of Senga’s outing in the third, as Matt Chapman followed up with a double to put himself in position to score with two outs and eventually scored from second on an errant pitch from Francisco Alvarez on a back pick. .
Guerrero’s contributions didn’t stop there. He hit a one-out single in the seventh, then Brandon Belt smashed a two-run blast down the center to put the Blue Jays ahead for good. Hanging back on a 1-2 slider that took up far too much space, Belt hitting his third homer of the season was his second outburst in New York of 2023, displaying a penchant for big, dramatic plays.
“Vladdy and Belt? Big city and big stage,” Schneider joked. “We’ve got the superstar Vlad and the salty vet Brandon, who kind of ‘been there and done that’. It’s nice to see those guys come through.
Patience is a virtue
Much of Toronto’s success is down to increasing Senga’s pitching count and forcing him to throw strikes. The Blue Jays walked five times against the Mets right-hander, who threw just 34 of 68 for strikes. They only sniffed the vaunted “ghost fork” twice in Senga’s 2 2/3 innings, letting the pitch sink into the dirt for most of the outing.
This approach set the stage for a successful day and a sweep that could be a turning point for a team looking to step up a gear.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team (during) this series,” Belt said. “You know, they came in and equalized late, and we kept fighting. We never thought we were going to lose the game. It’s really impressive in this team.