TORONTO — The unstoppable Yankees met the immovable Alek Manoah on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre, but not even the Blue Jays’ best was enough.
Beating Manoah in Toronto should count for two wins. The 24-year-old star entered the day 10-0 at home, making the 4-0 loss his very first home defeat. Manoah has been rolling through a brilliant sophomore season, earning All-Star and Cy Young consideration early, but when a team is as hot as these Yankees, nothing else matters.
Manoah’s season has been almost without a misstep. He’s been a lock for six-plus innings, allowing more than two earned runs just once in his first 12 starts. Saturday was a rare instance that Manoah can learn from, though, after allowing four runs on six hits and one walk over 5 1/3 innings to the best team in baseball.
There’s no shame in that, especially for a young starter whose mindset is a gas pedal glued to the floor. Still, Manoah didn’t want to give any credit to the other side. He believes in his team, saying the Blue Jays are still right where they need to be.
“I just think that if I go out and execute, and attack the zone and compete, I’ll give my team a chance to compete every time,” Manoah said, keeping it short after the loss.
After breezing through the early innings, Manoah needed 33 pitches to grind through the fourth, loading the bases as he battled against a strike zone that drew no love from the Blue Jays’ dugout. That’s when Aaron Hicks cleared the bases with a three-run double, which is the one thing we almost never see from Manoah.
“Honestly, a lot of calls didn’t go his way today,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “He had to battle a little bit harder this time. That’s how it goes in baseball, but I can say that some calls didn’t go his way. He had to battle extra that inning, for sure.”
Montoyo ended up being ejected, arguing a hit-by-pitch call after disagreeing with the zone. As he argued with home-plate umpire Ryan Additon, he turned his attention to first-base umpire Ryan Wills and was quickly tossed as Manoah, just as heated, was by his side.
“The moment I go out there, it’s to protect my pitcher,” Montoyo said. “Just like I did with Vladdy. Nobody is messing with my Manoah.”
“I don’t ever want to see anyone get ejected, especially for something he’s right about,” Manoah said. “I appreciated him going to war for our team. Not just me, but for everybody.”
Nine times out of 10, Manoah walks the tightrope better than any other pitcher on Toronto’s roster. He’s danced out of danger a dozen times this season, not just with luck, but with talent and a feel for the moment. Even the best get beat, though, and there will be days where Manoah ends up on the other side of these big moments.
It’s these moments that the Blue Jays have learned to trust Manoah in, and he’s earned every inch of that trust. He’s owned the Yankees up to this point, which is why he might be Toronto’s Game 1 starter if the postseason began tomorrow. Thankfully for the Blue Jays, there’s still over half a season to close the gap between them and a Yankees team that is clearly playing at a different level right now.
Of course, Manoah could have been perfect and it still might not have mattered.
Toronto’s lineup was held to just five hits by a strong Yankees pitching staff, with New York’s bullpen again proving to be an advantage. Saturday’s defeat is coming on the heels of a lopsided 12-3 loss in the series opener, and things don’t exactly get easier on Sunday with the struggling Yusei Kikuchi taking the mound looking to avoid the sweep.
It’s almost a compliment to Manoah that a start like this, where he was one pitch away from another strong outing, is considered a poor one. There will be many more challenges like this in the future, and surely starts far worse than this to come, but Manoah has always been defined by his ability to learn quickly and bounce back from adversity, not sink into it.
Life in the AL East demands Manoah’s mindset, which continues to develop as he experiences more firsts like this rare stumble vs. New York.