Justin Smoak hits three-run blast as Blue Jays overpower Yankees

Blue Jays 6 Yankees 2

TORONTO — Justin Smoak has been trying not to overcomplicate his approach at the plate.

And he’s found success in that simplicity.

Smoak homered in a five-run second inning that forced an early exit for New York’s scuffling starter Sonny Gray, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the division rival Yankees 6-2 on Friday.

“I think the timing has been a little better, more relaxed and trying not to do too much,” Smoak said.

The homer was Smoak’s third of the home stand — he went deep in back-to-back games against Detroit on June 29 and 30 — and it gave him eight RBI’s over his last seven games.

A first-time all-star last season, Smoak hasn’t been in the conversation for this year’s Midsummer Classic after a slow start to 2018.

But manager John Gibbons said his first baseman deserves more credit.

“I know what he means to us and the team, that big home run tonight,” Gibbons said. “I don’t know who’s leading the all-stars and things like that. He really turned it on for us last year, came into his own really, and he’s starting to heat up a little bit now.

“I would love everybody in that room to get more recognition, there’s no doubt.”

Curtis Granderson and Devon Travis hit run-scoring singles in Toronto’s big second inning and Teoscar Hernandez tacked on an RBI double in the eighth as the Blue Jays (41-46) won for the 12th time in 16 home games and snapped a string of four straight losses to the Yankees (56-29).

Reliever Joe Biagini (1-5) pitched 1 2/3 innings for the win, replacing starter Sam Gaviglio with one out in the fifth inning.

Biagini came up big when it mattered, striking out slugger Giancarlo Stanton with Toronto clinging to a three-run lead with the bases loaded. The right-hander started the at bat with three straight balls, then reeled in three consecutive strikes to send the 2017 NL MVP back to the dugout.

“Our bullpen did some kind of job,” Gibbons said. “Joe coming in, 3-0 count on Stanton and ends up striking him out. He got us out of that jam.”

Gaviglio stretched his streak of no-decisions to four straight, allowing two runs (one earned) and four hits over 4 1/3 innings. The 28-year-old right-hander walked three and struck out six over a 101-pitch outing.

“I wasn’t real happy with the end result but I didn’t realize my pitch count was that high when I came out,” Gaviglio said.

“I thought I made some good pitches.”

Gray (5-7), meanwhile, lasted just two innings and allowed five runs over six hits and two walks while striking out four.

Smoak’s homer, with two out and two on, put Toronto up 5-0 in Gray’s shaky second inning that also featured three singles, one double, a hit batsman, a wild pitch and a stolen base.

“I was honestly just looking out over the plate and I got one there in the middle,” Smoak said of the at bat.

Aaron Hicks responded for the Yankees in the third with a solo shot off Gaviglo, then drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth to cut New York’s deficit to 5-2.

Gray came into the game with a 5.44 earned-run average and expanded it further to 5.88 with his latest setback.

Toronto also tested him in the first, loading the bases on two walks and a single before Russell Martin struck out to end the threat.

“I’ve got to come up with some solution if I want to continue to go out there and compete,” Gray said. “There’s been way too many games like this rather than the other way.”

The Blue Jays defence was on full display throughout the game. Kevin Pillar robbed the Yankees of extra bases twice, sprinting and leaping to catch deep fly balls at the centre-field wall, and Travis made a pair of diving snags in the infield.

NOTES: Sallie Gibbons, the mother of Blue Jays manager John Gibbons threw out the ceremonial first pitch to her son. Gibbons said that made his night: “Good thing we got a win, now she’ll think she’s responsible. … It’s something she’ll always remember. She did pretty good. She likes the attention, there’s no doubt about that.” … Attendance was 37,254.

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