BOSTON — The numbers have been telling the story of Josh Donaldson’s torrid play for weeks now, but the heat index jacked up a few notches on a warm autumn Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
Facing one of the best pitchers in the game — a dude with a left arm that hadn’t allowed a Jays run in three previous starts this season — Donaldson went off again.
Red Sox ace Chris Sale may be a candidate for the American League Cy Young Award, but the Bringer of Rain poured some water on that with his prolific display at the plate.
Donaldson homers in the first and third inning of Tuesday’s 9-4 Jays win took some of the air out of the sellout crowd at the venerable Beantown ballpark. And it was just the beginning of a rather impressive night of offence from a veteran-heavy Jays team not content to crawl meekly into the off season.
“I don’t think anybody’s hotter right now,” said winning pitcher J.A. Happ, who was rather impressive himself. “It’s fun to watch. It kind of shows what he’s capable of.”
With nothing of real substance to play for, the Jays are making life interesting anyway. The Sox are stalled at a magic number of three and will try to avoid tightening up even more and avoid a series sweep on Wednesday.
The Jays also have an opportunity to climb out of the AL East basement for the first time this season. They’re now 11-6 in their past 17 and tied with Baltimore at 75-83.
More on the rest of the homer show in a moment — including two-more from Mr. September, Teoscar Hernandez, who is becoming quite a story himself.
But consider that in 22 innings pitched against the Jays previously this season, Sale hadn’t even allowed a run. Not one. The lanky lefty’s career ERA of 1.50 vs. the Jays was the lowest by any starting pitcher ever against the team.
So bring on the rain.
With his two homers from Donaldson and one from Hernandez and Kendrys Morales in the fifth, Happ was staked to a 5-1 lead. The Jays lefty was doing his part as well, retiring 12 in a row at that point, a streak that eventually reached 16.
The four homers they Jays hit off Sale were the most he had allowed in a game since 2013.
Hernandez had one more in him as well — a three-run belt to give him four RBI on the night and five home runs in the past five games and seven since being called up on Sept. 1.
Hernandez admits he’s soaking up everything he’s seeing from Donaldson and it’s paying off.
“Seeing Josh Donaldson hit is exciting,” said Hernandez. “You learn a lot from him. He’s helped me a lot.”
WHEN IT RAINS …
If there were an award for second half MVP it would be all but in the bag for Donaldson, who has 24 home runs since the all-star break, the most in the AL.
And Donaldson is feeling it, too.
“For me, it’s definitely something I believe that I’m capable of,” Donaldson said of his current sizzling streak. “Any hitter that has career in the major-leagues is going to go through a time where they’re not feeling well at the plate.
“There were definitely some things this season that I had to overcome that I haven’t had to overcome in my career before. It is nice, to be able to finish strong, more importantly because of how frustrating at times it’s been.”
Some notables in this rampant Donaldson run:
— He has now hit at least one homer in each of his past five road games.
— Tuesday marked the 16th multi home-run game of his career and sixth this season. And get this: It was the third such effort in the past 10 games.
— Given his recent form, the Jays third baseman has an outside shot of matching the 37 homers he hit last year, accomplished over 155 games. His career high of 41 came in his 2015 MVP season, in 158 games played. Donaldson has now appeared in 110 contests in 2017.
All of the above is made even more remarkable considering he missed six weeks of the season with a strained right calf.
The final work day of the 2017 season was a memorable one for starter Happ, who after allowing a first-inning run on two consecutive singles then promptly retired the next 16 Red Sox batters he faced.
Happ went seven innings, allowing just one run off of four hits and no walks.
The success against Boston couldn’t have come as a complete surprise considering Happ hadn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his previous seven starts versus the Sox dating back to 2015.
“I feel like it was a success,” Happ said of his late season surge. “I feel good about how I ended, especially the second half of the year. There’s a lot to look forward to.”
Happ has now allowed one earned run or fewer in five of his past six starts and on Tuesday struck out nine, one off a season high.
“I think you’re seeing a more typical J.A. Happ to end the season,” Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said. “Hopefully we can build off of that, keep him healthy and doing this in 2018.”
With his seven homers, Hernandez now has the most by a Jays rookie in the month of September … Have to start wondering if Jays first baseman Justin Smoak will reach 40 home runs. He’s stalled at 38 and has zero in his past 11 games and one in 20.