TORONTO – At this point in the season, the Blue Jays can’t be picky about the way they win games.
Blown leads and missed opportunities are happily forgotten if the end result is a win, so even if it took 10 innings, nearly four hours and some nervous moments to seal a 3-2 victory at Comerica Park Saturday, the Blue Jays will take it.
No, this was not the night the Blue Jays found a way through the offensive struggles that have contributed to their recent slide. And no, not even a dominant Alek Manoah start could lead to an easy win. But the Blue Jays did just enough offensively to keep things close before Corey Dickerson sent a blooper down the left field line in the top of the tenth to record his third hit of the night and score Vladimir Guerrero Jr., from second base for the game’s decisive run.
Still, at 67-61, the Blue Jays remain fringe contenders for now. Entering play Saturday, their playoff odds sat at just 4.8 per cent, according to FanGraphs. If they’re going to reinsert themselves into the American League playoff race, they can’t afford to waste many of the 34 games remaining on their schedule. A win over Detroit Saturday was certainly a step forward.
“It’s huge, man,” Manoah said afterwards. “It’s the time where we’re either planning vacations or making that push and I think the guys want to make a push. This was huge tonight. Hopefully we can get on a roll right here and go win a ton of ballgames.”
Regardless of where it all leads, it’s worth appreciating what Manoah’s doing right now. Because the Blue Jays’ lineup continued underperforming, the rookie had little room for error Saturday, but he responded with 6.1 innings of four-hit, two-run baseball, lowering his season ERA to 3.15 along the way while striking out eight.
“He loves being in the big-leagues,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He knows he belongs and that’s what you need. When you pitch in the big-leagues, you have to believe you’re going to get people out otherwise you’re going to struggle. And he believes he can get anybody out.”
It was Manoah’s first appearance against the Tigers, including Miguel Cabrera, the future Hall-of-Famer who debuted as a member of the Marlins when Manoah was a kid in Miami. Growing up, he and his brother, Erik, would watch the DVD documenting the Marlins’ 2003 World Series win over the Yankees on just about every road trip.
But each of the three times Manoah faced the future Hall-of-Famer on Saturday, he struck him out.
“It was pretty surreal for me,” Manoah said. “Me and my brother used to idolize him.”
As easy as Manoah makes this look, it’s worth remembering he had never pitched above Class A until this season. A 2019 draftee, Manoah has learned quickly, adjusting to the big-league hitters on the fly. To deliver results like this in the face of those challenges is rare – but encouraging for the Blue Jays both now and for the future.
“It’s something rare to see and as a hitter it’s very difficult when you face a guy like that,” Alejandro Kirk said via interpreter while wearing the team’s home run jacket. “I love the way he embraces the game and competes.”
Offensively, the Blue Jays managed just enough thanks in part to Kirk. Making his first career start from the cleanup spot, the catcher homered with two out and the bases empty in the top of the sixth inning to continue his impressive offensive season and give the Blue Jays a narrow lead.
Then, in the seventh inning, the Blue Jays added a second run thanks to an opposite-field single from Bo Bichette that scored Randal Grichuk. From there, Trevor Richards and Joakim Soria held their own before Jordan Romano provided two shutout innings of relief to close it out.
Afterwards, Montoyo noted a similarity in the mound presence Romano and Manoah have as pitchers.
“They’ve got that ‘okay, I’m going to get you out’ look,” he said. “That’s what you want. Of course from a closer, but Manoah? He’s going to give you what he’s got until his last pitch and that’s what he did today.”
Kirk’s debut in the cleanup spot wasn’t the only change in the lineup, as the versatile Kevin Smith played first base for the first time as a big-leaguer. By starting Smith at first, the Blue Jays gave Guerrero a partial day off from the designated hitter spot – something that will soon be more challenging as George Springer’s expected to DH often once he returns from the injured list.
In the third inning, the Blue Jays lost Santiago Espinal to a right hip flexor strain which meant Breyvic Valera entered as a defensive replacement. Espinal was set to undergo more testing post-game, but should he require more than a day or two on the sidelines, Valera and Smith would become the leading candidates to fill in at third base.
On Sunday, the Blue Jays will look to build on the extra-innings win and take the series when struggling deadline acquisition Jose Berrios takes the mound against former Blue Jays left-hander Matthew Boyd.