TORONTO – All night long, Bo Bichette had been seeing the ball pretty well. Even before Friday’s game against the New York Yankees went to extra innings, the Toronto Blue Jays’ rookie shortstop had doubled in the fifth, walked in the seventh and singled in the ninth. He was feeling particularly comfortable against lefties.
So when Bichette saw Tyler Lyons take the mound to warm up for the bottom of the 12th with the game tied 5-5, he had a good feeling. Actually, a really good feeling.
"If they leave the left-hander on the mound and he throws me a slider, I’m going to take him deep," Bichette said, according to manager Charlie Montoyo.
"Yeah, it’s true," the 21-year-old acknowledged after the Blue Jays’ 6-5 win. "I just had a feeling that if he made a mistake I’d get him."
Three pitches later, Bichette did just that, sending a slider over the left field wall for his first career walk-off home run to end a bittersweet game in which the Blue Jays lost reliever Tim Mayza to injury. Bichette’s 11th home run of the season was his most memorable yet.
"Honestly this kid’s going to be a star," Montoyo said. "That’s the confidence that he has."
Meanwhile, Mayza left the game with a left elbow injury after throwing a pitch to Cameron Maybin in the 10th inning. While the Blue Jays haven’t yet announced specifics, Mayza was obviously in pain as he walked off the mound with team trainer Nikki Huffman. Montoyo said the Blue Jays should know more after getting results of an upcoming MRI.
"Everybody loves Timmy Mayza," the manager said. "It was sad to see. Everybody knew ‘OK, he’s done for now.’"
Earlier in the game, Anthony Kay had the challenge of facing a formidable Yankees lineup. For context, they’re hitting .270 with an .834 OPS as a team. From Gleyber Torres to Aaron Judge to Gio Urshela they have seven players with at least 20 home runs. Despite injuries to the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Edwin Encarnacion they’ve scored 10-plus runs 23 different times.
And some context on Kay. A Long Island native, he grew up rooting for the Yankees. As a young left-hander, he tried to emulate Andy Pettitte, the five-time World Series winner. While the 24-year-old’s memories of the 1998-2000 championships are a little hazy, he vividly remembers cheering for the 2009 team that won it all.
As he prepared to make the second start of his big-league career, Kay directed his family to the Blue Jays’ team shop. While they replaced their pinstripes with Blue Jays gear, Kay game-planned for the best offence in baseball. Quite a leap for a guy who was facing the double-A Hartford Yard Goats as recently as a few months ago.
For at least a few innings, Kay handled the Yankees with apparent ease, attacking the strike zone with a 93-95 m.p.h. fastball on his way to four scoreless innings. His breaking ball and curve ball helped him keep New York’s potent lineup off-balance. Everything was going well.
"He was really good," Montoyo said. "He’s been a pleasant surprise for me to watch. I think he’s going to be part of our future."
In the fifth inning, however, Kay ran into trouble. A series of defensive mistakes helped the Yankees score five runs, all of which were charged to Kay. The trouble started when Brett Gardner hit what should have been a single to centre field. Teoscar Hernandez charged as if to make a play, but never got close enough to catch the ball. It ricocheted off his glove, allowing Gardner to reach second.
Two pitches later, Clint Frazier flared one down the right field line and Gardner scored easily. Making matters worse, Randal Grichuk made an errant throw to second base, allowing Frazier to advance to third.
Frazier would soon score on a well-struck DJ LeMahieu single, but the Blue Jays’ defence wasn’t done yet. With one out and runners on the corners, Kay induced a ground ball from Luke Voit only to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. miscalculate and throw late to second instead of taking the sure out at first.
Moments later, Montoyo was on his way to the mound to remove Kay from the game after just 4.1 innings. When Gio Urshela singled home two more runs off Jason Adam, all Kay could do was watch.
"He pitched better than what his numbers showed," Montoyo said. "We didn’t play good behind him."
Clearly, Kay bears some responsibility for the Yankees’ five-run outburst. He wasn’t quite as sharp against the Yankees as he was against the Rays, and Gardner and Frazier connected on legitimate hits. At the same time, those extra bases and extra pitches take a gradual toll on a pitcher. The Yankees, of all teams, don’t need any extra advantages.
"For the most part I kept them off the barrel," Kay said. "Most of the damage done was them finding holes. Nothing too serious."
"The five runs I don’t think indicates how well I threw the ball today."
In Kay, the Blue Jays have someone showing real promise. You don’t have to squint all that hard to envision him contributing in a major-league rotation.
But of course there’s more to run prevention than pitching. Eventually, the Blue Jays will also need to complement their starting staff with better defence. Lately, those reminders have been coming a little too frequently.
Thanks to Bichette, an up-and-down night ended with a win for the Blue Jays – and a memorable one at that.
"It was awesome to watch," Montoyo said.