LOS ANGELES – By now it should be clear that Bo Bichette is coming into the batter’s box hot, intent on doing really big things with really big swings, no matter the opponent or situation.
The latest exhibit on that front came Tuesday night, when the 21-year-old shortstop became only the sixth player to hit multiple homers in the same game against Clayton Kershaw, a rare bright spot for the Toronto Blue Jays in a dismal 16-3 thumping from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Rather than being daunted by the prospect of facing the National League’s top club in a series manager Charlie Montoyo described as “a pretty good test,” Bichette instead rose to the occasion, his latest extraordinary display since debuting July 29 at Kansas City.
“I’ll be honest, I think today I had more – I don’t want to say chills, because it wasn’t chills – I didn’t really feel my body, I had a lot of adrenaline going on, way more than my debut,” said Bichette.
“Being in Dodger Stadium, facing Kershaw, I was pretty amped up. I’ll always remember this day. It’s a pretty cool thing. I don’t take it for granted. You can talk about him being one of the best ever. So it was really cool for me.”
For good reason.
Bichette turned on Kershaw’s second pitch of the night, a lazy, 90.1 m.p.h. middle-middle heater, and parked it 423 feet away in left field, drawing gasps from the crowd of 52,030, as if the brash kid had punctured the aura of one of the best pitchers of this generation.
Kershaw, though, wasn’t going out like that, so when Bichette came up again in the top of the third, the graceful lefty on a Hall of Fame track taught him a lesson.
After opening with a fastball down and in for called strike one, he dropped one of his trademark curveballs into the heart of the zone for strike two, the break so sharp Bichette flinched away from the pitch. “Out of his hand, it looked like a fastball that was going to hit me in the face, and then, obviously, it didn’t,” said Bichette.
“It was pretty nasty.”
Sensing blood in the water, Kershaw then doubled up on the offering, getting a meek swinging strike three on a pitch that was a ball all the way.
That’s how the elite counterpunch.
“I was just trying to see that ball longer,” Bichette said of his approach on the third pitch. “Every time you see a pitcher, everything is going to look a little nastier the first time. That first pitch looked really nasty, the second one not as nasty. Still got me. But the more I see him the better I’ll see it.”
Now, with each having decisively won an at-bat, their third encounter in the sixth inning was full of intrigue. Through his first two plate appearances, Bichette had seen five pitches – three fastballs and two curveballs – but not a single slider, Kershaw’s best pitch.
Whether or not he expected a wrinkle the third time through, Bichette ambushed a first-pitch slider and sent it 411 feet to left field, giving him the first multi-homer game of his nascent career.
“My first at-bat I went up there to try and be aggressive,” said Bichette. “My second at-bat, I think because I hit a homer I started overthinking that he was going to make this adjustment to me and I wasn’t as aggressive. And so the third at-bat, I went up there like, ‘hey, being aggressive worked the first time, let’s go back to it,’ and I think he just left it over the centre of the plate. I wasn’t looking for it.”
The duel made for a compelling storyline in what was otherwise a largely forgettable night for the Blue Jays, who needed six pitchers plus an inning from just recalled infielder Richard Urena to survive the beatdown.
Montoyo said beforehand that playing against the Dodgers “will be good for the kids,” and it was, for a few of them.
Bichette aside, Derek Fisher also took Kershaw deep, giving the Blue Jays a short-lived 2-0 lead in the third inning. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., back in the lineup after tweaking his knee Saturday, walked twice and singled twice against Kershaw, erased each time on a Randal Grichuk double-play ball, one of them an 110.4 m.p.h. laser beam right at shortstop Corey Seager.
Sean Reid-Foley, on the other hand, had another miserable outing as the bulk pitcher behind opener Buddy Boshers, working a clean second before coming undone with two out in the third, going homer, walk, homer, single, walk, double until Montoyo came to get him.
While he may have deserved better on his first walk of the inning, losing Max Muncy on a pitch that looked very much in the zone, Reid-Foley wasn’t able to stop the bleeding once it started, allowing the game to spin out of control.
“We’re facing good lineups, so they’ve got to keep us in the game,” Montoyo said of his pitchers. “That didn’t happen today.”
The Dodgers teed off on the succession of Blue Jays relievers that followed, including Urena, who allowed four runs on four hits.
That Montoyo was forced to delve so deep into his bullpen ahead of a planned bullpen game Wednesday creates all sorts of problems for a team that just optioned Thomas Pannone, opening up a second hole in the rotation that could be filled by Brock Stewart.
Wilmer Font will open Wednesday against Walker Buehler, and the Blue Jays have Zack Godley and Sam Gaviglio who can pitch. Montoyo said the club could also “make a move” but “that’s not for sure.”
“We do have enough. That’s a pretty good lineup over there, we still have to get people out, but right now we should be OK,” he said.
Not if the Dodgers come out swinging again the way they did Tuesday. Cody Bellinger hit a three-run double in the fourth that really broke things open, bringing him to 100 RBIs for the season, while A.J. Pollock, Will Smith, Chris Taylor, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson all went deep.
That was plenty for Kershaw, whom former Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin described as “one of the best to ever do it.” Martin caught the lefty when he first broke through and has been reunited with him this season.
“He was always special when he started, but he really turned himself into something even more special,” said Martin.
“The last time I caught him, he was a fastball/curveball kind of guy. His best pitch now is his slider and that’s what sets him apart. He’s able to play with the shape of that slider, throw it any time, any count and it really plays off his fastball really, really nice. And even though the velocity is not quite as high as it used to be, he’s still able to pitch with his stuff, change the vertical eye-level, pitch down if he wants to, pitch up if he wants to. He looks at the hitter’s weak spots and just attacks those weak spots.”
Against the Blue Jays, he largely had his way, save for Bichette, who continues to be resolute against anyone and everyone.