TORONTO – A couple of hours before the Blue Jays took the field for the final game of their three-week-long road trip, Charlie Montoyo reflected on his team’s performance so far.
Since leaving Toronto for Boston on July 20, the Blue Jays have faced considerable adversity on a few fronts. Like every MLB team, they’ve had to navigate COVID-19 protocols in an attempt to stay safe and healthy. Like many teams, they’ve had their schedule disrupted already. And unlike the 29 other teams, they have yet to unpack their suitcases and settle in at their home park.
Ultimately, it’s the standings that matter, and in a season where 16 playoff berths are up for grabs, moral victories can start to feel hollow pretty quickly. But this start to the season hasn’t been easy for the Blue Jays, and it was with that perspective in mind that Montoyo took stock of his team’s start.
“It’s already a good road trip,” Montoyo said Sunday morning. “And if we win today it’s a great road trip.”
A few hours later, after a Mitch Moreland walk-off homer had assured the Red Sox of a 4-3 win, the ever-positive Montoyo maintained that this road trip was a success.
“The toughest thing as a team is that next jump,” he said. “The little things. The two-out RBIs, making all the plays to win those games. We haven’t done that. We’ve played good enough. If we did those things, the record would have been better, but I know we’re going to get there. I’m proud to say that I know we’re going to get there.”
But even if the Blue Jays know where they want to go, they aren’t there yet. As starter Matt Shoemaker explained, there’s a sense of frustration after losing a one-run game in walk-off fashion for the second time in four days. Instead of being 5-8, this team could easily be 8-5.
“Little things, man,” Shoemaker said. “It should easily be flipped … little things in this game are what counts between wins among wins and losses. That’s why today I’m so frustrated at myself because overall I felt good, but I made a couple mistakes.”
Home runs by Mitch Moreland and Rafael Devers accounted for two of Boston’s runs, but when Shoemaker talks about mistakes he’s also referring to two throwing errors he made in the third inning. To Shoemaker’s credit, he limited the damage to one run despite the errant throws, but in a game this close, every play counted. His splitter was effective, though, and he struck out six without walking a batter. All told, he held the Red Sox to three runs over six innings in his third start of the season.
Once Shoemaker’s day ended, Montoyo turned to Ryan Borucki and was rewarded with another dominant outing. The left-hander struck out all three batters he faced, touching 95 m.p.h. on the radar gun before giving way to another one of the pleasant surprises in the Toronto bullpen.
Like Borucki, Thomas Hatch struck out the first three batters he faced. But Moreland squared up a breaking ball for a walk-off home run in the ninth, giving the Red Sox the series win.
“You become better as a team, you become better as players when you face adversity,” Shoemaker said. “This is definitely some adversity we’re facing.”
At the plate, solo home runs by Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette weren’t enough to take advantage of the Blue Jays’ pitching. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit an RBI single up the middle from the sixth spot in the Blue Jays’ order, but he also grounded out twice and struck out.
“I believe we’re going to start hitting,” Montoyo. “When that’s going to happen, I don’t know, but I know we’re going to hit. We’ve got the talent to hit.”
Now, the Blue Jays can finally head to Buffalo and start getting their bearings at their temporary home. While the team won’t hold a workout Monday, first base coach Mark Budzinski suggested opening the field up so players can familiarize themselves with newly-renovated Sahlen Field if they so choose.
With Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nate Pearson set to start against Miami this week, the Blue Jays’ chances of getting more quality pitching seem good. Who knows, maybe the relative stability of Buffalo will help generate some more offence. With this extended road trip finally behind them, the Blue Jays can at least breathe a little easier for a few days. But with 30 games in 30 days starting Tuesday, the Blue Jays have more tough stretches awaiting them before long.