Often times, a no-hitter will require plenty of luck to be completed. Stranded walks. Outstanding defensive plays on gappers or flares. Hard-contact barrelled directly at fielders’ gloves. A stiff breeze blowing in. A favourable strike zone. Etcetera.
Sunday was not one of those times. Verlander was overwhelming. His 100 game score in the outing made it one of the 10-best no-hitters of all time. He might have pitched a perfect game if not for a first-inning walk of Cavan Biggio. The Blue Jays barely even threatened, striking out 14 times, hitting only one ball harder than 98-m.p.h., and putting only three balls in play at a higher rate of speed than they carried coming out of Verlander’s hand.
Toronto’s hitters were just thoroughly dominated. But you’ve got to like what Bo Bichette had to say after making the final out of the game, working a full count against Verlander over seven pitches — tied for the longest plate appearance against Verlander of the day — before grounding out.
“I wanted to get him,” Bichette said. “I thought I was seeing the ball really, really well in the last at-bat. I made some good adjustments. I honestly thought I was going to get him. But then he made a really good pitch.”
Nothing about how, welp, that just wasn’t our day. Nothing about tipping his cap to the other guy. Nothing about how uncomfortable Verlander was making him and his teammates in the box, how poorly they were seeing the ball, how hard he was to square up. On one of the best days of a hall-of-famer’s career, Bichette was convinced he was going to get him. And even after he didn’t, he still said as much.
It’s pretty cool to see such a young player be so confident. To play with a little piss and vinegar. Sure, it’s a small thing. And maybe it’s just what we reach for when we spend every day considering a failed team, one that is now 55-84 on the season after Monday’s 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
But it stands to reason that if the Blue Jays are going to become the Houston Astros someday, dominating inferior teams like Verlander did to them, they’re going to need not only players of Bichette’s talent, but his determination, too.
All that said, of course Bichette led off the very next day with a base hit on the third pitch of the ballgame. It wasn’t going to be any other way. Bichette got a 1-1 Mike Soroka fastball on the inner half and lifted it into left for his 46th knock in his 32nd big-league game, and his team’s first hit in 11 innings.
It’s just impossible not to enjoy this kid. After Monday’s game, he’s batting .329/.365/.607 with 23 extra-base hits over 32 games. Of course, his .400 batting average on balls in play is unsustainable. Of course, there’s a cold stretch coming. Of course, he could stand to chase less, walk more, improve defensively. But he’s 21. His prime’s half a decade away. And he already looks and talks like he belongs.
Better but not good enough
It would be nearly impossible for Toronto’s offence to be any quieter than it was Sunday, but Monday wasn’t exactly a breakout. Bichette had that early single. Rowdy Tellez and Randal Grichuk hit solo home runs off Soroka. And Cavan Biggio came up with a double in the fifth. But 14 consecutive Blue Jays were retired from that point forward, as Toronto’s bats went cold in the Atlanta heat.
Soroka allowed three runs over five innings before turning things over to Josh Tomlin, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon, who combined for four perfect frames.
It was at least a strong day for Grichuk, who had the homer and a sacrifice fly. Josh Donaldson robbed him of another hit in the eighth, leaping to snare a 112-m.p.h. liner at third base. That was the third ball Grichuk put in play at 104-m.p.h. or harder Sunday as he tries to have a strong finish to what has been a disappointing season.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) September 2, 2019
Speaking of Donaldson, he didn’t look much like himself during his two-game return to Toronto last week, putting up only a pair of walks over nine plate appearances and committing an error in the field. He took plenty of big swings, no doubt trying to drive a ball through a hotel window against his former team. But he ultimately came up empty.
But that wasn’t the case Monday as Donaldson took one of those big cuts at the third pitch he saw in the first inning and put a ball into the right field bullpen:
First thing’s first, that’s a really poor pitch from Blue Jays starter Jacob Waguespack. He has Donaldson 0-2 and leaves a 91-m.p.h. fastball up and over the heart of the plate (Waguespack battled his command all day, walking five). Based off of where Danny Jansen set up, Waguespack was likely trying to run that fastball in on Donaldson’s hands, which is a common approach against the Braves slugger who isn’t shy to lean out and over the plate. Instead, Waguespack missed in a very bad spot.
And he missed to a very bad man. Donaldson feasts on mistakes like that. He was probably looking off-speed, which would explain why he was a little late on the pitch, sending it over the opposite field wall instead of to the pull side. But Donaldson’s quick enough and strong enough to keep the ball fair and muscle it over the wall. It’s one of the reasons why he’s still so productive in this, his age-33 season.
Donaldson’s now hitting .261/.379/.534 with 33 homers on the season, numbers that aren’t far off from his 2015 MVP season with the Blue Jays and underrated 2016 follow-up. And he’s only gotten better as the year’s gone on. Donaldson came into Monday’s game batting .278/.394/.616 with 25 homers over 72 games since June 11. Make it 26.