BOSTON – So this is it for the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park in 2019. They leave on a losing note, which seems appropriate given the wide gap in talent between the Blue Jays and their hosts.
That contrast was on full display in this series finale. On the mound, Red Sox starter Chris Sale dominated, striking out 12 over six scoreless innings. Few pitchers could keep up with that, and on Thursday Thomas Pannone was not among them.
At the plate, Boston’s 22-year-old third baseman continues to look like one of the game’s best young hitters. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays’ 20-year-old third baseman is 3-for-23 since the season’s second half began. The resulting 5-0 Red Sox win never seemed in doubt.
Hey, at least the Blue Jays’ starter made it to Fenway. Thunderstorms in Boston led to the cancellation of Pannone’s flight from Buffalo, prompting the Blue Jays to scramble for alternatives. No flights were available to Boston, or Hartford or Portland, so the Blue Jays enlisted the help of a car service to drive Pannone to Boston.
"It wasn’t an Uber," manager Charlie Montoyo joked.
To be precise, it was a Lincoln SUV. “Comfortable, for sure,” Pannone said. Still, this wasn’t ideal. After seven hours of chatting with the driver and looking at his phone, Pannone arrived at the team hotel around 4 a.m. – or roughly nine hours before he would take the mound at Fenway Park. He fell asleep right away and woke up around 9:30 a.m. feeling ready if not especially rested.
“It wasn’t really that bad,” he said. “I was fine.”
“It gave me a good amount of time to sit back and relax,” he said of the drive. “Think about what I was going to be doing here today.”
Adding to the challenge, he was pitching on short rest in more ways than one. He last pitched Sunday – just four days ago.
Under those circumstances, the Blue Jays wanted four or five quality innings from Pannone, a Cranston, R.I., native whose family had an easier time getting to the game than he did. They got four innings. They did not get five.
Pannone kept pace with Sale early on, holding Boston’s formidable lineup scoreless through four. As Montoyo said, “He did a great job.” But in the fifth, as the Red Sox turned their order over for a third time, Pannone started struggling. By the time he left with one out in the inning, Boston had scored four runs, three of which came on a homer by Rafael Devers.
“I got through four innings pretty clean then kind of got got in the fifth inning,” Pannone said. “Overall, though, I felt good.”
For anyone keeping track, that’s eight home runs and 28 runs driven in by Devers against the Blue Jays this season. From the visiting dugout, Montoyo sees a future batting champion.
"That guy’s just a good hitter," Montoyo said. "He’s probably going to become one of the best hitters in baseball … I know he hits good against us, but he hits good against everybody else, too. That’s why he’s hitting over .320. I wish I could say he’s fun to watch."
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., on the other hand, is batting just .238/.317/.387 after a hitless day at the plate. It’s completely understandable that the youngest hitter in the American League would struggle, yet it’s a letdown compared to the expectations Guerrero Jr. faced this year. Perhaps Devers’ development can offer Guerrero Jr. encouragement; last year as a 21-year-old, he hit .240 with a .731 OPS.
In more encouraging news, Ryan Borucki’s about to rejoin the Blue Jays’ starting rotation. He’ll pitch either Sunday or Monday after missing the first half with an elbow injury (Borucki would be on regular rest Sunday but the team could opt to let Jacob Waguespack start, giving everyone else an extra day of rest).
Finally, some reinforcements for a team that has juggled starters all season long.
"It seems like we’re getting to a place where it’s looking better," Montoyo said. "It looks like our rotation can look the same – unless there’s a trade or something."
As Montoyo knows well, a trade or two will likely occur over the next couple of weeks with Marcus Stroman a leading candidate to be moved. At that point, another opening will emerge.
Realistically, the juggling act in this rotation will likely continue all season long. Ideally, it leads to some answers, allowing the Blue Jays to shrink the talent gap a little by the next time they play at Fenway Park.