TORONTO — Under normal circumstances, 12 games is a mere blip, a sliver of season so small that to view it is as representative of anything would be foolhardy. All that still holds in this pandemic summer — save for the sliver of a season part, with a dozen contests suddenly the equivalent of a far more significant 20-per-cent chunk of the schedule.
Making sense of that discrepancy — and the need to examine short-term results through a long-term lens — is becoming an increasingly pertinent for the Toronto Blue Jays, who improved to 5-7 after rallying for a 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night.
To this point, they’ve mostly pitched well, disappointed at the plate and made an unsettling number of mistakes, leaving at least three wins on the table. That’s five per cent of the season, and for an ambitious team with post-season aspirations, there’s plenty to clean up and a shrinking runway.
All that made their scratching out of a pair of runs late — one on a Bo Bichette RBI double in the seventh, another on a Rowdy Tellez groundout in the eighth — a combination of relief and reward after five losses in their past six outings.
“It was a big win for us,” said manager Charlie Montoyo.
The victory came despite two more outs on the bases, a day after making three running blunders, including a pair of first-outs at third base. In the second, Tellez broke for second before Zack Godley had even come set, and was easily caught in a rundown, while in the sixth, an aggressive send on a two-out single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. allowed Kevin Pillar to easily get Travis Shaw at home, even on a poor throw that was up the third-base line.
Problematic as those plays were, the bigger issue is how close they came to being really costly. Against the Rays, Nationals and Braves, the Blue Jays’ offence was kept under wraps by some upper-percentile pitching, but getting stuffed by Ryan Weber and Godley, whom they released last summer when they were desperate for live bodies to sop innings?
Those are dudes this offence should be boat-racing, and because they’re not, every little mistake becomes consequential.
“The good thing about that is when the pitching is doing well, it keeps you in the game,” said Montoyo. “And that’s what happened. I’ve seen it happen so many times, like, man, how can we score a run, because if I’m the third-base coach, I’m sending Shaw (on the Guerrero single). It’s tough to get back-to-back base hits with two outs, so I was OK with that send. But it’s like, OK, what’s going to happen next? But the pitching has been so good, I knew we still had a chance.”
The magnification of everything that goes wrong also applies at the plate, and though a 12-game sample is subject to all sorts of variance, there isn’t necessarily enough schedule for performances to normalize.
The Blue Jays hit into some bad luck before they rallied, with Cavan Biggio’s liner to first in the fifth turning into an easy double play, Tellez getting robbed by a Pillar gem in the seventh and Biggio hitting a rocket 397 feet to centre that’s a homer in many other parks later that inning.
Still, they were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position — the lone hit leading to the Shaw out at home — when Bichette finally broke through with a game-tying RBI double in the seventh. Then in the eighth, Tellez delivered a groundout with men in the corners to bring Lourdes Gurriel Jr. home with the go-ahead run.
“We need to keep our heads up, just try to continue having great at-bats, hitting the ball hard,” Guerrero, who had two hits and had a third stolen on a diving catch by Andrew Benintendi in left, said in comments interpreted by Hector Lebron. “They’re making very good plays on us, there’s nothing we can do about it but keep positive, keep our heads up and keep swinging.”
Underlining how baseball is often a game of patience and process, Guerrero has seen some dividends from his recent work with hitting coach Guillermo Martinez, collecting six hits, four of them doubles, and three walks over his past five games. The focal point has been keeping himself better balanced through his swing.
“If I can do that,” said Guerrero, “then the hands are going to go very easy and I’ll make better contact with the ball.”
More of the expected thunder from Guerrero and the rest of the offence would certainly help, but in the ongoing absence of knockout blows, the pitching staff again had to work with no breathing room, once again coming through.
Chase Anderson, activated from the injured list before the game, delivered three innings of one-run ball, a pair of walks ahead of a Christian Vazquez worm-burner up the middle costing him in the second. A cutter that produced a double-play ball from Benintendi got him out of trouble.
“I think that brings out the best in the pitcher, because you know you can’t give up much,” Anderson said of working with little margin for error. “I know how hard it is to hit, I was in the National League for six seasons, hitting a fastball at 90 miles an hour down the middle is tough. Those guys are doing the best they can to score runs. We will have an elite offence, but it comes with experience. These guys are young, they’re really good hitters, they’ll make the adjustment and I believe in our guys. If we can win games like tonight, we’re going to be a really good team.”
Wilmer Font got two outs but left two on in the fourth for lefty Anthony Kay, who made a nice play on a Pillar roller to end that threat and then ripped through the next three innings, erasing a pair of defensive errors behind while allowing only two hits with three strikeouts.
“Pretty much when I’m on the mound and they hit a dribbler or bunt, I usually try to attack the ball until someone calls me off,” Kay said of his approach on the Pillar play. “I did that and I want to say (Danny Jansen) said something for me to grab it, so I just attacked it and got it and thankfully Rowdy was able to make the pick (at first base).”
The rally allowed the Blue Jays to hand Jordan Romano a lead in the eighth, and after the righty from Markham, Ont., delivered another clean inning, Anthony Bass locked things down in the ninth.
The win pushed the Blue Jays’ playoff probabilities, which began the day at 24.7 per cent, up to 28.9 per cent, underlining the value of each game, and the urgency required by the current schedule.
“A normal season, it’s a marathon. This season, you can definitely argue it’s a sprint, but the best thing is to not view it that way,” said right-hander Matt Shoemaker, who’ll start Sunday’s finale. “You have to view it as one game at a time. As a pitcher, I have to view it as one pitch at a time. So regardless of playing 60 games or whatever the number is, you have to go out there one day at a time, one game at a time.”
That’s one cliché that holds true. Another is that it gets late early. In these weird times, both can certainly apply at the same time.