TORONTO – If you watch 13 innings of baseball, you’ll see some things.
By the time this one ended you had infielders Richard Urena and Brandon Drury making plays in left and right field. You had an empty bench and a depleted bullpen, a distant memory of a strong Aaron Sanchez start.
The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays 6-5 Wednesday and along the way, as four and a half hours of baseball unfolded, we learned some things about the home team. An extra-innings loss always hurts, even when you’re rebuilding, but there were some positives for the Blue Jays as Sanchez pitched six innings, Danny Jansen delivered a game-tying pinch hit, Rowdy Tellez hit a game-tying homer and their rookie third baseman kept impressing.
"That was a great game," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "We proved that we can play with the champions over there."
Facing Rick Porcello in the fourth inning, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sent a fastball on the outside corner off the facing of the second deck in centre field for his first of what the Blue Jays hope will be many home runs at Rogers Centre.
"He can do stuff that other guys can’t do," Montoyo said. "Every time he comes to the plate he’s got a chance to do that… and he’s only 20. He’s only going to get better."
Later, Guerrero Jr. added a bloop single to finish the day two for six. He stumbled out of the batter’s box on that second hit, rolling his ankle, but continued without apparent issues after taping it.
Dating back to last Tuesday, Guerrero Jr. has hit his first five homers in an eight-day span. The only other player aged 20 or younger to hit his first five homers within a 10-day period? Hall of Famer Frank Robinson back in 1956.
Simply put, Guerrero Jr. already looks like the Blue Jays’ best hitter. Justin Smoak still belongs in the discussion after a homer of his own Wednesday, but over the last 10 days Guerrero Jr. has shown off the power, contact skills and selectivity that make him baseball’s best prospect. What he’s doing is special.
"He dominates the strike zone," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "Right now, his swing rate at the edges is up there but when he dominates the strike zone he’s very dangerous. You can see the quickness of the bat, for such a big guy he moves very well, and he has fun, too, doing it. He’s smiling all the time, which is great."
Guerrero Jr. also made a strong defensive play in the seventh inning when Sandy Leon popped up a bunt. The 20-year-old came charging out from third and dove headlong to catch the bunt on the fly before landing heavily on the Rogers Centre turf.
Depending on your perspective, that play’s either an impressive display of athleticism or a reason to hold your breath. Maybe both. Either way, Guerrero Jr. made the play unscathed this time even if it appeared to knock the wind out of him.
He added another strong play in the 11th, ranging to his left then throwing on the run to retire Michael Chavis.
Of course there’s more to this team than Guerrero Jr. With the Blue Jays trailing by one and down to their last out in the ninth, Montoyo pinch hit for Luke Maile with Jansen. The move worked, as Jansen built on his recent hot streak with an opposite-field single to drive Drury home and tie the game 4-4.
"I took some swings off the tee and tried to slow my heart rate a little bit, because it’s racing a little bit," Jansen said. "Really it’s just calming yourself for that big situation and being in the moment."
After a slow start at the plate Jansen’s been seeing better results in recent days thanks to improved timing at the plate. He went deep Friday and Sunday in Chicago for his first two homers of the year.
Jansen wasn’t the only bench player to have a memorable day, as Urena made his first career appearance in the outfield after pinch running in the bottom of the 10th.
As for the Blue Jays’ pitching, Sanchez bounced back with six strong innings against one of baseball’s best offences after exiting his previous start in the fourth inning with a blister issue. He walked two, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch on a night his command eluded him at times, but he limited the Red Sox to two runs on four hits.
The controlled climate of Rogers Centre may have played in Sanchez’s favour considering that his blister and nail issues have surfaced in cold weather this year. His next start will be at Tropicana Field, allowing a little more recovery time before he’s reintroduced to the elements.
Eventually he’ll pitch in extreme heat and cold again, at which point his troublesome fingers will be tested. Of course that’s nothing new for Sanchez, who has battled finger issues since 2017.
"I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few years," he said. "Going out there, not being at my best every time and trying to figure things out, I think it’s benefitted me. I can’t wait for this finger issue to be behind me."
Right-handers Daniel Hudson and Derek Law each allowed a run in relief of Sanchez while Ken Giles was characteristically effective with a scoreless ninth that ended on a caught stealing by Jansen.
Even with Thursday’s matinee looming, Montoyo had no choice but to use his bullpen heavily. Joe Biagini pitched 1.2 innings and Jimmy Cordero took the loss in his Blue Jays debut, setting up more maneuvering in Thursday’s series finale when Clayton Richard makes his season debut.
With the loss, the Blue Jays fall to 20-29 on the season. If sustained, that’d be 96-loss pace. Potentially tough to watch at times, just not when their third baseman’s at the plate.