BALTIMORE – These have been a weird four days in Baltimore, and not only because the Toronto Blue Jays have been dealing with the fallout from their latest trade deadline culling.
Aside from the usual array of hosers visiting to watch the series with the Orioles (shout out, Canada), the downtown area has been overrun with thousands of people attending BronyCon, a convention for fans of My Little Pony, which is, in fact, a real thing I’m not making up. It’s attended by actual grown-ups who, if not attired in horse outfits or trademarked merchandise, walk around clutching pony dolls to their chests. Some rocked both. Not kidding.
Anyway, as bizarre as that whole scene was, consider what transpired at Camden Yards over the weekend.
Randal Grichuk fouled a ball directly into his mouth. Two days later, Derek Fisher whiffed on a routine fly ball that landed on his right cheek. Both, thankfully, were fine. Grichuk had four hits Sunday while Fisher came in as a pinch-runner after a CT Scan the previous night revealed no structural damage.
The team as a whole played crisp, smart baseball in the first two games of the series, pushing a season-best winning streak to five games. Then, it dropped a couple of messy, mistake-filled clunkers to the woeful Orioles, including Sunday’s 6-5 loss in the series finale, when the left-field bleachers were filled with a British group attending the World Scout Jamboree in nearby West Virginia that cheered everything loudly, even if sometimes inappropriately.
There were moments when the Blue Jays played like they were new to the game, too.
“(Saturday) wasn’t the worst, but (Sunday), the first five innings were not very good and it all starts on the mound,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “Sean Reid-Foley was all over the place, it’s tough to play defence behind that. Having said that, I have to give him credit for minimizing damage.”
The most glaring examples of poor play came in the first inning.
With the bases loaded and one out, Justin Smoak hit a fly ball to deep left and that would have easily scored Cavan Biggio from third. But, despite the 90 feet meaning relatively little with two outs, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., tried to tag from second to third and was thrown out there before Biggio touched the plate, negating the run.
“That was just not a good play,” said Montoyo. “There’s no excuse for that.”
The bad baseball continued in the bottom half of the inning, when Reid-Foley forgot how to throw strikes and walked three batters. He managed to erase the first on a Trey Mancini double play grounder, but got burned with two outs when Jace Peterson looped a lazy popper into no man’s land and third baseman Brandon Drury awkwardly swiped at it as it fell in to score a run.
Teoscar Hernandez cashed in a Grichuk double in the second to erase that deficit, but in the bottom half, Reid-Foley issued his fourth walk of the day and with runners on second and third and two out, Bichette had a routine Jonathan Villar grounder hop off his glove for an error that allowed the go-ahead run to score. Moments later, Mancini sent a ball into the left-field corner that pushed across two more runs.
“Just thinking about the runner, thinking about the throw before actually catching the ball,” said Bichette. “Ninety-nine times of 100 times, maybe 999,999 times out of a million, I make that play but it is what it is. Just got to try to limit those as much as possible.”
The mistake was evidence that even against the Orioles, careless mistakes will kill you.
Growing pains are, of course, the flip side when transitioning the number of young players the Blue Jays currently have on a roster that’s the second youngest in baseball.
“It’s all about learning and that’s our job, to teach our kids and that’s going to happen,” said Montoyo. “The routine groundballs in the big-leagues, you have to make those plays because when you’re playing big-league teams, it’s going to haunt you if you don’t make the routine plays.”
Reid-Foley, 23, reigned things back in after being all over the place during a 21-pitch, 14-ball first inning to grind through four frames on 81 pitches.
Only one of the four runs he surrendered was earned but he did give up four hits along with those four walks in an outing he described as “kind of a kick to the teeth. Go to the orthodontist, figure it out and get back out there.”
Asked what he does to get himself back in the strike zone when he’s lost his command, Reid-Foley said “you kind of trick yourself,” which in this case included a trip to the bathroom between innings.
“I literally looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘What are you doing?’ That’s kind of what you do,” said Reid-Foley. “At the end of the day if you’re not getting through five, you’re not really a starting pitcher. Everyone’s always like, as a starter, you want to get through more than five but I guess from here, take small baby steps. Get through five, get through six, just really hone in that you’re here to compete, you’re not here for next year, or the next year. We’re not rebuilding. We’re here. … We want to win. There’s no, ‘Oh, we’re young.’ We’re here. What I did today was inexcusable and didn’t get through five. Put it that way.”
Yennsy Diaz, 22, struggled through his big-league debut, throwing his first pitch into the opposite batter’s box, walking four batters, two with the bases loaded, while recording only two outs.
At the same time, there’s the upside.
Bichette ripped the first pitch of the game for a double, and later hit the first of back-to-back homers with Cavan Biggio in the seventh inning, the two drives coming in a span of three pitches.
“When it happened it was actually a lot cooler than I probably anticipated it would have been. It was a cool moment,” Bichette said. “We were excited (in the dugout). We cut into the lead a little bit, (Tom Eshelman) had been pitching well a couple of times through the order, we knew we should get him a third time around and we did. It was nice.”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., collected three hits, including a single in the seventh, advanced to second and then third on wild pitches and then, when Grichuk hit a grounder just foul, used his left hand to point his teammate into fair territory, and the right-fielder obliged with a double down the third base line that made it a one-run game.
“Anytime a runner is on third and you get a groundball, line drive, anything at you, you joke around and say, ‘Hit it fair,’” relayed Grichuk. “Ninety per cent of what we’ve seen from the young guys has been incredible, the way they’re handling themselves, the way they’re playing out there on the field. We understand there are going to be some slip-ups. It happened to me, it happens to all young guys. In the end, it’s going to be all worth it.”
The inning died there, as did another uprising in the ninth, and the Orioles bullpen held on, which, come to think of it, may have been the oddest occurrence of them all on a weird weekend in Baltimore.