BALTIMORE – The wonders of small-sample-size randomness is such that the Toronto Blue Jays scored only 41 times over a 13-game stretch from Aug. 20 to Sept. 1 and then blitzed the Baltimore Orioles with a club-record outburst of 47 runs over the weekend at Camden Yards.
A 22-7 demolition in Sunday’s finale capped what really was a berserk four-game set:
• Live mics captured Brandon Hyde cussing out Robbie Ray on the mound in the opener and the Orioles manager later apologized for his loutish behaviour after his club stopped an eight-game Blue Jays winning streak in the opener.
• On Saturday, the Blue Jays became the first team in major-league history to hit a go-ahead homer while trailing in the final scheduled inning of both games in a doubleheader, per Elias.
• As a chaser, the Blue Jays scored five in the first, one in the second on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 44th homer and 10 in the third in the finale, the first time in team history they scored 16 times in a game’s first three innings.
• Including Saturday’s 11-run outburst in the seventh-inning of the second game, their 27 runs over a four-inning span were the most since the Live Ball Era began in 1920.
• Other team marks included Lourdes Gurriel Jr., hitting his fourth grand slam of the season, Teoscar Hernandez’s bases-loaded big fly (giving him 102 RBIs) making it two in the same game for the first time, and the 47 runs establishing a new high in a four-game series, surpassing the 42 scored against Baltimore in June 1978.
“It’s pretty indescribable,” said Steven Matz, the recipient of more run-support in one game than some starters get in a month.
Added Gurriel, who also had a two-run shot and three walks: “That’s a reflection of what the entire lineup can do.”
The Blue Jays have now won 11 of 12 beginning with the final game of that 41-run, 13-game stretch, scoring 101 runs while improving to 80-63. They moved into a virtual tie with the 81-64 Boston Red Sox, 2-1 losers to the Chicago White Sox, atop the wild-card standings.
Whether you believe in baseball karma, progression to the mean or talent simply winning out over time, the turnaround in this remarkable surge, which included sweeps of the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees, is dizzying.
“The game has its way of sorting things out,” star outfielder George Springer, enjoying a day off after playing in both ends of Saturday’s twinbill, said before Sunday’s finale. “Sometimes the ball's going to bounce a certain way and you just put your hands up in the air and go, ‘That's the game.’ But you've got to trust the process. In a 162-game full season, so much can go wrong and so much has to go right. You can't really dwell on the negatives or the positives – you have to stay even keel the whole time. And this team's finally starting to understand that.
“I mean, this is the first full year for a lot of guys and they're understanding that you can see things on a baseball field that you haven't seen before every single day. It's nuts.”
Nuts is certainly an apt description, and even veteran Blue Jays players were left marvelling at how the series in Baltimore played out, the latest climb in a wild, thrill-ride season.
While the hot-take set was quick to point out the club’s playoff probability of 4.5 per cent as calculated by Fangraphs after a 2-1 loss at Detroit on Aug. 27, there were underlying indicators, run differential chief among them, to suggest that the Blue Jays were due for a correction.
Few would have imagined that it would happen in such dramatic and rapid fashion, especially amid the pull-the-chute discourse followed. But as former NFL head coach Herm Edwards once said, “you don’t get to quit in sports,” and essential for the Blue Jays was to show have faith in their work paying off in the aggregate, rather than in the moment.
“At least from my own experience, the scoreboard causes a lot of problems,” said Springer. “Guys are looking at their average, or OPS or ERA, think they're not having a good year and then they try to press, they chase hits. That's not how it works. You have to understand in a good year, you're going to have 600-plus at bats and you can't really dwell on everything. It's been interesting to have gone through it, to understand it myself, and now watch guys like Bo (Bichette) and Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) understand it's only May, it's only June, I'm going to have, health-willing, another 300, 400 at-bats.”
Manager Charlie Montoyo and the pitching staff preached a similar message while the offence went dry.
“It's the ups and downs of baseball,” he said. “The problem was we were (struggling) as a team, so it's more visible. But all the coaches, we stayed the same way, we're going to hit, stay with the process, keep doing what you're doing, stay with your routine and now it's paying off.”
The same principle applies to the standings.
After that Aug. 27 loss, the Blue Jays trailed the Yankees by 9.5 games for the second wild card, a seemingly insurmountable gap. The thing in baseball is that the runway is long and things can change fast for a team if they take care of their own business.
When the Blue Jays left New York on Thursday night, having completed a four-game sweep in the Bronx, that 9.5 game gap was down to a half-game, and they pulled level this weekend.
“This team does a great job of staying in our dugout and understanding that we can't control what happens in any other game but our own,” said Springer. “Go out and play our game and whatever happens with the rest of it happens.”
Added Matz: “We're putting pressure on everyone else. We know what we're capable of but now, the rest of the league is starting to see that.”
Time and again the Blue Jays have done it, be it having to change home stadiums three times because of pandemic restrictions, injuries, gutting bullpen implosions and any number of other obstacles thrown in their way.
When others have found reasons why they won’t, the Blue Jays have continued to believe that they will.
"We all believe in each other with the group we have,” said Matz. “Just looking around, I'm like, 'Man, we have a really good team.' When everybody is doing what they know they're capable of, like we've been doing, the results are going to be there. And so, reflecting back, it's been a cool run. We still have some more games to go, so I don't want to get ahead of ourselves, just got to continue to play good baseball.”