ANAHEIM, Calif. – The drive by Matt Chapman, like what must be about a dozen others he’s hit similarly this season, looked gone off the bat. Struck at 95.7 m.p.h. at a 30-degree launch angle, the ball sailed 382 feet to left field and took Brandon Marsh to the wall before it settled into his glove.
Such frustration has been all-too-familiar for the soft-handed and hard-hitting third baseman, who more often than not has gotten precious little reward despite his 96th percentile average exit velocity and 98th percentile hard-hit rate.
Hence, some of the good fortune that came on his go-ahead, two-run double in the eighth inning of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 6-5 gong show win over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night was justly due.
Maybe a little baseball karma coming around?
"No, things do not even out, that's the beauty and the harsh reality of this game,” teammate Cavan Biggio, himself the recipient of some tough breaks, said after delivering a key RBI double the inning before. "But Chappy, everybody knows how great of a defender he is and he's a great hitter as well. It's good to see him come up the past couple of days in some big spots. We're just getting going as a team and some guys who had some struggle in the beginning, getting those guys going is going to be exciting moving forward.”
Facing Aaron Loup, Chapman reached out for a sinker and poked an 82.9 m.p.h flare into short right field, touching green inches ahead of a sliding Juan Lagares. The right-fielder couldn’t pick it up cleanly from there, and once he did, he bounced a throw to second baseman Luis Rengifo, who was charged with an error for deflecting the ball away, allowing Chapman to take third.
In the interim, both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez, each of whom had walked, came around to score, putting the Blue Jays up 5-4 immediately after Mike Trout’s two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh had erased a 3-2 Toronto lead.
Chapman, who also came up with a game-tying single in Friday’s 4-3 win, is batting .199/.284/.359 but based on the contact he’s made, deserves better than that.
“Yes, he does,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “What I like about that guy, his average is not that high right now, but you should see him in that dugout pulling for everybody, being happy and smiling. I appreciate people like that and that's what we need. This is a good clubhouse and it got better with Chapman, for sure. And you guys know about that defence.”
Trevor Richards followed with a lockdown eighth that included two broken bats for Shohei Ohtani, who on the second still managed to send a fly ball 308 feet at 87.6 m.p.h. to right field for the inning’s third out.
But Julian Merryweather’s inability to get through the seventh, when Trout sent a 98.4 m.p.h. fastball 414 feet out to centre, meant that Adam Cimber had to be used to clean up that inning, leaving him unavailable to handle a save opportunity in the ninth.
That left Jordan Romano to volunteer to pitch on a third straight day for the first time this season and with his velocity down 2.6 m.p.h., he recorded two outs, allowed a Marsh RBI single and left the bases loaded. He’d thrown 24 pitches in this one when Montoyo came to get him and 58 over the past three days.
Ross Stripling came in and retired Andrew Velazquez on a dribbler up the first-base line for his fourth career save and first since 2020.
The wild ending made it four straight wins and eight of 11 for the Blue Jays (26-20).
“(Romano) was throwing 93 so Pete (Walker, the pitching coach) went out there and the tough Canadian goes, 'Dude, let me finish this,' and he almost did,” said Montoyo. "Of course he gets two days off now. For sure he's not pitching (Sunday).”
Chapman’s pivotal double came on another night of timely machinations by the Blue Jays, who had seemingly taken control of the game in the seventh when Biggio ripped an RBI double that tied the game 2-2 and then scored on Alejandro Kirk’s pinch-hit RBI single.
The Blue Jays used Kirk the way they did Danny Jansen a night earlier, a risky move given that they’re no longer carrying Zack Collins as a third catcher. Before making the move Friday, Montoyo asked Santiago Espinal if he’d be willing to don the catcher’s gear and finish out the game behind the plate if something happened to Kirk.
Of course, Espinal told him, as back in 2020 he’d taken some reps off a pitching machine in preparation for just such a scenario. “I don’t know about my blocking, but I think my framing would be pretty good,” he quipped.
Espinal’s willingness to serve as an emergency catcher allowed Montoyo the freedom to repeat the move Saturday and given the way both backstops are hitting, expect there to be days where one is catching and the other is at DH, perhaps as soon as Tuesday. Jansen walked and scored in the seventh and just missed another home run in the eighth, sending a drive 385 feet to the left-field wall where again, Marsh caught the ball.
“It is scary because the moment I do that now, I’ve only got one catcher,” conceded Montoyo. “That’s why sometimes it’s tough to do. You want to keep both in the game because they’re both swinging the bat well. But you’re going to see Kirk DH while Danny is catching or the other way around because both are swinging the bat well.”
That rally in the seventh took Yusei Kikuchi off the hook after the lefty battled traffic for five innings but kept the Angels from scoring big, allowing only two runs. He also won the latest clash between Hanamaki Higashi High School’s two most famous baseball graduates, getting Ohtani on a groundball in the first, a strikeout in the third and a long fly ball to centre field in the fifth.
Ohtani had been 4-for-12 with two homers against him while the Angels clubbed him for 11 runs, 10 earned, in nine innings over two 2020 outings.
“Well, to be honest with you, my outings from last year against the Angels didn't go too well," Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “But before going into tonight's game, I really tried to put that aside. I just thought to myself, this is a new year and didn't let that get to me at all.”
Also not getting to the Blue Jays is the return to constant leverage. Early on it looked like they might blow out Michael Lorenzen when back-to-back doubles by Bo Bichette and Guerrero in the first inning opened up a 1-0 lead. But he settled and the Blue Jays had to grind the rest of the way until an offence that’s mostly run cold found a key knock via Chapman.
“That's just the ebbs and flows of a season,” said Biggio. “You're going to have your ups, you're going to have your downs, no matter how good your team is. In the downs, you learn a lot about yourself and in the highs and you want to ride it out for as long as it can go.”