TORONTO — Something was off from the start.
After four walks, but a still-manageable single-run deficit in 1.1 innings, pitching coach Pete Walker came trotting out of the Toronto Blue Jays dugout to chat with starter Jose Berrios at Angel Stadium on Thursday night.
But Berrios’s command issues continued, and the Blue Jays fell 6-3 to the Los Angeles Angels, splitting the four-game series and wasting an opportunity to gain ground on the AL wild-card race.
“That’s the night I had,” said Berrios. “I had to battle, pitch by pitch. And I tried. I gave it my 100 per cent and I feel good about it."
Berrios’s night ended after 4.1 innings and 93 pitches, with eight hits and six earned runs to go with the four walks he issued while only striking out three batters. It was an unusual sight, as the newly acquired righty had dominated in his first two starts with Toronto, issuing a single walk over those two outings while striking out a combined 13 batters.
“It’s just his fastball command, he didn’t have it (tonight),” said manager Charlie Montoyo after Thursday’s loss. “He’s been really good. That’s all. Because whenever he has that fastball command, his breaking pitches are a lot better. But he had to battle all night.”
Berrios struggled to locate his pitches and never seemed comfortable on the mound until being replaced by Trent Thornton, loading the bases more than once in the first couple of innings.
Shohei Ohtani, on the other hand, continued to add to his MVP-calibre campaign, pitching six innings of two-run ball with six strikeouts, three hits and three walks, while adding a double and a walk at the plate.
Just like that, any momentum built by a stellar Alek Manoah outing the previous night – and the fact that the New York Yankees dropped their Field of Dreams game to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday – seemed to edge farther away as the 62-52 Blue Jays packed their bags and headed to Seattle for a weekend series against the Mariners.
“We just played .500 on the road,” said Montoyo. “That’s never bad. We’ve been playing good baseball. Ohtani did a good job, they gave him the lead and that’s it. Regroup tomorrow.”
Despite the optimism, Toronto remains two-and-a-half games back of a wild-card spot, trailing the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Yankees in the post-season pursuit. Berrios’s presence in itself (and the absence of one Austin Martin) indicates that the Jays are all in on making it to October. Losses like Thursday’s, against a depleted Angels club with a .500 winning percentage in the season, may well come back to haunt the Blue Jays in September.
There are still 48 games in the season and enough time for a run, but the Jays may not have room for derailing losses like the one on Thursday night.
Toronto’s unfortunate night wasn’t limited to pitching, however. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. lost the battle of AL MVP candidates, between himself and Ohtani, closing out the night with two strikeouts, a single and a walk, while chasing pitches outside the strike zone at an uncharacteristic clip.
“Vladdy right now is struggling a little bit, so he’s not the Vladdy that’s locked in,” said Montoyo. “It’s just what happens. It’s a long season and he’s trying to hit .300.
“Look out when he gets hot again.”
Outfielder Corey Dickerson left the game with back tightness, replaced by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who gave the Blue Jays one of their bright spots on a night when very little went their way, with a solo home run at the top of the ninth. Teoscar Hernandez's RBI single extended his hitting streak to five consecutive games. Randal Grichuk added an RBI double of his own.
Relievers Thornton, Kirby Snead and newly recalled Connor Overton pitched 3.2 scoreless frames.
Veteran Kurt Suzuki opened the scoring for the Angels in the second frame, cashing in rookie Jo Adell with a sac fly for the first of his two RBIs on the night. Berrios walked Ohtani and allowed a Brandon Marsh double before Jared Walsh snuck one past first and second to score both runners and make it 3-0 Angels.
Phil Gosselin followed with a single off a breaking ball that cashed in David Fletcher.
Berrios ended the excruciating second inning by fielding a Justin Upton groundball and tossing it over to shortstop Marcus Semien, who turned the double play to Guerrero Jr. at first and sent a frustrated Berrios back to the dugout as Thornton continued to warm up in the bullpen.
The righty came back for the bottom of the third, and immediately allowed a Jose Iglesias single on the very first pitch. He struck out Adell and got Marsh to ground out, but didn’t close out the inning until after allowing a two-out double to Suzuki that gave the catcher his second RBI of the night and made it 5-0 Angels.
“Obviously, we don’t want an outing like that. But we always learn about it,” said Berrios. “I can take some good things about tonight.”
Berrios issued his sole 1-2-3 inning of the game in the fourth and his night was over after a hard-hit double by Jose Iglesias with one out in the fifth.
"I have to turn the page," he said.