No pain, no gain: Blue Jays' Hernandez leads team to win over Cubs in return

Teoscar Hernandez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. both had home runs to lift the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs in Marcus Stroman's return to Toronto.

TORONTO – The pain for Teoscar Hernandez, just beneath his left ankle bone and into the arch of his foot, is worst when he runs or quickly changes directions. He did both while chasing down Franmil Reyes’ 95.2-m.p.h. drive to the right-field corner, a ball with a 45-per-cent catch probability, making a sliding catch that both ended the fourth inning and saved at least one run. A long, uncomfortable jog followed back to the Toronto Blue Jays dugout, where his teammates mobbed him in appreciation.

At the plate, his discomfort is far less intense, and he avoided that whole running thing a couple of innings later by launching his 19th homer of the season, a decisive three-run drive, which allowed him to take a much less taxing trot around the bases.

In those ways, Hernandez’s impact in his return to the lineup was all over a 5-3 victory Tuesday over the Chicago Cubs, in which the Blue Jays overcame five innings of one-run ball by Marcus Stroman and continued to rebound from a dreadful weekend against the Los Angeles Angels.

The key moments were also somewhat redemptive for Hernandez, who after fouling a ball off his left foot Friday night, having done it Aug. 20 against the New York Yankees as well, looked off during a defensive misplay later that game and on a Sunday baserunning blip.

On Tuesday, with his left foot heavily taped up, he was more like the version of himself the Blue Jays need consistently.

“He's a good player,” said interim manager John Schneider. “When he's 100 per cent, that's the kind of player that he is, whether it's a three-run homer to right field or making a (defensive) play like that, he has all of the physical skills in the world matching up against anyone in the league. If he's doing that, it's great. He's a really talented dude.”

There’s no debating that.

But amid the physical pain and mental lapses, Hernandez sat during Monday night’s tension-easing, 5-4, 11-inning comeback win. After taking optional batting practice Tuesday, when he and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., each took a few explosive rips with an aluminum bat for fun, he was adamant that he’d find a way to contribute.

“For me, now that I have this issue in my ankle, I’m going to give everything I’ve got and keep playing hard,” Hernandez said before the game. “If I make mistakes, it’s not going to stop me. I'm going to keep going out there and do my best to help the team.”

He did that in a big way on another night that had the makings of a frustrating ending.

Kevin Gausman was his usual dominant self over six innings with nine strikeouts, but was victimized by solo shots from Willson Contreras in the fourth and Christopher Morel in the sixth.

Seiya Suzuki’s two-out single in the fourth preceded the Reyes smash and would have easily made it 2-0 if not for Hernandez covering 57 feet to make the grab, having calculated the risk-reward of going all out rather than trying to contain it.

“It depends how hard he hit the ball and how close it is to the line,” Hernandez said of his decision-making. “I knew if that ball were to drop, it would have ended up in the stands. That's why I went for it.”

The offence, meanwhile, sputtered after loading the bases with two out in the first and coming up empty on a Hernandez fielder’s choice against Stroman, the first of 10 straight batters he sat down.

Down 1-0, the Blue Jays didn’t find a breakthrough until the fifth, when Danny Jansen reached on a hit by pitch, advanced to second on a passed ball and after a George Springer walk, came around on a Guerrero RBI single up the middle.

Stroman, pitching in Toronto for the first time since his 2019 deadline trade to the New York Mets, got Lourdes Gurriel Jr., on a groundout to limit the damage there and cap a solid night of work.

After the Cubs went up 2-1, the Blue Jays took control in the bottom half, when Bo Bichette reached on a hit by pitch, reliever Brendon Little slipped trying to field Matt Chapman’s little chopper by home for a base hit and then served up Hernandez’s rocket to right.

"That was huge for him,” said Gausman. “It's been a while since we've seen him hit one in that direction of the ballpark, and when he's going at his best, that's what he's capable of doing. Hopefully it's something that we can see a lot in the future going forward. But he's been great, transparent and open about everything and that's really all you can ask from a guy. He hits the ball off his leg and he's back out there, doesn't want much time off because he wants to play and help team, so you can respect a guy like that.”

Proving the point, Hernandez added: “I'm going to keep going until it breaks, if I have to. At this point, I'm just trying to do the best that I can to to do good and help the team.”

The clubs traded runs in the seventh – Morel hit an RBI double, Guerrero ripped his 27th homer of the season – and the Blue Jays guaranteed themselves a series victory against an opponent they need to take care of, a task that can be easier said than done.

For a team that’s run hot and cold to an extreme this season, trying to maintain an even keel amid the intensifying stakes can be more challenging, even with the experience from late last summer to draw upon.

“We have to control what we can control,” said Hernandez. “At the end of the day, if we win, it's good. But if we lose, we just have to throw that one in the trash and come with a better optimism the next day. Better focus. More energy. Try to do things differently. Put that one in the past and keep going.”

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