TORONTO – The evening began like this for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Yup, that’s right, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit into a triple play with runners on second and third. It went 1-3-6-2-5-6 for those of you scoring at home – the first of its kind in big-league history – and for the odds of that happening, well, tack on a few zeroes at the end of that combination and it’s one in that, surely.
What went wrong on the play?
“Everything,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “I’m not going to sugar-coat it. We didn't do a good job on that.”
Then, in the top of the second, T.J. Zeuch took a potential double-play ball with men on the corners, and after looking the runner back at third, and the following happened:
So, instead of building a big lead in the first and putting the New York Yankees bullpen on call early, the Blue Jays instead gifted their visitors a run, needed a miraculous escape to keep it from being more, and watched Gio Urshela hit a two-run homer for a 3-0 lead in the third.
Not exactly how you want to start a salvage-the-series, bounce-back-attempt night.
Impressively, the Blue Jays shook that off, and grinded their way into a 4-3 lead they carried into the seventh, with a Randal Grichuk single cashing in Guerrero with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth. Once there, they immediately gave it up for the third time in the series, Giancarlo Stanton hitting a go-ahead two-run homer off Anthony Castro, who left two runners aboard that pinch-hitter Chris Gittens brought home with a two-out single off Tim Mayza.
In that way, an 8-4 loss Thursday that completed a three-game Yankees sweep in which each game could have, and probably should have, gone the other way, heaped an especially big dose of pain on a Blue Jays team that’s suffered a long line of disheartening losses.
They lost for the eighth time when leading after six innings, four of them coming in the last week. At 33-34, they fell below .500 for the first time since they dropped to 11-12 on April 28. And while yet another bullpen implosion wasn’t necessarily a surprise given how deep they are down the reliever depth chart, the sloppy play that showed up certainly was, and may be a sign of players trying too hard to change the club’s fortune.
“We're playing good baseball, we just haven't been able to stop the other offence in the last three innings,” lamented Montoyo. “It's not like the team is playing bad for me to be frustrated about that. It's just we haven't been able to stop teams in the last three innings.”
A three-game series in Baltimore opening Friday is perhaps the antidote they need most right now, as last year the Blue Jays went 8-2 against the Orioles.
Ten of their next 18 games are with the AL East cellar-dwellers and running through those games at a similar clip to last summer would certainly help turn their fortunes.
George Springer’s return is on the horizon, too, perhaps in Miami next week if not this weekend in Baltimore, after playing six innings in the field during his third rehab game with triple-A Buffalo, hitting a double in four at-bats. But with the bullpen thinned out by injuries and in disarray with too many relievers overexposed, Castro being Exhibit A at the moment, running through the Orioles won’t be a given.
Rafael Dolis, who left Wednesday’s 3-2 loss with a numbing sensation in his right hand, hit the injured list Thursday with what the team called a right middle finger strain. Zeuch took his spot and may not be long for the club, especially with Montoyo needing six relievers to cover the final six frames, and his plan to bridge the gap to closer Jordan Romano blowing up again.
One thing for him to cling to is that Tyler Chatwood had a second straight solid outing as he tries to emerge from some recent struggles, and if the Blue Jays would have held their lead, “he was going to get a chance in the eighth,” said Montoyo. “Castro struggled so everything went out the window. But we had Castro, we had Mayza and then Chatwood was going to get the top (of the Yankees lineup) in the eighth. But we just didn't get there.”
The saving grace for the team right now is the way it keeps getting back up after each knock down. Right after the Yankees took a 3-0 lead Thursday, the Blue Jays scratched out a pair in the bottom half on a Reese McGuire RBI double and Bo Bichette run-scoring groundout. Marcuse Semien tied things up in the fifth with another run-scoring groundout and Grichuk put them ahead in the sixth with his base hit off the ever-tough Chad Green.
But when Cavan Biggio followed with a deep fly to right that Aaron Judge pulled back from over the fence, it was an omen of things to come.
“I figured Green was going to come up in with a heater so first pitch was what I was looking for and I got the barrel to it,” Biggio said of his approach in the at-bat. “I didn't get all of it, but I knew I got a good bit of it, and I hit it down the right-field line so I knew it had a chance. I was just hoping it was going to keep going. I saw (Judge) slowly timing it up and he makes an unbelievable play. You've got to tip your cap to that. Definitely a game-changing play.”
Maybe with a 6-3 edge rather than a 4-3 lead, Castro might have been a better version of himself. Instead, in high leverage, his seventh inning went single, homer, single, single. Mayza took over, was gifted an out when Brett Gardner sacrificed the runners over and recorded a second on Miguel Andujar’s dribbler before Gittens punched through a two-run single.
“We just couldn't stop them,” said Montoyo.
That’s been a theme, and it’s been costly, as the Blue Jays are now 6-6 against the Yankees, 4-5 against the Boston Red Sox and 2-5 against the division-leading Rays, easily leaving nine very winnable games on the table.
“You don't really want to dwell on those type of things,” said Biggio. “I mean, you look at the game (Wednesday) night, that last inning was pretty wild. A couple of things didn't go our way, which they could have. And you look at a game like (Thursday) where, a ball I hit Judge makes an unbelievable play on and probably the only guy in the league that can make that play with how big and athletic he is. So a couple of things go our way, we might not have be having this conversation.”
But things haven’t been going their way, and the Blue Jays haven’t been able to change the discussion.
They may have played better than 4-9 in their last 13 games, and that’s reason to believe they’ll rebound from this funk, but deserved or not,4-9 in the standings over that span is what they get.