Shaky defence, umpiring turn close game into blowout loss for Blue Jays

Watch as Marwin Gonzalez scores off a controversial missed tag call by the umpire, for which the Blue Jays had no more challenges left to use.

TORONTO -- Let’s begin with the missed call – or was it missed calls? -- in the seventh inning.

Replays clearly showed that Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did indeed tag Marwin Gonzalez on the back in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday night. It’s also possible that Gonzalez veered outside the basepaths, which would also result in an out. And it looked as though Guerrero Jr. had his foot on the bag on the previous play, when Isiah Kiner-Falefa reached on an infield hit.

But the big one – the play on which home plate umpire Ron Kulpa ruled Gonzalez safe at the plate? The play that catalyzed a six-run inning in a 9-1 New York Yankees win? That one’s obvious. The umpires messed up.

Normally, that’s a play the Blue Jays challenge right away. But since they’d already used their challenge, they had no recourse beyond some choice words for the umpiring crew. So, in a crucial game between two division rivals a potentially impactful play was left unchanged, even after everyone in the stadium realized it had been called wrong. It’s an indictment of the current replay rules. Or, as the umpires themselves might put it, clear and convincing evidence that the current system has some significant shortcomings.

“I always go by the player,” manager Charlie Montoyo said afterwards. “Because he’s the one making the tag. And it seems like it was obvious because Vladdy really felt it.”

Convinced that Kulpa had missed the call, Montoyo asked the crew to review the play.

“We asked to replay it and they didn’t do it,” he explained. “When you’re playing close games and you’re playing teams this hot? That’s two big plays.”

Yet that’s only part of the story here. The Blue Jays’ seventh-inning defence was sloppy from start to finish, contributing to the Yankees’ rally. Bo Bichette opened the inning with a fielding error and while Kiner-Falefa was ruled to have reached on an infield hit, Bichette had a chance on that one, too. Mix in a diving miss by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on a Josh Donaldson double and you have an inning in which the umpires weren’t the only ones giving the Yankees a helping hand.

“It goes back to what I preach: when you play close games and you aren’t swinging the bats, you’ve got to make the plays,” Montoyo said. “We didn’t do that.”

The next inning the Blue Jays put the finishing touches on an ugly loss when a Raimel Tapia throwing error preceded a Giancarlo Stanton two-run home run. For a while, though, this game appeared to be trending in a totally different direction.

Alek Manoah was extremely effective over six innings of work, striking out seven while allowing just three hits. One of those hits was an Aaron Judge home run, but Manoah still reinforced his status as a frontline pitcher Tuesday, whiffing Judge and Stanton twice apiece and retiring 15 consecutive hitters at one point. For a pitcher who’s less than a year into his big-league career, he has been incredibly consistent.

“Man, Alek, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game right now,” Judge told reporters afterwards. “Great two-seam and four-seam fastball, can throw a nasty wipe-out slider anytime."

And while the Blue Jays are still looking for a breakthrough game offensively, there were some positive signs Tuesday, including a two hit-game from Guerrero Jr. and Alejandro Kirk’s first extra-base hit of the year. On top of that, there was another two-hit game from Bichette, who drove in the Blue Jays’ only run.

Earlier this year, Bichette was letting the ball travel deep into the strike zone -- an approach that often allows him to make hard contact to the opposite field. But his timing was off ever so slightly, contributing to his struggles.

“Then you start to see the barrel behind you,” hitting coach Guillermo Martinez said. “You start to see fastballs going by you. That’s when it looks like he’s late.”

As a result, opposing pitchers started throwing Bichette more fastballs than ever – a career-high 66.7 per cent, entering play Tuesday. But now, Bichette has recently found his timing at the plate, with a two-hit game Saturday, a game-changing home run Sunday and another two-hit game Monday.

“I think he’s back, actually,” Martinez said.

Behind the scenes, Teoscar Hernandez and Danny Jansen both took steps forward from their respective oblique injuries on Tuesday. Playing for the Blue Jays’ class A affiliate in Dunedin, Fla., Hernandez homered in his first at-bat before flying out, striking out and hitting a double. He’s slated to play at least one more game with Dunedin, but could join the Blue Jays in Cleveland sometime this weekend if all goes well.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, Jansen did lots of hitting work, taking batting practice on the field before hitting against a high-velocity pitching machine. While Jansen’s likely at least a week behind Hernandez, he’s making meaningful strides forward.

“As of right now he’s letting it go,” Martinez said. “It looks promising.”

The same cannot be said for much that happened in Tuesday’s game. Blame the umps if you like, but the Blue Jays still hit poorly and fielded poorly, losing a critical game to a Yankees team that has now won 11 in a row.

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