TORONTO – He couldn’t have done it without some help from an ill-advised dive by Steven Souza Jr., but George Springer’s latest impact moment for the Toronto Blue Jays came on a 71.5-m.p.h. blooper that hustle and instinct turned into a 220-foot triple.
In the 12.95 seconds the centre-fielder needed to go from home to third, Alejandro Kirk, Matt Chapman and Santiago Espinal each raced in ahead of him, providing Jose Berrios the needed margin in a 3-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.
Their efforts led the Blue Jays to consecutive wins for the first since April 30-May 1 against Houston, clinching a series win against the Astros ahead of what turned out to be a trying 2-8 stretch. They’ve now won three of their past four games and while Berrios’ best outing of the season bodes well for both the ace righty and the club, worth noting is how crucial Springer’s presence has been through the recent difficulties.
Remember that it was just a week ago that after a 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees, capping a disappointing two-game sweep at the Bronx, it was Springer who called a team meeting when he “read the room a little bit” and “thought it was the right time.” The gist of his message was both to slow the game down and have urgency, to adjust to a league that’s adjusted to them and to understand things will turn if they embraced struggle and stayed within themselves.
How much of a difference those words make will be determined by the weeks ahead but that he called the meeting on his own speaks to his value beyond performance on the field. No one else on the roster is in position to make such a move and that speaks to the extraordinary burden he carries.
"The at-bats are starting to be better,” Springer said of the team’s gains since. “It’s about small steps. You can't just make a big splash. I think you're starting to see one at-bat spiral into the next guy and the next guy. You're not just going to drive everybody home, but you're starting to see hits fall. And again, it's a long year, but it's about staying in the moment, starting to slow things down and we're starting to do so.”
That those words come from experience give Springer’s voice weight, because while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette carry similar expectations, they’re just 23 and 24, still developing themselves and can’t do everything as they fight through the sport’s ruthless learning curve.
With few other position players veterans of stature on the roster, that’s meant Springer has had to not only deliver on the field, but also pour into his teammates, too.
“He means a lot,” said Berrios. “The way he is in the clubhouse, out there (on the field). He always plays hard. He gives his 100 per cent every time. We see that and we have to follow him in the game.”
Added Chapman: “George is a guy everybody looks up, looks to. … He sets the tone for our team and when he's going well all of us get excited.”
All of that makes him especially essential because simply put, there’s a lot on his plate beyond just putting up numbers, and that doesn’t even factor the close-call ankle injury he suffered Friday at Tropicana Field.
That night, playing his trademark all-out style, he leapt for a ball by the wall in centre field, got a glove on it but then rolled his left ankle coming down. He said it felt like he caught a cleat on landing, collapsed into the wall, took his next at-bat and then exited the game.
Both he and the Blue Jays dodged trouble, however, as Springer sat Saturday, returned Sunday as the DH and was back in centre field for Monday’s win against the Mariners.
On Tuesday, when his bloop skipped to Souza’s left, he put his head down and chased third all the way, no sign that four days earlier he arose from the Trop’s unforgiving turf with worrisome looking limp.
“I was following Santi, obviously the goal is to get him home,” Springer said of how he saw the play develop. “So once I saw him go, I just went to draw the throw (to third). And I kind of saw it and I was watching Luis (Rivera, the third base coach) and he said go so I just kept going. And he told me to slide and I did.”
Manager Charlie Montoyo praised the thought process that led Springer to go for third, even if he held his breath a little given the stress on the ankle.
“He's the one guy that it doesn't matter how he feels, he's going to go all out,” said Montoyo. “Sometimes you go, 'Oh, slow down a little bit,' but that's just how he plays and that's why he's one of the best players in baseball, because he plays like that.”
The bases-clearing triple opened up a 3-0 lead in the second right after Berrios escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the frame on a sinker to Souza that induced an inning-ending double play.
Berrios retired 13 of the next 16 batters he faced and came out of the game after allowing the first two batters to reach in the eighth.
“Today I was throwing good fastballs down and away,” said Berrios. “I located well all night long. Then after that, my breaking pitch worked better. That's the main key, locating the ball down and away.”
The length he provided was pivotal on a day the Blue Jays bullpen was without Jordan Romano, who remains day-to-day with a non-COVID illness, and down both Trevor Richards and Ryan Borucki, who had pitched on consecutive days.
David Phelps brilliantly snuffed out the Mariners’ rally in the eighth, getting Cal Raleigh on a bizarre roller to third, Adam Frazier on a called third strike and Ty France on a drive to right field. Adam Cimber, pitching for a second straight day, locked things down in the ninth for his third save, while Chapman hoovered balls on the hot corner as usual.
“No matter what the score is, we can't let our foot off the gas, continue to just grind,” Chapman said of playing tight late. “Little plays at the end of the game, making good pitches, all those things help you finish out ballgames, which isn't easy to do.”
Neither is what Springer does for the Blue Jays, both on and off the field.