NEW YORK – Baseball’s maddening nature is such that a talented team can appear utterly befuddled at the plate or on the mound for an extended period, have a good game, and then suddenly find its form as if a switch was flipped.
Perhaps the Toronto Blue Jays are experiencing such a turn of fortune, although at two straight wins after Thursday night’s 9-2 smackdown of the New York Yankees, they are by no means out of the woods just yet.
Still, it’s hard to reconcile just how different they looked in beating down the American League East leaders compared to a 4-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles two nights earlier. In that game, their approach at the plate was inconsistent and uncertain, Alek Manoah was seemingly facing both the Orioles and an inevitability of something going wrong, and the collective frustration was palpable. Catharsis arrived during a 6-1 win Wednesday over the Orioles thanks to a six-run seventh inning, breaking a 0-0 tie and ensuring a brilliant outing from Ross Stripling didn’t go to waste.
The question Thursday was whether the good vibes would carry over with them to the Bronx, or whether the Yankees, 8-7 winners Wednesday over the Tampa Bay Rays on Josh Donaldson’s walk-off grand slam, would maintain the feels.
Right from the jump the Blue Jays seized control against Frankie Montas, whom the Yankees outbid them for prior to the trade deadline, building a comfortable lead with a five-run second in support of Jose Berrios, who was at his dominant best over 6.2 innings.
It was their most complete game in two weeks.
“That's why baseball is so crazy,” said Matt Chapman, whose double in the second helped set up the pivotal outburst. “When you might not feel good in a particular stretch and not feel like you're swinging the bat well, one good swing can flip all of that. In baseball, it seems like the bad stretches are long and it's hard and then a game like tonight can change everything in the snap of finger. That being said, you have to come back out and do it again tomorrow.”
George Springer continues to be a catalyst in his return from the injured list, collecting five hits, including a pivotal two-out RBI single in the second that made it a 2-0 lead and preceded Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s three-run shot.
The offence kept pouring it on from there, Alejandro Kirk ripping an RBI double in the fifth and adding a sacrifice fly in the seventh ahead of a two-run double by Teoscar Hernandez. Every starter reached base and six different players crossed the plate.
At 15 runs combined in the two wins, the Blue Jays outproduced their previous six outings, in which they totalled only 14 runs. They had enough breathing room to let Yusei Kikuchi make his relief debut and after allowing the first two batters to reach, he retired the next three to escape the eighth.
“You've got to stick to the course a little bit and just understand that these are really talented players and it's a really good offence and know that it's going to turn,” said interim manager John Schneider. “Right now, in the last 24 hours, it's a little bit of a different vibe, different feel. But this is what we're capable of every night.”
All the offence was plenty for Berrios, who limited the damage during a messy third that had all kinds of here-we-go-again potential with the type of steeliness that’s waned for him in this unusual season. He got himself into trouble by walking Jose Trevino and hitting Estevan Florial to open the inning and then allowed a run to cross when he threw away DJ LeMahieu’s infield single.
Berrios steadied right after, holding Aaron Judge to a run-scoring fielder’s choice before striking out Anthony Rizzo and inducing a Donaldson fly out. He wasn’t threatened again from there, leaving a restless crowd of 41,419 to vent its disappointment at the Yankees.
“That inning reminded me of my last two outings because that's when I've taken damage,” Berrios said of the third. “So I said that can happen again, I just tried to stay in the game, executing my pitches and I did. I threw quality pitches against Judge and I got out of that jam.”
Said Schneider: “Awesome. We've seen it go the other way sometimes with him and everyone else. … Just to have him lock it back in and settle down, I thought was the turning point in the game. His composure was tremendous."
Now, for the Blue Jays to maintain an extended run, they’ll need plenty more outings like this one from Berrios, who’s had a Jekyll-and-Hyde year with 16 starts of three runs or less and seven starts of five runs or more in 24 outings.
The degree of variance has caused much head scratching among coaches and staff, who have been unable to identify any significant changes that would explain the swings. No matter, outings such as this one are what Berrios is capable of on the regular and if he rights himself, the Blue Jays can really take off.
“That's a great outing for him to build on,” said Chapman. “Everybody’s had their ups and downs and grinding in their own way. To see good things like that, a good inning out of Kikuchi, a scoreless inning relief, they can help us build for these last 45 games we have. There's still a lot of season left and a lot of good things can happen.”
From Tuesday’s depths to Thursday’s elation, the Blue Jays are showing just that.