BALTIMORE – There are tough losses, and then there are tough losses courtesy of Rougned Odor. On Monday, the Blue Jays experienced the first variety. On Tuesday, they sampled the second.
With a runner on first and none out in the bottom of the eighth inning, Yimi Garcia was trying to preserve a 5-4 lead. But he left a change-up over the plate and Odor, the scruffily bearded infielder who once sucker punched Jose Bautista, crushed it.
Not long afterwards, the Orioles were celebrating a 6-5 win and the Blue Jays had nothing to show for a long night at the ballpark that included a one hour and 18 minute rain delay. While the Blue Jays still maintain a narrow lead on the top American League Wild Card spot, they’re now just two games ahead of the Orioles with the Rays, Mariners and Guardians all clustered nearby, too.
“That sucked,” interim manager John Schneider said. “I think the rain delay hurt us with the little momentum we had. I wasn’t quite sure why they pulled the tarp when they did and then we burned (Zach Pop) because of it.
“But every loss sucks. And I think now, we’ve got to score some more runs and if we do that, we’ll be just fine.”
Quite simply, the 60-50 Blue Jays need some separation in the standings and they’re not creating it.
Earlier in the evening, the Blue Jays looked well positioned to even the series thanks to a pair of opposite-field home runs from Bo Bichette. In the second inning, Bichette took starter Kyle Bradish deep and with rain approaching in the sixth, the shortstop sent a 99 m.p.h. fastball from Bryan Baker over the right field wall for his seventh career multi-homer game.
It’s certainly been an uneven offensive season for Bichette, but the two-homer game gives him 17 on the season to go along with a 105 wRC+. It’s not where he was last year, when he hit 29 home runs with a 122 wRC+, but it’s still productive.
“When he’s doing that it’s a really good thing,” Schneider said. “Since (the weekend series in) Minnesota he’s been getting his best swing off and being a little bit more selective. I know the walks aren’t there, but I think he’s swinging at the pitches he should be swinging at.”
Meanwhile, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. extended his hit streak to 20 games Tuesday and Jackie Bradley Jr. made his Blue Jays debut as a defensive replacement in centre field.
“It’s going to be fun,” Bradley Jr. said before the game. “They’re a very talented group and I’m excited to help in any way I possibly can.”
On the mound, Alek Manoah gave the Blue Jays five solid innings, working around eight hits, a walk and a hit batter to limit the Orioles to three runs. A near triple-play would have erased two of those runs in the first inning but the umpires ruled that Whit Merrifield had not made a clean catch on an Anthony Santander line drive to centre.
Either way, the right-hander struck out five while pushing his season innings total to 137, which puts him sixth in MLB and tops in the American League.
From here, the Blue Jays will continue monitoring Manoah’s innings carefully, using advanced metrics and biometric information to ensure he’s recovering well. Of course they’ll also use the eye test while checking in regularly with the 24-year-old to ensure he finishes the season strong and reaches October as strong as possible.
If the Blue Jays are up big or Manoah encounters particularly stressful innings, the Blue Jays will take that into account but there’s no hard cap on his workload, creating flexibility for the Blue Jays as they enter the stretch run.
When Manoah left the game, the Blue Jays initially turned to Zach Pop only to change plans after the extended delay. But once Odor took Garcia deep, the Blue Jays’ narrow lead disappeared, costing them against a team that now must be considered a playoff rival.
“I think we’re right where we need to be,” Manoah said afterwards. “We’ve added a couple guys and we’re just coming together as one unit. We’ll continue grinding and trying to become a full product by playoff time.”
On Wednesday, the series finale awaits – and with it the chance to make up some of the ground they’ve now lost.