TORONTO – Alejandro Kirk had a chance to deliver a special moment when he stepped in as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded and the Blue Jays down four Saturday afternoon, but even the Blue Jays’ most productive hitter couldn’t provide the miracle required. He struck out swinging.
With that, an emotional day ended in another lopsided defeat for the Blue Jays. On the field, the team’s pitching was hit hard once again on the way to a 7-3 loss. But more importantly than the game itself, the Blue Jays organization grieved the loss of Julia Budzinski, daughter of first base coach Mark, who passed away Saturday at the age of 17.
“This tragedy reminds us what’s more important in life,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “As a father and a husband myself, my heart breaks for Bud.”
“That has to be every parent’s worst nightmare,” added starter Ross Stripling. “We feel for him, love him, miss him. We obviously want him to be home with his family and we’ll see him whenever that is. We want him to take as much time as he needs.”
The loss resonated so deeply within the Blue Jays clubhouse that the idea of not playing came up. But in the end, the Blue Jays played, losing their third straight game to the Rays.
A six-run fifth inning from the Rays effectively put the game out of reach for the Blue Jays, who welcomed 35,757 fans to Rogers Centre on a perfect day for baseball. A Harold Ramirez home run chased starter Ross Stripling from the game with the score still 4-1, but Trent Thornton struggled from the jump, allowing a home run to Ji-Man Choi, a single to Isaac Paredes and another home run to Randy Arozarena.
By the time Thornton finally induced a Kevin Kiermaier groundout to escape the inning, the damage had been done, and for the Blue Jays that theme was all too familiar this weekend. After beginning the five-game series with a pair of convincing wins, the Blue Jays were swept in Saturday’s doubleheader with questions on the pitching staff arising in each game.
Kevin Gausman took a 100 m.p.h. line drive off his ankle in the opener, putting his availability for his next start in question. Credit Casey Lawrence for his efforts in relief, but he still allowed six runs. And while that sounds like a lot, it’s far better than what Thomas Hatch could offer Saturday night. Making his season debut, the right-hander allowed 10 runs on 12 hits, exposing the lack of starting pitching depth beyond the team’s starting five.
Within that context, the Rays’ three fifth-inning home runs hurt a little more than usual. While Thornton has come through with some big outs this season, the Blue Jays have had to expose him to more high-leverage situations than even. This time, it backfired.
Before the game, the Blue Jays held a moment of silence before the game today for Julia Budzinski. Seemingly every player, coach and staff member from both teams lined up for the moment of silence – a rarity for a regular season game that signals respect for the Budzinski family. Thornton and fellow reliever David Phelps were visibly emotional as the team stood for the moment of silence.
“It’s really tough,” Stripling said. “It’s not a situation that I bet any of us have ever been in where someone so close to home has such a tragic loss. It hits everyone a little different, especially those of us with children. It definitely weighed on us … He was heavy on everyone’s hearts today.”
On Saturday night, when the news first reached the Blue Jays, Montoyo decided right away that he needed to be with Budzinski, leaving the game management to John Schneider and others so he could offer some support.
“The moment that happened, my heart’s with Bud,” Montoyo said. “The game? We’ve got enough coaches that can do a good job, so that’s why my job was to be with Mark.”
“There’s good men and great men,” Montoyo added. “He’s a great man. You’d ache for anybody, but he’s a special kind of person. Brave. The only thing I can share about what happened: even before he left, he wrote a note for me to read to the team while going through that tragedy. That tells you everything about Mark Budzinski.”
The Blue Jays closed their clubhouse to the media after Saturday’s game to inform the players of the news. Sunday morning, the team officially announced the news.
“This devastating loss is felt by our entire organization and we grieve alongside Bud and his family,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said in a statement issued by the team. “I have known Bud for more than 25 years and have always admired his commitment as a dad and husband first. He is loved and well-respected by our entire clubhouse and holds a special place in all our hearts.”
With Budzinski away from the team, bullpen catcher Luis Hurtado continued coaching first base Sunday. Internally, the Blue Jays are working through the details of how coaching assignments will be reassigned while Budzinski’s away from his typical first base and outfield defence duties.
From here, the Blue Jays head west for three games in Oakland and four more in Seattle. Once they’re out west, they’ll learn more about the state of Gausman’s ankle and look to bank some wins against an Athletics team that’s already lost 54 times. If nothing else, they’ll get some space from a weekend that ended badly. At this point, they could likely use it.