TORONTO – Cal Raleigh is turning into quite the Blue Jays nemesis. The Seattle Mariners catcher became a figure in the nightmares of Blue Jays’ fans by his work in last year’s wild-card series, then sharpened his Freddy Krueger impression this weekend at Rogers Centre.
Raleigh followed up his home run and RBI single against Alek Manoah on Friday night with a two-homer performance on Sunday that led to a 10-8 extra-inning victory in front of 40,158, ruining the Blue Jays’ chances at a three-game sweep and perfect homestand.
“He’s not very tough to pitch to when you execute your pitches — he’s hitting .200,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider following the game. “But I know he’s done damage against us. He’s obviously got big damage potential [but] he’s got a lot of strikeout potential, too. And when you execute pitches, you usually get the job done.”
Loss aside, the Blue Jays finished April with an 18-10 record off the strength of a resilient offence, consistent starting staff and much more.
“Pitching, bullpen, good approach, good defence, aggressive on the bases,” Schneider listed. “[It’s] what we’re all about and you saw all that come together. Today sucks … But you look back and you really like the homestand. You like winning two out of three against these guys.”
Long before Raleigh’s tormenting, it was Bo Bichette exacting monster damage with a rocket off a changeup from Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzales. It exited his bat at 113 m.p.h. and travelled a whopping 460 feet, marking the second furthest homer of the shortstop’s career. It was Bichette’s sixth homer of the season and served to pick up right-hander Chris Bassitt, who endured a rough start to the game.
Bassitt struck out the first two batters in the opening frame then painted the inside corner on left-handed hitter Jarred Kelenic with a sinker that looked like strike three. Home plate umpire Mark Carlson called it a ball, though, and Kelenic ended up walking.
It looked like Bassitt had struck out the next batter, Raleigh — who else? — on another arm-side sinker, but that was also called a ball. Raleigh walked, Teoscar Hernandez was hit by Bassitt and then Taylor Trammell launched a 1-0 pitch over the right field wall for a grand slam.
In all, Bassitt expended 38 pitches in a first inning that, realistically, could have been over after just 15. The right-hander showed his frustration in the dugout as cameras caught him slamming a tablet into the bench.
“I ain’t going to talk about the first,” Bassitt said when asked about the unfortunate inning. “You know what happened. It’s part of it. It is what it is. Umpiring is hard.”
Despite his frustration, though, Bassitt was able to right himself after allowing the home run, retiring 12 of the next 15 batters. He mixed in his seven pitches, leaning on an effective sinker that topped out at 93.8 m.p.h and generated four whiffs. In total, he allowed four runs on two hits and four walks over five innings, striking out seven on 96 pitches.
“It’s not so much being efficient at that point,” said Bassitt, who noted that the level of his stuff was where he wanted it to be, even in the first. “It’s more so just, ‘All right, we got to basically just throw up zeros. Forget the pitch count.’”
Added Schneider: “That’s just the pro that he is. He was frustrated after that first … but [he bore] down and [got] through five. It sucks for him that the pitch count got where it did, probably unnecessarily, as well as the score. But just can’t say enough about his composure to lock it back in.”
Down 4-0, the Blue Jays chipped away in the bottom half of the first when Matt Chapman laced a double into left field that plated Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to make it 4-2. It was Chapman’s major-league-leading 19th extra-base hit — he then added another double in the ninth — and paved the way for Bichette’s go-ahead blast in the second.
The Blue Jays added to their lead in the third inning on back-to-back run-scoring hits from Danny Jansen and Santiago Espinal. The extra runs proved necessary, especially since the Blue Jays were without closer Jordan Romano and reliever Erik Swanson, who both pitched in the first two games of the series.
Trevor Richards allowed a solo homer to former teammate Hernandez in the sixth that snapped a string of 15-straight hitless and scoreless innings from the Blue Jays’ bullpen. In the eighth frame, a Santiago Espinal error allowed Kelenic to reach base and Raleigh followed by taking Anthony Bass deep for a two-run shot that cut the score to 8-7.
Bass was relieved by Yimi Garcia, who got out of the eighth, but walked the leadoff batter in the ninth before allowing a two-out, game-tying single to J.P. Crawford.
Raleigh brought the Rogers Centre faithful back to Elm Street in the 10th inning when he deposited a 1-0 slider from Zach Pop into the right-field stands for a 408-foot, two-run shot that stood up as the winner. Including the two post-season games from last October, the left-handed hitter nicknamed Big Dumper has eight hits, four home runs and nine RBIs in his last five games against the Blue Jays.
“Everyone’s going to have a bad day,” said Schneider, referring to his bullpen. “Today it was missed spots and probably some pitch selection that could have been a little bit different.
“I think it just comes down to executing pitches, really,” the manager added. “They’ve been on such a roll. You know, it’s not going to be perfect every single night. Today was just an example of that.”
Next up for the Blue Jays is a 10-game, three-city road trip through Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. While they’ll encounter clubs that each hold records above .500, the Blue Jays can at least be assured that Raleigh won’t be there to haunt them.