Davis Schneider’s big swing gives Blue Jays positive momentum

Davis Schneider crushed a game-winning two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning to lift the Toronto Blue Jays to a 2-1 win against the Houston Astros.

HOUSTON — With two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday, a second consecutive shutout was starting to look like an inevitability for the Toronto Blue Jays and their sputtering offence. Josh Hader, who signed a five-year, $95 million contract with the Houston Astros a few months ago, was on the mound to attempt his first save for his new team — and his stuff looked as lively as ever.

In the batter’s box, Davis Schneider was looking for a fastball away. If he sat on Hader’s slider, his upper-90s fastball might overpower him. Better to be ready for the hard stuff and adjust — maybe then he could drive Daulton Varsho home from first base. On the third pitch of the at-bat, that’s what happened, as Hader hung a slider over the middle of the plate and Schneider sent it 423 feet to left field for a go-ahead home run.

“It was my first time ever facing Josh Hader,” Schneider later recalled. “He has a really good track record and he’s a really good closer. But you’ve got to try to keep calm. If you try to overdo things, that’s where bad things are going to happen. I’m glad I calmed my nerves.”

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With that swing, a 1-0 deficit transformed into a 2-1 Blue Jays lead and the Blue Jays were on their way to a much-needed win.

“Life’s made him strong,” starter Jose Berrios said of Schneider. “Those moments for him are just another opportunity for him to show people he’s able to do great things and he did that tonight.”

Does this erase questions about the Toronto offence? Well no, that’ll take more than one at-bat. But for the Blue Jays, it’s a welcome change after being no-hit Monday. On the day offensive coordinator Don Mattingly shaved his beard, the 3-3 Blue Jays got something of a fresh start. Now, they can breathe a little easier.

“These guys, they’re going to hit,” manager John Schneider said afterwards. “We have all the confidence in the world in them.”

After managing next to nothing against starter Framber Valdez, the Blue Jays looked to be in trouble when the Astros turned the game over to Ryan Pressly and Hader. But thanks to Davis Schneider’s big swing, the Blue Jays were able to build some positive momentum heading into Wednesday’s series finale.

“Framber’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” John Schneider added. “I’m not worried about anything. These guys are going to be good. They’ve got a good plan every day. It’s early to try to make any knee-jerk reaction. You run into tough pitching sometimes.”

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All night, Valdez was at his best, generating ground ball after ground ball thanks to his trademark sinker on his way to 7.2 innings of shutout baseball. The lone Blue Jays position player to do much damage against Valdez Tuesday was Justin Turner, who doubled in each of his first two at-bats before hitting a single to centre his third time up.

It’s been a productive first week for Turner, who’s batting .350 in the early going, but the same cannot be said for the other off-season addition to the Blue Jays lineup as Isiah Kiner-Falefa has just four singles to his name.

Elsewhere on the infield, Bo Bichette returned to the lineup after missing two games with spasms on the left side of his neck.

“It feels better,” Bichette told Sportsnet before the game. “I couldn’t see the pitcher before. It’s still tight, but it’s good enough.”

The 26-year-old didn’t feel the need to take ground balls before declaring himself ready, but looked to be at ease throughout the game in support of some strong Blue Jays pitching.

As for Berrios, his stuff wasn’t quite as sharp as it was in the season opener against the Rays, but he still held Houston’s formidable offence to one run — a Jose Altuve solo shot — on six hits while striking out a pair. He left a pair of runners on in the bottom of the seventh, but Yimi Garcia entered to retire the first three hitters he faced, erasing the threat.

“I didn’t have my best stuff,” Berrios said. “My (breaking ball) was pretty good. That’s the pitch that helped me all night because I don’t feel I had the power. I don’t think I had that explosive (stuff), but I still competed.”

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Defensively, the Blue Jays played well in support of their pitchers with George Springer featuring prominently on the day he reached 10 years of MLB service time while facing the team that drafted him. Astros outfielder Chas McCormick hit a line drive to right-centre field to lead off the third only to watch Springer cut it off and throw him out trying to reach second.

Later, Alejandro Kirk picked Jose Altuve off third base to end the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Blue Jays’ dugout erupted with cheers.

In hindsight, those little moments contributed to the win by keeping the score close, but make no mistake, it was Davis Schneider’s swing against Hader that made this win possible for the Blue Jays.

“Kind of a grind for game six of the year,” John Schneider said. “But I just loved the effort.”

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