Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s error proves costly for Blue Jays in one-run loss to Royals

Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. during the fifth inning of the baseball game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium Friday, April 5, 2024, in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)

KANSAS CITY — With two outs in the fifth inning Tuesday night, Kevin Gausman located a splitter at the bottom of the strike zone to Kyle Isbel.

Isbel swung, hitting a weak ground ball to the left side, and Gausman seemed to be on his way to stranding Michael Massey at second base and preserving the Toronto Blue Jays‘ 2-0 lead. Third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa ranged to his left before making an accurate throw to first base. And Vladimir Guerrero Jr. dropped it.

From the infield grass, Kiner-Falefa yelled in frustration. At third, Massey had slowed down but he picked up speed again and scored as Guerrero Jr. chased after the ball. On the mound, Gausman let out a disappointed sigh.

“What can I say, I just missed the ball,” Guerrero Jr. said afterwards through interpreter Hector Lebron. “Period.”

But the damage wasn’t done yet. Not only had the Royals scored, but Guerrero Jr.’s mistake extended the inning. Two pitches later, Maikel Garcia singled to centre. One pitch after that, Bobby Witt Jr. hit a two-run double down the left-field line. And so instead of being up 2-0, the Blue Jays were down 3-2, on their way to a painful and avoidable loss.

“It stinks, but I still want Vladdy as my first baseman,” Gausman said. “Very confident in his ability over there… We’re playing really good baseball. Something like that, it’s unfortunate it ended up being as important as it was.”

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Soon after the error, Guerrero Jr. approached Gausman in the dugout.

“I told him ‘my bad,’” Guerrero Jr. recalled. “This is baseball and you don’t want to miss anything, you don’t want to make bad plays, but sometimes it happens.”

“He hit me on the shoulder, and that’s kind of understood (to mean) ‘my bad,’” Gausman added. “This game is hard. I’ve never played first base, so I can’t say anything to him. It’s unfortunate because obviously it led to a big inning, and we weren’t able to get anything going.”

While Guerrero Jr. did stretch to reach the ball, he wasn’t at full extension on the play, which any manager would expect a first baseman to make every time. The error overshadowed a strong night of pitching for the Blue Jays, who fell to 13-11 with the loss.

“Mistakes happen,” said manager John Schneider. “Errors are going to happen. Just an inopportune time, obviously.”

Granted, it was Guerrero Jr.’s first error of the season, and the play might not stand out as much if the Blue Jays were hitting better, but none of that changes the facts of what happened. At any level of professional baseball, it’s a play that needs to be made.

“He’s a good first baseman,” Schneider said. “Haven’t dissected it, but thought he was going to catch it.”

Aside from those unearned runs in the fifth, Gausman was effective, pitching 6.2 innings while walking one and striking out two. Later, Nate Pearson and Tim Mayza would keep the game within one, but the Blue Jays couldn’t rally.

“Not nearly as consistent as I would like and what I expect of myself, but we’re definitely getting there,” Gausman said of his performance. “The biggest thing with me is my timing has just been a little off, and that’s why I’ve been a little sporadic with my fastball command. My other pitches play off that. But I feel pretty good with where I’m at.”

Also of note was the mid-game departure of centre fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who felt left hip flexor discomfort while sprinting. He was undergoing testing after the game and is considered day-to-day.

Adding to the frustration of the day, Guerrero Jr. was hitless in five trips to the plate with two strikeouts and a double play despite also hitting one ball 110 m.p.h. to centre field.

“I’m good,” Guerrero Jr. said. “Obviously it’s not the results that I want, but I’m just going to continue to keep working hard.”

Speaking before the game, Schneider said he sees positive signs from the 25-year-old at the plate.

“Most of his bats have been good. The last handful of days, maybe the swings have gotten a little bit big on pitches that he can really hammer.”

“But Vlad’s always right there,” Schneider continued. “He’s probably one of the most dangerous guys in the league.”

If the rest of the Blue Jays’ lineup were hitting, there might be less attention on Guerrero Jr., who still has a 108 wRC+ despite the hitless night. But this is a lineup that hasn’t scored more than five runs in a game in two and a half weeks, intensifying the spotlight on the offence.

“Overall we’re doing an okay job,” Guerrero Jr. said. “We’re not where we want to be. In the lineup, you want everybody hot of course. Two or three (hitters), we’re not hot yet, but there are some other guys that are hot. We’ll get there.”

That may eventually prove true, but in the meantime, the Blue Jays need crisp defence. On Tuesday, Guerrero Jr.’s mistake meant they fell well short of that standard.

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