With baby on the way, Bassitt delivers gem to lift Blue Jays over his former team

Chris Bassitt struck out eight in 7.2 innings of work, while George Springer and Daulton Varsho hit a homer to help the Toronto Blue Jays blank the New York Mets 3-0.

NEW YORK — Last season, during a one-year layover with the New York Mets on his way to free agency, Chris Bassitt threw 181.2 innings of 3.42-ERA ball. He was dependable as all get-out, pitching into the sixth inning in 25 of his 30 outings and throwing a quality start two-thirds of the time he took the mound. 

Safe to say Bassitt has some pretty good memories of New York. But he has a couple notably bad ones, too, in which his trademark mettle and dependability betrayed him.

First, there was his final outing of the regular season, when Bassitt got only eight outs in a critical loss to the Atlanta Braves — a team that ultimately edged New York for the NL East title in a tiebreaker, forcing the Mets to play a three-game wild card series with the San Diego Padres. 

Then, there was Bassitt’s very next start — the decisive third game of that series with the Padres. Struggling at times to hear his PitchCom transmitter amidst cascading Citi Field crowd noise, Bassitt coughed up three earned runs over four uneven innings as the Padres shut out the Mets to end their season. After the game, Bassitt chalked up both the Atlanta outing and the Wild Card start to “beating myself.”

Friday night, back on the Citi Field mound for the first time since joining the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent over the winter, Bassitt finally cleared those bad memories from his psyche. The craftsman went seven-and-two-thirds scoreless against his former team, using all eight of his pitches to strike out eight, ground out five, and pop up four while outdueling a vintage Justin Verlander in the process. 

That’s one reason why the Blue Jays beat the Mets Friday, 3-0. Another was home runs from George Springer in the first and Daulton Varsho in the ninth, sandwiching Bassitt’s masterclass. A final one was Jordan Romano slicing through the heart of the Mets order in the ninth, earning his 14th save in 17 opportunities.

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But this was Bassitt’s night. After working around a Jeff McNeil double in the first, Bassitt started his second inning with two balls before striking out the side with his next nine pitches. When the first two batters reached in the third, Bassitt retired the next three in order on six pitches. Same story in the fourth, as Bassitt retired the side on six pitches again.

He entered his fifth inning with a pitch count of 50 and exited at 59 after completing a perfect second trip through New York’s order. The Mets gave him a battle in the sixth, forcing Bassitt to throw a whopping 17 pitches. But the result was the same — three straight outs. In the seventh, Starling Marte singled to right with two out, giving the Mets their first base-runner since the third. Four pitches later, he was stranded.

Bassitt’s night ultimately ended with two out in the eighth, his pitch count at 101, as Blue Jays manager John Schneider sought a platoon advantage against Brandon Nimmo in the leadoff hitter’s fourth plate appearance. And so, job done, Bassitt strode off the mound, straight into the Blue Jays clubhouse, and off to the airport to board a flight bound for Toronto.

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Sorry, what? Yes, a private plane was awaiting Bassitt throughout his outing. Turns out Friday’s start was always going to be a memorable one, as he learned earlier in the day that his wife, Jessica, was going into labour north of the border with the couple’s second child. Of course, the Bassitts knew this scenario was a possibility and discussed how they’d handle it if push came to shove on a start day. A decision was made that Bassitt would pitch. 

What no one could have foreseen was a rain delay, like the one that postponed the beginning of Friday’s game by an hour and a half. One can only imagine how Bassitt felt sitting around in the Blue Jays clubhouse, waiting it out with his teammates. But as it turned out, nothing was keeping Bassitt from having his day against the Mets.

“Hour and a half delay, staying locked in, a ton of things on his mind, facing his former team,” Schneider said. “Completely in control of his emotions and his stuff tonight. That’s one of the best performances we’ve seen out of anyone — given everything that he had going on. I really can’t say enough about him tonight.

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Schneider said that even as Friday’s rain delay crept longer and longer, Bassitt never lost his composure, pacing up and down the Blue Jays clubhouse, working to remain locked in.

“He wanted to pitch,” Schneider said. “I’m sure there’s a million things that are going through his mind. The mental focus — which he does all the time, he’s very even-keeled — to keep everything in check was really impressive.”

Springer certainly didn’t mind the wait, as he laced Verlander’s second pitch of the game 422 feet to dead centre for the 54th leadoff home run of his career, moving him into a tie for second-most all-time with Alfonso Soriano.

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But Verlander isn’t going to the Hall of Fame because he’s easy to hit. And so, he cruised through the fifth, mixing mid-90’s fastballs with sharp sliders and big curveballs, not letting another batter get further than first base. 

The Blue Jays finally got something going in the sixth, as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led off with a single and a walk. But with his pitch count stretching into triple digits, Verlander found two of the four hardest pitches he’d thrown all night while striking out Brandon Belt and Matt Chapman. 

A Whit Merrifield infield single loaded the bases with two out. But Varsho went down under a hail of fastballs — including two even harder than the ones Belt and Chapman saw — as Verlander earned his eighth strikeout of the night on his 117th pitch to escape the jam. 

Ultimately, Verlander — a literal 40-year-old man who’s thrown over 3,000 innings in his career and underwent Tommy John surgery less than three years ago — threw seven of his eight hardest pitches on the night in that 28-pitch sixth, reaching back to a place, not many pitchers can go.

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“I faced him last year when he was coming back from his stint in rehab — he’s really good. There’s a reason why he’s going to be a Hall of Famer,” Varsho said. “He’s able to locate and throw three quality pitches. He was good all night. He went through our lineup. We had some tough at-bats. Obviously, I wish I could have had that last at-bat back off him and be able to get a hit. But I made up for it in the ninth.”

Did Varsho ever, getting aggressive on an elevated, 3-0 fastball from Mets reliever Jeff Brigham and rocketing it into the right-field second deck to give Romano a bit of breathing room in the ninth. That the homer came on Lou Gehrig Day — Varsho’s mother-in-law, Kim, died of ALS in 2018 — was a meaningful turn of fate for the stoic Blue Jays outfielder who fought to contain his emotion as he rounded the bases.

“It’s pretty nice to be able to have a special homer knowing that Kim’s probably watching over me and hoping everything’s the best for me,” Varsho said. “I know it’s probably less hard on me and more hard on [my wife’s] family — but it’s obviously a tough day overall for our family.

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“It’s the kids dealing with it. I learned that firsthand with [my wife’s] little brother Ryan. He was a high schooler. And he went all the way through high school without a mother. It’s a tough, tough circumstance.”

Clearly, there was no shortage of emotion swirling around Citi Field’s visitors’ clubhouse Friday. A veteran starter with something to prove; a wife in labour in Toronto; a significant swing in the ninth; a hard-earned victory at the end of a fierce pitcher’s duel. For Bassitt, for Varsho, for the Blue Jays — a memorable game in more ways than one.

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