TORONTO – All the ingredients for another game to unravel and end in heartbreak for the Toronto Blue Jays were there in the seventh inning. Cedric Mullins ended Ross Stripling’s six perfect innings streak by hitting his first pitch to center for a hit. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. then knocked over Anthony Santander’s helicopter, preventing him from getting the first runner. Stripling, throwing 72 pitches in his return from the disabled list, finished, leaving a man in scoring position for Yimi Garcia, with the afternoon’s result hanging in the balance.
This time, the Blue Jays did not flinch at the moment of truth.
Bo Bichette, crucially, did a tremendous barehanded grab and pull on a Ryan Mountcastle chopper that immediately flipped control of the inning. Garcia kept striking out Austin Hays and the positive momentum continued to the bottom of the frame, when Teoscar Hernandez singled with one out, Bichette moved him to third on a perfectly executed hit-and-run and catharsis came when the pinch hitter George Springer hit a go-ahead RBI single.
The fact that he was served from there, starting with a two-run double by Santiago Espinal, setting up Springer, who pumped out for the first time after sliding safely to home plate, and capped by a two-run double by Alejandro Kirk, made It felt even more like a two week cleanup of frustration.
“Against a hitter who has obviously done pretty well against us, it was a great play by Bo,” interim manager John Schneider said of the bare-handed pitch after the Blue Jays completed a 6-1 victory over the Orioles. in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon. “He had an amazing game between that and his at-bats. Keeping that in there instead of being first and third and Yimi having to work some real traffic, to me that was the game of the game right there.”
Factoring in Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s bases-loaded walk during the ensuing rally, the six-run frame nearly matched the Blue Jays’ total seven-run production in the previous three games. The victory before a crowd of 40,141, only his fourth in 13 starts, represented his most productive day at the plate since a 9-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 4.
By avoiding a sweep by the Orioles (61-56), the Blue Jays (62-54) also clinched their wild-card spot and gave themselves some positive vibes to lead into a four-game series against troubled New York. Yankees starting Thursday in the Bronx. Immediately after follows a three-game set in Boston against the Red Sox.
“Hopefully it allows guys to breathe and understand that they can do it because sometimes when they don’t they start thinking they can’t do it, and then all of a sudden it happens,” Springer said. he told of the relief provided by the offensive burst. “Hopefully it can turn into many more individual moments like that. That’s the seven big games coming up this week. We’ll see what happens.”
José Berríos gets the ball in the opener in New York with a chance to ensure the victory becomes a turning point rather than a respite. Kevin Gausman is set to follow on Friday and Mitch White will get the ball on Saturday in place of Yusei Kikcuhi, who was moved to a relief role and sat in the bullpen on Wednesday.
Such a move is representative of the urgency of the moment for a Blue Jays team acting as if it understands its track is running out.
“It could be against left-handed hitting, it could be for a while,” Schneider said of what Kikuchi’s roles could be in the bullpen. “We are talking about a guy with an electric arm and the improvements, although you can’t really see it on paper, I understand that part, but gradually he has improved a lot. So we’re excited about that. He strikes out a lot of guys and has electric stuff. When he puts it in the right position, I think he can really help us.”
Stripling’s return, of course, is the linchpin on that front and couldn’t have been more impactful.
From a dominant six-pitch first inning onward, he kept the Orioles off balance by effectively setting up his four-seam and then throwing them off with a changeup that generated six puffs on 10 swings. A handful of sliders, sinkers and curveballs only added to the impressive mix, and as the perfect innings piled up, it looked like it might leave interim manager John Schneider with a dilemma.
Stripling was on 67 pitches over six innings, the same number of pitches he had thrown in a rehab outing for triple-A Buffalo last week, but between the right hip/glute strain that sidelined him and the All-Star break, he had It has been July 13 since the last time he surpassed that mark.
How long to let him chase perfection, especially in a 0-0 game for a shaky team, would have been a gut-wrenching decision. But Mullins took that out of the mix with his single and everything matched in leverage from then on.
“I would have fought to stay there the whole time because I felt so good physically,” said Stripling, who was pulled from a no-hitter during his major league debut after 7 1/3 innings and 100 pitches. “I feel very good physically now, after a couple of hours, and I felt strong during the start. I’m built, right? … I know what it takes to throw 90/100 pitches in a major league game. So I would have fought tooth and nail to stay there safely. They may have taken it off my hands. But now that I’m 32 years old, who knows if I’ll ever get an opportunity like that again? You would have had to drag me off the mound.
Schneider admitted that he would have let Stripling take over: “I’m glad I didn’t have to have (that conversation). But he was going to move on,” he said. And showing how much confidence he had. hander has won, the manager asked him if he wanted to stay in the game to face Mountcastle during a visit to the mound.
Certainly thinking his day was over, Stripling was stunned by the question: “I was like, uhhh,” he admitted, saying he had calmed down in his head and it would be better to bring Garcia.
Schneider did just that, the result paving the way for the Blue Jays with the help of Bichette and, contrary to their recent fortunes, they opened things up with a pivotal rally.
“We all knew it would eventually happen. It’s just the process,” Bichette said. “That entrance was definitely big for all of us. Obviously we need to score runs to win. So it was a big deal, a lot of big hits. Maybe a little bit of relief, but I think everyone is excited to get the job done.”
A thrill born of making sure that in a game of tossing a coin, they would find a way to win.
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