TORONTO — The pitching matchup was as good as advertised, maybe better.
Although he didn’t start the day with his best stuff, Alek Manoah was at his best against the Angels, striking out seven and allowing just four hits. Facing Manoah, Shohei Ohtani was electric, hitting 100 mph as he mixed up his hard slider and disappeared on his way to nine strikeouts. And perhaps it was fitting that on one afternoon the Blue Jays honored the 1992 World Series champions, both starters going seven innings, throwback style.
“Every game is Game 7 of the World Series for me,” Manoah said afterward. “It doesn’t matter if Ohtani is on the mound or Roger Clemens. No matter. My job is to compete, give everything to the team and do everything possible to try and get a win.”
Ultimately, Ohtani proved to be too much for the Blue Jays this time around, as Luis Rengifo’s RBI single was the game winner and the home team lost 2-0 in front of a crowd of 45,311. But where the Blue Jays failed in every phase of Friday’s game, it’s hard to find fault with their Saturday effort. They just faced one of the best shooters in the game on a day when his stuff was as good as it gets.
“I enjoyed it,” Ohtani told reporters afterward. “I would like to avoid it if possible because (Manoah) is a great pitcher. Less chance of getting good results on the plate. But I enjoyed going pitch for pitch with him.”
Ohtani lowered his season ERA to 2.67 with the departure, and remember, he also has 27 home runs.
“I was connected today,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider, who was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the eighth. “He scored and did his thing. There are four or five pitches. It’s 100mph. It is something unpleasant. You have to tip your cap to him.”
“Everything he does is unbelievable to me,” longtime Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said before Saturday’s ceremony. “He is a Babe Ruth in many ways. He is a great looking player. I just don’t know how he’s going to do that for the rest of his career, but we’ll see what happens.”
On the mound, at least, Manoah is right there with Ohtani, who walked, struck out and grounded the fielder’s choice in three trips to the plate against his counterpart. As impressive as Ohtani has been, Manoah’s 2.60 ERA is lower and he has pitched 27 2/3 more innings. Still, both belong in the AL Cy Young conversation along with Justin Verlander, Shane McClanahan and Dylan Cease.
Manoah started the day slow, but his fastball picked up speed as the afternoon wore on and ended up topping out at 96.2 mph. His average fastball was 92.9 mph, down from the season average of 94 mph, but that didn’t stop him. to hold the Angels to a run.
“It started off slow; his tempo was off,” Schneider said. “But then he tagged him and it was an old-fashioned throwing duel. They stood face to face there for seven and it grew stronger as it went on. What allows him to win is his desire to win and his competitive nature.”
Even once Ohtani made way for the bullpen, the Blue Jays couldn’t generate the offense they needed and fell to 68-57 on the season. But despite the team’s up-and-down season, some of the Blue Jays franchise greats believe the 2022 team has the potential to have a memorable run of its own come October.
“Last year they learned that a game makes a difference,” Joe Carter said. “They’re going to work to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
“They’re playing really well,” added Gaston, who still watches regularly. “They have a great opportunity to go straight to the World Series. They have a good team out there. They seem to be having a lot of fun playing with each other. They seem to have each other’s backs. And it’s fun to watch them. It’s really fun.”
Meanwhile, Teoscar Hernandez was on the bench on Saturday after fouling with his left foot for the second time in a week. The discomfort forced him to withdraw early from Friday’s game, but he was available from the bench if needed on Saturday.
If Hernandez needs to return to the lineup, that’s an option the Blue Jays have now that George Springer has returned to the outfield for the first time since July 28. With their center fielder back, the Blue Jays can now rotate others. the designated batting spot to give them partial days off.
“He’s also at the point where he understands it’s time for other guys to pick themselves up a little bit as well,” Schneider said of Springer.
Over time, that flexibility is sure to help the Blue Jays, but Saturday wasn’t enough. They got the pitching duel they were hoping for and enjoyed a 30-year celebration. But a loss to one of the game’s current greats means the Blue Jays will try to avoid a sweep when the series concludes on Sunday.
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