Blue Jays post walk-off win after beleaguered bullpen stumbles

TORONTO — Last week, a back strain landed Yimi Garcia on the injured list and because the Toronto Blue Jays didn’t play much close-and-late leverage in the games that followed, his loss didn’t have an immediate impact.

Then came Tuesday night, when Ross Stripling handed over a 4-2 lead for preservation after keeping the Boston Red Sox in check for five innings, and manager Charlie Montoyo found himself in need of nine outs before he could give closer Jordan Romano the ball.

Minus Garcia, bridging that gap is suddenly a lot more complicated for the Blue Jays, as they discovered in blowing their lead before rallying in the ninth on RBI singles by Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for a 6-5 walk-off win.

The thrilling rally, sending a crowd of 27,140 into a frenzy, was started by a pinch-hit single by Alejandro Kirk off Tyler Danish. George Springer followed with a walk and after Hansel Robles took over, Bichette sent a chopper through the right side to tie the game. Guerrero then walked it off with a base hit, a comeback that erased the frustration that preceded it.

The Blue Jays built a 4-2 lead early to take control of the game and once Stripling left, Adam Cimber, the steadiest of the club’s current set-up men, was used against the heart of the Red Sox lineup in the sixth and put up to zero. But the lead unraveled from there as Trent Thornton surrendered a two-run homer to Rob Refsnyder in the seventh before Christian Vazquez ripped a go-ahead RBI single off Tim Mayza in the eighth.

The damage may very well have been worse, too, if not for a leaping grab by Santiago Espinal on a Christian Arroyo line drive off Matt Gage with the bases loaded that led to a double play. That proved pivotal in the ninth.

Still, the end result is that the lead never got to Romano, who pitched a scoreless ninth, and a game against a divisional rival in the Blue Jays’ grasp nearly slipped away.

As a one-off, relief blips like these are disappointing but they happen, no matter how dominant a bullpen is. But rather than an aberration, in the absence of dominating relief arms this is more a soft spot vulnerable each time a game is tight late.

The Blue Jays had envisioned more stability in their bullpen built around Garcia, Cimber, Mayza and Trevor Richards, who struggled before hitting the injured list with a neck strain. Hoped-for velocity injections from Julian Merryweather, out with a left abdominal strain, and Nate Pearson, shut down the next 3-4 weeks with a lat strain, haven’t emerged and the hollowing out of the corps led to the pending add of Sergio Romo, the 39-year-old righty released by the Seattle Mariners. He was slated for a physical Tuesday night to finalize his signing.

Romo won’t crumble in leverage but whether he has enough stuff left to be effective again is another matter. Even if the odds of a turnaround aren’t particularly high, it’s a dice-roll worth taking with Thornton shifted by circumstance into leverage work from mop-up duty and Mayza taking damage in four of his past five outings.

David Phelps, who had pitched on back-to-back days and wasn’t available Tuesday, has also been steady, but it can’t just be him and Cimber. Gage, the lefty rookie, has big stuff but needs more runway to earn trust in leverage while Max Castillo and Shaun Anderson are on the roster to absorb innings when starts go sideways.

As long as the offense can outth those issues, it’s not a problem. But comebacks like the one Tuesday won’t always happen.

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