TORONTO – Maybe the Blue Jays got away with one this time.
Their first game back in Toronto following a trying 1-6 road trip was far from perfect. There were missed opportunities at the plate and avoidable errors in the field. But on a night some Canadian baseball history was made in Toronto, Jose Berrios delivered one of his best starts of the season and the bullpen preserved a one-run lead over the final three innings to deliver a much-needed 4-3 win.
Finally, a little relief. But still, there’s plenty of work ahead for the 46-42 Blue Jays, who are still precariously close to the Orioles on the edges of the American League wild-card standings even after a night featuring a four-hit game from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and a spectacular diving catch from George Springer.
“We’ve been playing good, but we needed a break here and there,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Today that happened. We made a couple of big plays.”
There was also one notable play they didn’t make. With the bases empty and two in the top of the fourth inning, third baseman Matt Vierling swung and missed for what should have been the third out of the inning. Danny Jansen’s throw to first was on target, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. didn’t step on the base, allowing Vierling to reach and the inning to continue.
As the Blue Jays considered whether to challenge the call, Guerrero Jr. gestured to the dugout, indicating that the play wasn’t worth a challenge.
“I felt like I didn’t touch the bag,” Guerrero Jr. said in an interview via interpreter Hector Lebron. “I tried to signal the dugout, but I guess they knew something else. Of course they have video cameras and I was close to the bag. Probably they didn’t see me.”
Before the game, the umpires had warned both teams to make their replay calls quickly so the Blue Jays challenged despite the gestures from Guerrero Jr. and the call was upheld. When the Blue Jays nearly picked off Vierling on the next play, they were unable to challenge as they had just burned theirs.
In the moment, Guerrero Jr. was visibly frustrated. Afterwards, he spoke with coach Luis Rivera about the play, and speaking after the game, the 23-year-old favored a broader perspective.
“We’ve got to make adjustments as a team, including myself and as a team,” Guerrero Jr. said. “Keep trusting each other. Keep building that confidence back. It was a great win today.”
Thankfully for the Blue Jays, Berrios was able to escape the inning without further damage on a night he had some of his best stuff of the season. But the play was still significant, as it featured an avoidable mistake and clear frustration from a star player.
As for Berrios, he struck out 13 Phillies over six innings of work Tuesday, matching a career-high while topping out at 96 mph He allowed three runs on six hits, including a home run to second baseman Bryson Stott, but he was in control all night, attacking a depleted Phillies lineup that had no answer for his stuff.
“He was nasty out there,” Jansen said. “It was a lot of fun… He was in attack mode. He was dealing.”
To this point, it’s been an up and down season for Berrios, but he now appears to be finding himself with one more start on the schedule before the All-Star break.
“I’ve been battling all year,” Berrios said. “One thing I’ve had in my mind was ‘just keep fighting.’”
“If he gets going, that does a lot for this team,” Montoyo added.
On an equally positive note, Jansen returned to the lineup after missing 33 games with a fractured finger. His familiarity with the Blue Jays’ pitching staff will help right away, and his bat shouldn’t be overlooked either given the amount of pull power he’s shown since late last year. In his return, Jansen singled out in three trips to the plate.
With Jansen back, the Blue Jays optioned Gabriel Moreno to triple-A in the hopes that regular playing time there will further his development. While Moreno’s arm strength, speed and bat speed are undeniably impressive, his game management needs work and he showed little power, with just one extra-base hit in 18 big-league games.
Meanwhile, Rob Thomson made some history from the first-base dugout Tuesday, becoming the first Canadian-born manager ever to manage an MLB game in Canada. The Sarnia native is just the seventh Canadian-born manager in MLB history and the first since 1934.
“It’s great to be home. I love coming back here,” Thomson said. “I love the ballpark, especially when the roof is open … It means a lot. It really does.”
Whether his players felt similarly is another question. The Phillies are without JT Realmuto, Alec Bohm, Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson this week due to border restrictions for unvaccinated travellers.
“I’m not going to let Canada tell me what I do and don’t put in my body for a little bit of money,” Realmuto told reporters. “It’s just not worth it.”
That’s for the Phillies to figure out. As for the Blue Jays, they got a much-needed win – one of many they’ll need to get this once-promising season back on course.
“We have the talent to be in a better position at the end of the year,” Berrios said.