December 2, 2022

The Blue Jays season is quickly on the brink but the new format keeps the dream alive


TORONTO — The brink is fast approaching the playoffs and one afternoon after their return in October, the Toronto Blue Jays suddenly find themselves staring at a two-and-out.

That it comes to this, with their fate hinged on a Game 2 rebound on Saturday afternoon behind starter Kevin Gausman, should come as no surprise to a team that has spent the 2022 season doing it the hard way. Alek Manoah stumbled in the first inning of an otherwise strong outing and with Luis Castillo sitting at 98.6 mph with his four-and-two-seam fastballs, the Seattle Mariners were able to make a first stand-up three-pointer in a 4-0 win.

To force a decisive Game 3 on Sunday, the Blue Jays will need to recover against old friend Robbie Ray, who won the American League’s Cy Young Award for them last year before signing a five-year, $115 million contract. with Seattle. That he will face Gausman, who took $ 110 million from the Blue Jays in five, will only add to the intrigue, given that one has replaced the other, a loop moment for off-season work. which has helped both teams reach this point. .

“I’ve never pitched in a playoff game before. But I started the last game of the season in 2016 (with the Baltimore Orioles) and we had to win that game,” said Gausman, who allowed two runs in 7.1 innings of a 5-2 win. against the New York Yankees to earn a wildcard spot. “I’ve pitched a lot of meaningful games in my career…I’m just going to go out there and pitch to my strength.”

Still, the fact that the Blue Jays are at this point after a strong end to the season earning them the No. who expected better, although there is little time to dwell on it now.

“Just keep competing,” Bo Bichette said of Saturday’s mood. “We have no other choice. Go ahead and compete as best we can and see what we can do. There is another challenge ahead of us tomorrow and we will face it and do our best.

Manoah, the right pick for Game 1, may have come out a little too hot and got into trouble early by hitting Julio Rodriguez on the hand with his fourth pitch of the game, an 0-2 quadruple.

A soft pitch at first by Ty France sent the electric Rodriguez to second and he scored easily when Eugenio Suarez followed with a right double on a four seam left over the plate.

Cal Raleigh then fought off the full count and hammered a lead off the wall to the right to make it 3-0.

“I don’t know if he was a little excited, but he had the bike and just a few bad throws,” interim manager John Schneider said. “It was a good job from him and an unusual first run for sure.”

The Raleigh homer silenced a stoked crowd with an emotional pregame spectacle that included a nightclub-style light show, highlight video, player intros and a ceremonial first pitch by 2016 wild -card, starting hero Edwin Encarnacion, who scaled the mound and fired a rubber strike.

Castillo then reduced his energy coming out hot, with seven of his 11 throws in a three-up, three-down first at 99 mph or more, including two over 100. With that stuff, nearly two mph above his average for the season, the addition of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s prized five-year $108 million deadline was going to be tough on luge no matter what, but made the rally all the more hard.

“He’s got a sinker that hammers your hands 99 to 100 and then he’s got all four seams he’s going to vomit and walk away, he doesn’t have that dive, he’s got real carry more,” Whit said. Merrifield. , who had one of six hits against Castillo. “You have to make a decision about what this 100 mile-per-hour pitch is going to do, and that’s what makes it difficult. Credit to him. He did a good job of pulling that four-way seam away and keeping that two-hand seam on your hands throughout the game didn’t give us a lot to work with, didn’t make a lot of mistakes.

The Blue Jays really only had one left-handed hitter – Raimel Tapia – to line up against Castillo while the Mariners used switch hitters Raleigh and Carlos Santana with left-handers Jarred Kelenic, Adam Frazier and JP Crawford against Manoah.

The disparity in squad flexibility between rosters is something Dipoto noted ahead of the series, saying “our ability to run the throw right there and balance the alignment with bats left is going to be the key for us to compete in this series and hopefully come out on the other side.

Left-handed hitters did most of the damage against Manoah during the season, batting .237/.313/.367 against him with 11 home runs to .159/.211/.249 and five home runs for right-handers. To counter the disadvantage, he worked on a two-seam front hip that would return to the plate and left-handers were only hitting .215 and hitting .252 against the court, but he threw four at Raleigh in the first and last. , the seventh throw of the stick, the catcher sent it 362 feet to the right, a first dagger.

Manoah struck out 12 of his next 14 batters faced before the Mariners retired a fourth run in the fifth when he hit Rodriguez again, who eventually scored on a Suarez fielder’s pick.

“It was quite a long battle with Cal and I ended up not running the hip lead,” Manoah said. “I just kept saying to myself, ‘Keep performing.’ They beat me on my mistakes and I felt like I could start performing after that.

The Blue Jays built rallies in the third, on two-out singles from George Springer and Bichette before Vladimir Guerrero Jr. flew to center, and the fifth, when Merrifield and Springer singled past a Bichette’s playground, but Castillo did not give in. more than 7.1 blanked innings.

Still, they didn’t fade before him and Ray will need to be just as powerful to contain an offense that still managed seven hits and made life difficult for one of the game’s dominant arms.

Given the number of times they’ve shaken off tough losses and come out of tryouts this season – including a four-game sweep at Seattle July 7-10 that led to Charlie Montoyo being fired as manager and the Mariners captain Scott Servais saying it was “essential for our season going in the right direction” – it would be foolish to count against another rebound.

“We play in a division where we are battle tested every day,” third baseman Matt Chapman said. “Just build today. Everyone felt what it’s like to play in a playoff game, what it’s like to lose a playoff game and we fought. I think we will be ready to respond.

That the Blue Jays can play another day is the result of the expanded playoffs resulting from the collective bargaining agreement negotiated to end the owners’ lockout of players. The wildcard format of the past was a one-game, win-or-go-home affair that offered spectacular theater, but a hard-to-swallow way to resolve a season.

Asked before the series which format he prefers, Schneider replied “definitely all three”.

“Baseball is tough and in 162 anything can happen any night,” he continued. “And having him in a one game vacuum is a little weird. So that goes back to what we’ve been saying all year, you’re trying to win a series. And I think the overall depth of your team, the talent of your team, it’s much easier to show in a three-game series than just one. This makes decisions a bit more consistent. It makes the game a bit slower, if you will, instead of playing with your hair on fire in a game. So the three-game series is pretty good.

Especially now that the Blue Jays are on the precipice instead of over it, with a chance to pull back from the edge.

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