MINNEAPOLIS — In tight games, in meaningful games, and in the kind of games the Toronto Blue Jays hope to play into the final season of MLB, execution will be crucial. They’re not going to blow everyone away. They will have to win the close-ups.
And Friday night, when one of those games developed against another team with the ambition to play the same kind of baseball for the next two months, that execution was not there.
That’s apparently why the Blue Jays lost 6-5 to the Minnesota Twins in 10 innings.
A heavy night from Jose Berrios didn’t help either. The Blue Jays starter lasted only 3.2 innings, coughing up five deserved innings before giving way to a procession of six relievers from Toronto’s bullpen. And yet, that group did its job and kept the Twins stable as the Toronto offense fought its way back in and eventually tied the game until the final strike in the ninth.
But then the abuses started. First, there was a routine groundball to Cavan Biggio in the bottom of the ninth, which was sniffed by the Blue Jays second baseman.
Then there was the scoring opportunity in the top of the 10th, when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. a Michael Fulmer slider over the head of Twins second baseman Luis Arraez. The ball was hit well enough, and high enough, that Biggio could have gotten a better second place and immediately snapped for third. But instead, his first move was back to the bag, eliminating the possibility of scoring the go-ahead run.
And finally there was the bottom of the 10th. With a runner on second base to start the inning, Jordan Romano eliminated Nick Cave with a shovel in the sand. But Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen first missed an attempt to tag Cave, then sent his throw to first, bringing the Twins outfielder to base and the runner on second base – Nick Gordon – to go for the third shot.
Two pitches later, Romano caused Tim Beckham to bounce a grounder to Matt Chapman at third base as Gordon headed home. But Chapman’s delivery fell short of Jansen, who couldn’t get it when Gordon slid in head-first with the game-winning run.
“A lot happened there,” said Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider. “Of course in the ninth there defensively (with Biggio). Featuring Gurriel’s hit — hard to read by [Biggio] there with an out on the line drive. It’s very hard for a runner in second place.
“And then in the 10th inning – I think if you want the ball to come to someone, it’s Matt Chapman. And the strikeout to Cave – Jano blocks everything and I think when he tried to tap him, he kind of corner on the throw to the first and made it a little bit harder than it probably should have been, so you see those things as opportunities to get better.”
The Blue Jays will definitely need that, as will Berrios, whose recent success came to a halt on Friday at the stadium where he called home the first six seasons of his career. It looked like Berrios was going to play cruise control one more time, as he got through his first two innings quickly on just 14 pitches. But he coughed up a solo shot by Mark Contreras in the third and started the fourth to bring the first three batters to base – double, walk and single.
Berrios’ next pitch—after a mound conference with pitching coach Pete Walker—was a change that didn’t fool Gordon, who penalized it 410 feet over the right-field wall. Berrios then retired the side, but his 26th pitch of the inning was ball four for Sandy Leon. And that was that.
“Tonight I was unable to make quality pitches. But I’m going out to fight and do my best,” Berrios said. “Fastball, breaking ball, my sub – I left them and didn’t throw quality pitches. But I just turn the page and keep moving forward.”
In the end, Berrios didn’t have the same curveball as he drove through six strong outings in July, with a 3.00 ERA and 3.25 FIP while striking out 42 batters and running only seven in 36 innings. He also didn’t have his fastball command, as he either missed too far from the plate with four seamers and sinkers or too far over the heart of it. It was a premature slump for the Blue Jays starter, who has battled inconsistency all season and seemed to finally find his groove.
“I pitched well in the past month. Today I came to a baseball field and I felt healthy and strong. But that’s one of those nights when I couldn’t make my pitch,” Berrios said. “I’m staying on track, trying to get that consistency. Obviously I didn’t throw well tonight. But I’m going to turn the page. I know I’ve been throwing the ball pretty well lately. So I want to come back to that.”
Meanwhile, Twins starter Tyler Mahle just rode through to sixth, when Santiago Espinal tagged him for a solo shot from the first pitch, Whit Merrifield defeated an infield single and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. flipped a cookie slider for one of those insane line drives homer hits that just never come down:
But Mahle took the damage from there and completed the sixth, giving way to a series of hard-throwing relievers, including taking over trade deadline Jorge Lopez, who came in ninth with 99mph throttle and unfair curveballs as he attempted a one – run ahead and secure his second save for his new team.
In the end, he wouldn’t. Bo Bichette and Jansen reached on singles before Raimel Tapia somehow blackened a two-out, two-strike, 98-mph Lopez sinker inside no man’s land in the shallow center. It came from Tapia’s bat at 75.5 mph, just soft enough to fall in as Bichette went home with the equalizing goal.
It was an almost unbelievable result against one of the most electric shutters of this season. It ignited the Blue Jays dugout and the thousands of blue-clad Toronto fans lining the stands behind. Just when Yimi Garcia put all those people on edge again in the bottom of the inning when he threw out the bases loaded, an one-out jam ensued when Biggio faltered that routine grounder in the second.
But the Blue Jays couldn’t capitalize on Fulmer in the top 10, as Minnesota’s other bullpen acquisition deadline was a combination of 95-mph sinkers from a ridiculous slider that lifted him to 92. Fulmer was in and out of the zone, as he tends to be, but still got the job done, working around a Guerrero walk, the Gurriel single and Biggio didn’t get a good jump to hit the side and leave the bases loaded.
That put the Blue Jays in a terrible position and had to prevent a runner in second place from scoring with no one out in the bottom of the tenth inning. And Schneider put his team in the best possible position to win, calling his closer, Romano, on the spot.
But you know what happened next. The Toronto execution was dropped again, a throw was mailed to the first, there was no play at the plate and the Blue Jays lost.
“It was a roller coaster. But I think everything lined up the way we wanted it to line up. We just didn’t run it in the end,” Schneider said. “You learn from it, you move on. And tomorrow you have another game.”