For a game that’s as complex and maddening as baseball, it’s remarkable how easy it is to figure out what constitutes momentum from one game to the next.
Nothing hazy about it: momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, as was proven yet again Saturday at the Rogers Centre when Jose Berrios — and, what the heck, let’s stretch the narrative and include his batterymate, Danny Jansen — set the Toronto Blue Jays on their way to a …
Nah, screw it. How about this? Given where the Blue Jays are right now, a win is a win is a win. Hang on for a 10-8 win over the Oakland Athletics in a game in which you led 10-3 going into the ninth inning? Do it less than 24 hours after Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.’s grand slam and Marcus Semien’s walk-off, three-run home run helped you rally from an 8-2 eighth-inning deficit for an 11-10 win? Best not to think too much about it, folks. Here comes Robbie Ray to pitch the series finale Sunday afternoon with a chance to sweep the A’s, the most at-hand impediment to your flickering post-season ambitions, and as Charlie Montoyo said: “It’s Robbie Ray tomorrow. He has to give us a chance.
“The key today was Berrios. Everything starts on the mound. He was outstanding, he commanded his fastball for his last two outings and when he does that? That’s the guy we thought we were getting.”
OK, then. We’re still safe thinking momentum still carries over based on the guy on the mound, even after these two brawls that saw the A’s come close to flipping the script from Friday. If that is the case then the Blue Jays have the right guy going for sure on Sunday.
Montoyo said the Blue Jays will be without closer Jordan Romano and maybe Tim Mayza, depending on how he feels. Mayza threw 15 pitches Saturday but hasn’t worked back-to-back games since July 24-25. Romano was needed Saturday when Joakim Soria couldn’t get an out in the ninth with the Blue Jays 10-3 lead suddenly turned into 10-6 on Mark Canha’s three-run home run. Romano gave up a two-run home run to Sean Murphy before Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison flied out and pinch-hitter Khris Davis struck out.
Gurriel, Jr., followed up Friday’s heroics with a three-run double in the eighth inning Saturday that turned into something more than padding. He also had one of four homers hit by the Blue Jays — including a two-run blast by Brayvic Valera, Jansen’s second homer since coming off the IL on Aug. 31, and Teoscar Hernandez’s 100th career homer, a three-run shot off Jake Deikman in the seventh.
Gurriel, Jr., who is the eighth player in franchise history with four-plus RBIs in consecutive games, is hitting .368 in the last three weeks. His Friday slam was his third of the season and he credited teammate Santiago Espinal with some advice earlier this season about hitting with the bases loaded.
“He told me ‘don’t rush’… take your time … re-group,” said Gurriel, Jr.
Similarly, Jansen noted that he spent his time on the IL trying to steady his own approach. “Slow my moves down and keep my head still,” he said.
Like a wild-card race, the game will sometimes come to you.
“That was a big triple … double … whatever it was,” Montoyo said of Gurriel’s hit, noting that like Hernandez one of the keys to Gurriel’s resurgence is not chasing pitches.
Berrios (10-7) is still tinkering with his delivery after making a change to his wind-up before his previous start, a change that he says helps him maintain his balance and release point and also mitigates what was becoming a tendency to tip his pitches. He went 6 2/3 innings, giving up three runs and four hits while walking seven and striking out none. Canha’s two-out, RBI single knocked him out of the game after needing 14 pitches to strike out the middle of the A’s lineup — Matt Chapman and Jed Lowrie — following Matt Olson’s lead-off double.
Berrios hit the second batter he faced — Kemp — but escaped from it with Jansen’s assistance on a strike ’em out/throw ’em out double play. Berrios retired the next nine batters before Chapman homered to lead off the fifth. It was the Athletics’ first counter-punch after falling behind 4-0. There was more to come.
“(Berrios) has a lot of pitches,” Jansen said of his first assignment with the Jays trade deadline acquisition. “We had a good game plan … keeping guys off-balance and then bringing out the change-up later when guys become more aggressive.”
The Blue Jays and A’s are similar in some ways beyond their proximity in the standings because if neither of them end up making the post-season, the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of their relief pitchers. The Blue Jays have righted the ship slightly but there’s still the matter of all those losses out of the bullpen, while the A’s relievers’ efforts on Saturday left them with a 7.41 relief ERA in their last 13 games. The A’s also have 23 blown saves, second-most in the majors.
The Blue Jays were also reminded that outfield defence could be a soft under-belly as long as George Springer is limited to DH. Sure, Olson’s ball was struck well but a more polished centre fielder than Corey Dickerson might have tracked it down. Dickerson hadn’t played centre since Oct. 3, 2016, with Springer not available and Randal Grichuk’s playing time reduced and a right-handed starter on the mound for the A’s, it was down to Dickerson and light-hitting Jarrod Dyson to handle centre. And as much as Gurriel was one of the offensive heroes, his decision to throw home on Canha’s seventh-inning RBI single instead of hitting the cut-off man moved Canha to second. He scored the A’s third run when Chad Pinder singled off Adam Cimber, who had just come into the game for Berrios.
But that’s forgotten now. Like the Blue Jays, the A’s, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and wild-card pace-setting New York Yankees aren’t worried about style points. Not at this time of the year.
“Last night’s comeback shows how sometimes this is a beautiful sport and how crazy it is,” Berrios said after his start, reflecting on a Friday that was still fresh in everyone’s mind. “We come back from 8-2. Then it’s tied. Then they go ahead. Then we come back. It’s why we love this sport and why we grind and come in every day and do our work.”