PHILADELPHIA — With a three-run lead and six outs to go, the Blue Jays were well positioned going into the bottom of the eighth on Wednesday-evening.
Tim Mayza had just struckout Bryce Harper with the bases loaded to escape a jam in the seventh inning and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had responded with an undoubted three-run homer. With their best relievers rested and two innings to go, the Blue Jays were in a good spot.
But Yimi Garcia immediately gave up three runs and Matt Vierling would later walk away from Adam Cimber with his fifth goal of the evening as the Phillies defeated the Blue Jays 4-3 in a 10-inning game that took four hours and eight minutes. . A strong start from Kevin Gausman was lost and a wild run at Citizens Bank Park ended in disappointment for the Blue Jays.
“Just a rough night,” Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said. “You always feel good with a three point lead and the back of our bullpen. It didn’t work out tonight.”
Admittedly, the Blue Jays’ bullpen has been better in recent months, with Jordan Romano in particular offering remarkable consistency. But he has now made two consecutive saves going back to Sunday’s series final against Baltimore. And while Cimber came in with a ghost runner already in second place, he couldn’t escape.
Anthony Bass, meanwhile, didn’t pitch at all, but Schneider said the righthander was available. The Blue Jays simply preferred other relievers over Bass, who pitched against the Orioles last Friday. If nothing else, the timing of this bullpen slump comes at an inopportune time given the importance of the upcoming matches.
“We rely a lot on those guys,” Gausman said. “It is going to happen. It’s baseball. At this time of year you don’t want to think too much about it… flush it and move on.’
Earlier, Guerrero Jr. gave the Blue Jays all the attack they needed. With runners on the corners and no one out in the top of the eighth inning of a goalless game, Guerrero Jr. a 160 km/h field of Seranthony Dominguez, 120 meters in the left field seats for his 30e homer of the season.
Those power numbers may be easier to overlook than they should be. By hitting 48 home runs last year, Guerrero Jr. see that he is capable of more. This year, that potential has not been realized.
At the same time, he came into the game on Wednesday with an OPS+ of 134, meaning he is 34 percent better than the league average on record, taking era and margin into account. Among the batters with a lifetime OPS+ of 134: Mookie Betts, Prince Fielder and Fred McGriff. This feat does not match what Guerrero Jr. last year, but it still places him among the best attacking players in the game.
As Schneider said, “Big at bat for Vladdy.”
Meanwhile, Gausman gave up only five basehits while walking two and striking out eight against a strong Phillies line-up. His material was lively, with a fastball hitting 98.4 mph and a splitter generating 11 swings and misses. In addition, he worked smoothly with Alejandro Kirk, who returned to his position behind the plate after left hip pain led to an eight-day hiatus from catching.
In fact, thanks to a loss by Rays, the Blue Jays stayed with Tampa Bay, but the Yankees defeated the Pirates, meaning the Blue Jays fell to 6.5 games in the AL East. At this point, any Yankees win pushes the division title further out of reach and increases the odds of a three-game wildcard series.
“Everyone is checking the scoreboard and paying attention,” third baseman Matt Chapman said Wednesday afternoon. “For us, every game is a must-win … That’s the mentality of now: winning every day.”
Of course, it doesn’t help when the Yankees make improbable comebacks like they did on Tuesday, when Aaron Judge hit home run No. 60 and Giancarlo Stanton followed with a walk-off grand slam.
“We’re watching closely,” Chapman said. “It’s impressive to see what Aaron Judge does day in and day out. He’s a great player. He is fun to watch. Unfortunately, he controls the team that is ahead of us right now… that’s how tough this division is.”
Meanwhile, two players had problems with the left side on Wednesday. Santiago Espinal exited the match with left hand discomfort as Gausman extended his left arm in an attempt to get Guerrero Jr. in the second inning, only to overstretch his glove side. Afterwards, he said he felt physically fine despite the awkward game.
From here on, the challenge only gets bigger as the Blue Jays head to St. Petersburg, Florida, for four games against the Tampa Bay Rays, the team chasing the Blue Jays in the wild card race. Since Tampa Bay has an 8-7 advantage in the season series, the Blue Jays must win at least three out of four against the Rays to secure the tiebreaker advantage if the teams finish the season with identical records.
And while a case must be made to finish third and close a first-round matchup against the AL Central winners, that’s not how Chapman sees it. The Blue Jays are 43-32 at Rogers Center this year, and there’s more comfort at home, too. Even if the Blue Jays have an overwhelming chance now to achieve the playoffs, they care about how they get there.
“No matter where we end up, we want to host,” Chapman said. “We want to play for our home fans. We know how well we play at home and how nice it is to have our fans behind us. I’ve played on the road in the play-offs before and it’s tough. It’s always nice to to have the home crowd, so we really want that.”
Ideally, the Blue Jays would make these four games in the Trop their last.