One had to know it was too much to ask for the Blue Jays to escape the Little Trop of Horrors with a good outcome in the best of times, much less when a pandemic is raging around it. And so instead of starting the 2020 season with a series victory, a 4-2 lead with the bases clear and two outs in the 9th went up in smoke as the Jays seized defeat from the jaws of victory. And that might not even prove to be the most damaging part, as both Randal Grichuk and Ken Giles departed with apparent injuries.
Things started out very promising, as Thomas Hatch made his MLB debut and went once through the order with 2.1 hitless, scoreless innings. He looked impressive for the most part, sitting 94 with fastball while touching a tick or two higher, working around a couple walks in the first inning.
Notably, his change-up was his best offspeed weapon, using it not only to the lefty heavy Tampa order, but also plenty to the righties. His slider tightened up after the first inning, but interestingly he didn’t use the cutter to which his success after the trade was attributed at all.
Hatch was followed by Anthony Kay, who kept Tampa off the board through the end of the 5th in turning over the order once himself. The bats, however, were not providing any support, though they had their chances. They stranded five runners against Blake Snell over his first two innings, failing to capitalize on a lucky break when Rowdy Tellez drew a walk instead of being called out on a failed check swing that should have ended the inning.
He ave way to Trevor Richards, who stymied the Jays for three innings, allowing just a pair of two out singles. That changed in the 6th, when the Jays strung together six hits to open the inning and plate four runs. Grichuk singles, followed by a Tesocar Hernandez double to the left-centre gap that was booted. Danny Jansen added an RBI single with Brandon Drury and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. singling as well to reload the bases, allowing Bo Bichette to double the lead to 4-0 with a two RBI single.
Unfortunately, the bottom of the inning started similarly for Kay, as he allowed a leadoff home run to Ji-Man Choi from the right hand side of the plate, followed by a double to spell the end. It was also at this point that Grichuk departed, with a “right SI joint” injury. According to BBB’s resident medical expert, “connections between the base of the spine into the pelvic girdle. Pain there is deep, visceral pain. I imagine its horrible”. So that sounds great. Fortunately, Jordan Romano slammed the door with an impressive array of fastballs and sliders to hold the line right there.
Charlie Montoyo was clearly trying the same playbook that got the job done on Opening Night, again turning next to Rafael Dolis. Who again didn’t look good, hung a bunch of pitches in the zone, and was lucky to allow only a run in the 7th. Anthony Bass turned in a perfect 8th on 15 pitches, to turn it over the 4-2 lead to Ken Giles for the 9th.
And things seemed well in hand, as he got a can of corn flyout and strikeout with his slider looking filthy to put Tampa to give the Jays a 99% win expectancy (according to this, from 1957 to 2019, there was 6340 games, and the vistor has won 6262). A double followed on a 0-1 slider that wasn’t even quite bad, but Giles looked a little off in walking Willy Adames. Then even more off in walking Yoshi Tsutsugo, drawing a visit from Pete Walker. Nonetheless, he stayed in to face Choi until a 3-1 fastball missed badly and he reacted poorly.
So, in came Brian Moran, who finished off the walk to make it 4-3 but at least reset the count against Brandon Lowe in a lefty/lefty match-up. He the ground ball he was looking for, pulled pretty sharply into the shift. Vladdy gloved it, but Moran was late covering the bag and Lowe wa safe allowing the tying run home. There was some discussion Guerrero should have left the ball to Biggio and covered the bag, but the bottom line is Moran should have been there in time. Anyway, he did manage to get the last out and send it to extras.
That meant of course a free runner on second to start the inning, which would have Jansen but Montoyo pinch ran with Santiago Espinal. Drury failed to advance him, fouling out to first, so with Gurriel up he tried to steal third on a 2-1 pitch. He was dead on arrival and ruled out, setting up the likelihood of the first “2-up-and-3-down“ inning in franchise history (and I believe major league history as well). But on review, he managed to avoid the tag and get his hand in, allowed him to scamper home on a shallow fly ball to left-centre by Gurriel.
That left the job of keeping Tampa off the board to Shun Yamaguchi, also making his MLB debut. He engaged in a long battle with Jose Martinez, ultimately walking him to put the winning run on, and two pitches later Kevin Kiermaier (who else of course?) buried the dagger with a line drive smash down the right field line for the walkoff.
In hindsight, it would have been less painful if Espinal had just been out. Then at least, we’d have been witness to a piece of history. So it goes.
Jays of the Day: Hatch (+0.125 WPA), Romano (+0.124), Bass (+0.091), Grichuk (+0.096), Gurriel (+0.153). Drury had the number, but FanGraphs haven’t quite got down how to handle the freebie runner so he was credited with a positive for fouling out in the 10th instead of a negative.
Suckage: Giles (-0.181), Moran (-0.225 essentially for not covering the base), and Yamaguchi (-0.580; FG says -0.795 but a home team with a runner at 2nd and none out down one in a walkoff inning should win about 42% of the time). Technically this qualifies as Super Suckage, but it’s a tough spot and really all of it was super suckage.
RIHFAIC Moment: The obvious, what should have been the last out of the game turning into the tying run. But really, everything from two outs in the 9th onward.
Tomorrow the Jays go to Washington for what suposed to be a four game home-and-road turned neutral-and-road finally turned road-and-road series. Note the 6:05 EDT start time, with Trent Thornton scheduled to oppose Anibal Sanchez. At least they’d be out of Florida!