The Blue Jays came up short in a see-saw battle Sunday afternoon that was a fitting end to a tense and compelling series in which all games were decided by one game. After falling behind early, the Jays could not hold a couple of one run leads late in the game and fell in the 10th inning as Jordan Romano’s record breaking save streak came to an end at 31 on a walkoff home run in the 10th by Jeremy Pena.
Yusei Kikuchi got the start for the Jays and though had high end velocity that was able to beat the Houston batters at times, was not particularly effective. He gave up 4 runs (2 earned) on 3 hits, ultimately chased on a two run shot by Michael Brantley. What really bit him was issuing five walks (against four strikeouts), though it definitely seemed like he was squeezed by home plate ump Jerry Layne. Notably in this regard, Zach Collins was behind the plate, a noted poor framer, so perhaps that was an exacerbating factor.
Kukuchi was also let down by the defenders behind him, in particular Bo Bichette having at least one costly misplay. After working around two runners in the first, Kikuchi walked old friend Aledmys Diaz with one out, but Bichette booted a grounder that would have been the second out. Another walk followed, then an infield single to Bichette that he couldn’t handle cleanly but might not have had a play on anyway, Another walk pushed in a second run.
Offensively, the bats started slow, going in order the first time through against starter Luis Garcia. George Springer greeted him in the 4th with a leadoff double, scoring on a sac fly to cut the deficit to 2-1. After Brantley made it 4-1 on the bottom of the inning, Lourdes Gurriel lead off the fifth with with a 370 foot shot to the far side of the Crawford boxes for a solo shot.
in a sign of things to come, the bullpen could not hold the Astros, as brother Yuli Gurriel lead off the bottom of the inning with a smash of his own off Trevor Richards, a double to Lourdes. He scored with two out when Cavan Biggio came off first to field a ground ball but didn’t make a very good throw to Richards covering.
Thus things were not looking particularly promising heading into the back half of the game as Garcia faced the Jays order a third time. Springer walked, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reached on a little chopper in front of the plate with some english that made it just die unexpectedly. That brought Zach Collins to the plate, and made the Astros pay with a very high fly ball that just kept carrying over the right field fence. At a 41 degree launch angle, it’s a rare home run indeed, but it certainly redeemed any of his contributory negligence to Kikuchi being squeezed in tying the game 5-5.
But the Jays didn’t stop there. In the 6th off reliever Park Mushinski, Raimel Tapia singled to bring up Santiago Espinal. Having looked and been overmatched by Garcia, he was probably just happy to see anyone else, and laced a ball to the ;left-centre gap to give the Jays the lead.
Houston responded in the bottom of the 7th off David Phelps, who worked a painfully slow inning. Once again, Yuli Gurriel led off the inning with a hard double, scoring on a single from Diaz sandwiched around Phelps striking out the side. But the damage was done and the game was again tied.
Both teams had chances thereafter. Bichette and Vladdy led off the 8th with singles, but Collins and Gurriel struck out before Chapman hit a bouncer to short that Pena misplayed to give them a new lease with the bases loaded. Tapia weakly grounded out to end the inning. In the bottom half, Brantley hit a soft liner to left that Gurriel overplayed trying to catch, but recovered to hose him at third with a strike. The Astros hit a couple balls hard off Trent Thornton in the 9th but one was right at Chapman for an around the horn double play.
So, to extras. The Astros effectively pitched around Vladdy to put a second runner on. Collins struck out, but it a very Gurriel day and Lourdes hammered a double to the gap to plate the go ahead Manfred man and further set-up a golden opportunity for further insurance. Alas, Chapman popped out to hold the runners at 2nd and 3rd and Tapia couldn’t cash them either.
In the bottom of the inning Romano blew away Diaz with three whiffs on sliders, and with upper 90s heat looked like he had the form preceding his last two white-knucjle saves Thursday and Friday. And then Pena ambushed a 2-0 fastball at the bottom of the zone, that just carried, and carried, and carried over the wall to dead centre to deliver a stunning end. There was a time when middle infielders didn’t hit 425 foot blasts, but such is the world in 2022.
Jays of the Day: Gurriel (+.344 WPA), Vladdy (+.159), Espinal (+.156 not counting anpother defensive gem with a huge pick on a gliner up the middle leading off the 6th), Thornton (+.121), Yimi (+.097)
Suckage: Romano (-.584), Kikuchi (-.282), Tapia (-.227), Phelps (-.170), Chapman (-.124).
Tomorrow, some of the Boston Red Sox will travel to Toronto with a hopefully substantial contingent of the Worchester Red Sox to open a four game series at 7:05 EDT with what’s at least scheduled to be a rematch of Nathan Eovaldi and Jose Berrios on the mound.