Blue Jays 4 at Pirates 1
The Jays rolled the dice that facing one of the worst teams in baseball before a critical in-division doubleheader Monday, they could bump back their starting pitchers and go with a bullpen game without punting the game. That gambit paid off as though Yusei Kikuchi didn’t provide much on the way of “bulk” innings, the rest of the bullpen picked him and a timely hit from Bo Bichette provided the decisive margin en route to a 4-1 win.
Trevor Richards did his job opening, a couple of deepish fly balls kept in the park in a perfect first and then a dominant second inning in which he struck out the side around a one out walk.
Kikuchi came in for the 3rd and pretty quickly the Jays were behind the eight ball. he stru k out the first batter, before a bloop single to Jason Delay. Oneil Cruz then deposited a triple to right-centre to cash the runner. Kikuchi did prevent him from scoring with less than two out via a strikeout and then groundout.
For their part, the bats hadn’t done much against Roansy Contreras. They did threaten in the 3rd after George Springer blooped a single and Teoscar punched a hard grounder through the infield with two out. But Matt Chapman struck out to strand them.
They did however equalize the score in the 4th, with Bo Bichette punching a hard single through the infield in front of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hooking a double into the left field corner for second and third with none out. Bichette broke for home to score on a groundout by Tapia, but that was it. They squandered further opportunity in the 5th after Cruz threw away a grounder to put runners at second and third with one out. But Chapman struck out and Bichette flied out on the first pitch.
Kikuchi almost fell apart in the bottom of the inning. Facing the bottom of the order, he gave up a hard line drive single followed by a a four pitch walk. He rebounded to strike out Cruz at the top of the order, which was enough time for Yimi Garcia to get ready. He was sharp, quelling the threat by getting Kevin Newman ton ground into a sharp double play. He followed with a perfect 6th, though the last out was a sharp fly ball to the warning track in dead centre after a can of corn and strikeout to get two quick outs.
That brought the decisive 7th inning as Contreras exited after six strong innings. With one out, George Springer punched a solid ground ball through the left side, starting a series of long at-bats against reliever Duane Underwood. He put Vladdy in a 1-2 hole with back-to-back whiffs, but walked him. He locked horns for nine pitches with Teoscar Hernandez, but finally got him to swing though strike three. But then once again facing Chapman he couldn’t finish off a 1-2 count and walked him.
That brought in Bichette with the bases loaded , who promptly fell behind 1-2 after a pair of fouls. He kept fouling balls off, four more with a couple balls mixed in. Finally on the 10th pitch he and the Jays broke through, lining a ball into the right field corner to clear the bases and stake the Jays to the 4-1 lead.
The bullpen took it home the rest of the way, with Adam Cimber turning in his usual businesslike clean inning. Anythony Bass ran into a little trouble in the 8th with runners on the corners with two out, but Tim Mayza finished off the job with a strikeout. It being a save situation, of course that meant the 9th had to belong to Jordan Romano. He absolutely slammed the door on 12 pitches, two strikeouts.
There was one scary moment in the top of the 8th when Santiago Espinal took a 98 MPH fastball that rode up and in off his hand as he bailed out. At first I thought it got him in face so frankly it a relief that it “only” got him on the hand, painful as it is and hopefully there’s nothing broken.
Jays of the Day: Bichette (+0.296 WPA), Springer (+0.202), Garcia (+0.189), Richard (+0.099)
Suckage: Chapman (-0.117). Espinal also had the number (-0.100), but it would be literally adding insult to injury.
Tomorrow, the Jays will look to complete the sweep, sending Ross Stripling against JT Brubaker in the Sunday early Peacock game (note the 12:00 EDT start time).