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Kikuchi, Bullpen Narrowly Out-Duel Wheeler and the Phillies

Toronto Blue Jays play the Philadelphia Phillies Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

That was tense. This team doesn’t really do easy wins, but even by their standards tonight was close.

The pitching staff has been excellent all year, but their 3.25 ERA since the All Star break paces all of baseball by a quarter of a run. With Romano back and Trevor Richards and Chad Green finishing their rehab stints in the next few days, they’re poised to get even stronger.

The offence, on the other hand, remains mired in the middle of the table, their 4.25 runs per game over that stretch a tick below league average. Zack Wheeler is a solid pitcher, but they’re going to have to do more against better if they want to make it to, and out of, the wildcard round this year.

Yusei Kikuchi was excellent, continuing his run of great performances that stretches back to the all star break. Through five innings, he’d struck out six while allowing only two singles. He was even efficient, getting through those innings in 65 pitches.

Unfortunately, with the way the Jays offence is going, he had absolutely no room for error and in the sixth inning he made one mistake. After Edmundo Sosa reached on an infield single lead the inning off, he left a curveball up to Johan Rojas, who lined a double into the corner in left, putting the Phillies up 1-0. The offence was able to take him off the hook for what would have been an extremely unfair loss, but he deserved to be in a position to win with how well he played. His final line was four hits and one run over six innings with seven strikeouts. His ERA since the all star break actually rose with tonight’s start, to 1.29 in 35 innings.

Kikuchi was only at 84 pitches, but Schneider decided to pull him at that point in favour of Yimi Garcia. It worked out, as Garcia pitched a shutout inning around a walk.

Jordan Hicks was given the eighth. He struck out the side, his first really dominant outing as a Jay.

Up one run in the ninth, Jordan Romano was called on to face the Phillies’ 2-3-4 hitters. It was a tough assignment in his first game back from rehabbing a back injury sustained in the all star game and aggravated a couple of weeks ago during the west coast road trip. He battled his command a little in the first few pitches, but got Bohm to fly out and then struck out Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos to lock down the win.

On the other side, the Jays’ offence wasn’t able to get any more of a handle on Zack Wheeler than the Phillies did on Kikuchi for the first five innings. Cavan Biggio walked twice his first two times up, while Brandon Belt added a single, but through five those were their only base runners.

In the sixth, now behind, they were able to manufacture a run on a Whit Merrifield single, a Belt walk, and, after a Vlad Guerrero jr. double play advanced Merrifield to third, a George Springer single. That tied the game at one.

Daulton Varsho worked a walk in the seventh, but got caught stealing second. Wheeler ended up allowing one run over seven. The Jays managed four walks, but were only able to muster three hits, none for extra bases.

Seranthony Dominguez took over in the bottom of the eighth. Nathan Lukes, pinch hitting in the nine hole for Paul DeJong, worked a leadoff walk. Merrifield hit a liner that Kyle Schwarber almost made a great diving catch on. Instead, he was only able to trap it, putting Jays on first and second with nobody out. After a Belt strikeout, Guerrero also walked to load the bases. Springer chopped a grounder to Alek Bohm at third, who threw home to force Lukes at the plate. It was an incredibly close play, and after review the out call stood. I think whatever was called live would not have been overturned. It didn’t end up mattering, though, as Dominguez’s first pitch to Biggio hit him in the foot, forcing in the go ahead run. That was it for Dominguez. Former Jays top draft pick Jeff Hoffman (who was shipped to Colorado in the Troy Tulowitzki trade) got Alejandro Kirk to ground out.

Jays of the Day: Kikuchi (0.162), Hicks (0.104), Romano (0.158), Garcia (only 0.086 but the whole staff deserves the kudos), Biggio (0.263), Merrifield (0.121),

Suckage: Guerrero (-0.123), Kirk (-0.158)

The second and final game of the series is slated for tomorrow night at 7:07pm ET. Aaron Nola, who’s having an off year with a 4.49 ERA and a 9-8 record, will represent Philadelphia. Toronto will turn to ace Kevin Gausman (3.04, 9-6), who’s struggled a little by his standards since the All Star break but put up seven shutout innings last time out in Cleveland.