Slam puts Bichette in long-awaited spotlight

June 22nd, 2022

CHICAGO -- We haven’t talked about much this season.

He has existed in the middle, rarely cold enough to be of worry but rarely hot enough to be the star of the show. That changed Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field, when Bichette’s grand slam powered the Blue Jays to a 9-5 win that salvaged one game from the White Sox.

Bichette entered Wednesday with nine strikeouts in his previous four games, his frustrations evident after he went down in a key spot in Tuesday’s 7-6, 12-inning loss. He entered the finale batting .258 with a .722 OPS, which is passable but well below what a player of Bichette’s caliber is capable of coming off an All-Star season in 2021.

This time, he got to sit in the dugout and enjoy it instead of redecorating the place.

“That used to be who I was when I was younger,” Bichette said with a smile. “Sometimes, you’ve just got to let it out.”

The 24-year-old had coaches raving down in Dunedin, Fla., this Spring Training, with some expecting this to be the season that he took the next step into stardom. With 29 home runs and 25 stolen bases in 2021, Bichette flashed the potential to be a 30-30 player for the Blue Jays. And while that’s likely off the table in ‘22, there’s plenty of time for Bichette to use one of his trademark hot streaks as a launching pad for a strong second half.

“It’s Bo, but it’s everybody else, too,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “It was the mindset this morning. I wish you could have seen it. Everybody said, ‘OK, let’s go turn the page.’ That’s not easy to do for young guys, and they do a great job of that.”

It’s Bichette’s turn, too. The Blue Jays’ lineup has broken out one at a time this season, like boy band members slide-stepping forward one at a time to sing his verse. First, it was Alejandro Kirk, whose breakout has him running away with All-Star voting among American League catchers. Then came Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernández, who launched a home run of his own Wednesday. Recently, it has been Lourdes Gurriel Jr. grabbing the mic.

Bichette falling next in line would be sensational news for the Blue Jays, due not only to his rare talent but his spot in the lineup. As Guerrero, Kirk, Hernández and Gurriel all heat up, it’s Bichette batting right in front of them, second in the lineup. The more Bichette reaches base, the more you’ll see solo shots turning into two-run home runs.

“This is good. Obviously, we want to be more consistent,” Bichette said. “When your back is against the wall, to play well is a good attribute to have as a team and as an individual, too. This was a good win today.”

Bichette and the Blue Jays did not get too carried away with salvaging one win from a three-game series, but both the player and the team made statements in their own ways Wednesday. Bichette delivered a big blow at last, while Toronto bounced back from a long, frustrating loss Tuesday that was riddled with umpiring disagreements.

Hitting coach Guillermo Martinez kept that energy riding right into Wednesday’s game, getting ejected before it even began. Martinez came out to exchange lineup cards prior to the first pitch, but seconds later he was in a heated exchange with Tuesday’s home-plate umpire, Doug Eddings. Whether or not that sparked the Blue Jays, it certainly didn’t hurt.

“This was a good test, right?” said Ross Stripling after giving the Blue Jays six excellent innings. “This [Chicago] is a really good team. It’s a team that a lot of people picked to go deep into the playoffs, and they’re hot. I feel like we’re hitting them at a time where they’re swinging well. It was a tough loss Game 1 into a really tough loss last night, then a quick turnaround today. I feel like you saw us taking good at-bats from the start. Lots of energy in the dugout. We weren’t beat down at all.”

Now that cooler heads have prevailed -- which is easier coming off a win -- the Blue Jays move into a challenging stretch against the Brewers, Red Sox and Rays.

It’s a uniquely challenging schedule for the Blue Jays, and while there are question marks elsewhere on the roster, Bichette has the ability to set the tone and help this lineup to blitz opposing pitchers early. With Bichette playing to the height of his talents, this goes from a good lineup to one that’s capable of beating teams even on days when the pitching staff stumbles, which Toronto will need to do in the coming weeks.