Amid tight Wild Card race, Bo preaches fearlessness in return

August 20th, 2023

CINCINNATI --  came back with a message.

The Blue Jays’ star shortstop sat out 16 games with a knee injury, which feels like a decade for a player like Bichette. He watched as Toronto went 8-8 in that span, flashing potential but rarely grabbing it with both hands.

Something felt right about seeing Bichette back in the lineup for the Blue Jays’ 4-3 win on Saturday evening at Great American Ball Park. With the face of the franchise back where he belonged, everyone else bounced back to where they belonged, too -- in the lineup and on the field.

The Blue Jays stayed a half-game back of the Mariners for the final American League Wild Card spot after both clubs won, but that half-game feels better than it did a day ago. Toronto and Seattle split their season series at 3-3, but the Mariners have a better winning percentage against their own division, which gives them the advantage in the Wild Card tiebreaker.

Now, with 38 games left, Bichette wants to see something from his teammates and himself.

“I think we need to be fearless, honestly,” Bichette said. “I don’t think that any team accomplishes anything special without being fearless. I think we need to be fearless, go out there and play our game, be aggressive and get after it. That’s how I want to lead and I’ll try to lead by example now that I’m back.”

Bichette’s leadership style isn’t big, brash or in-your-face. But when he speaks, everyone listens.

Everything works better when star players lead the way, and it’s a role he’s known well, going back to the days before he was drafted out of high school. The trainer’s table and bench aren’t familiar places for a player coming off back-to-back seasons of 159 games, but Bichette nailed his rehab, coming back faster than even he expected.

“Once I was hurt, I was hurt,” Bichette said. “There was nothing I could do about it. I just turned my focus to taking the rehab process as seriously as I could and getting back as quickly as I could. I was setting myself up to be in a position to help the team right when I got back. I think I handled it well.”

Bichette went just 1-for-5 on Saturday, but he made it count with an RBI single up the middle in the fourth. That was the Blue Jays’ third RBI single in a row that inning, as the club finally put together some hits with runners on base.

It was rookie sensation Davis Schneider who broke the tie in the fifth with his third big league home run, though. With Bichette back, manager John Schneider will have some decisions to make each day between Davis Schneider and Santiago Espinal, who should see the bulk of reps at second base after the Blue Jays designated Paul DeJong for assignment on Saturday.

“When you look at those two in terms of what they do defensively and offensively, it’s a little bit different,” Schneider said. “You look at a little more damage potential with Davis and more contact ability with Espinal. The fact that Espinal can play short definitely helps, then Davis plays second, third and left field. You try to pick your spots to put them in the right situation.”

A performance like Saturday’s should only earn Davis Schneider a bigger share of these reps. On a team desperate for a spark, he’s been just that.

Bichette’s message landed with the rookie, too.

“Every game is crucial when you’re going for that Wild Card,” Schneider said. “You’ve got to take every day like it’s your last. Every game is important, especially in August. These are the dog days, so everyone is kind of tired but you have to push through it and hopefully come out on top every day.”

Look no further than the Reds for an example of what “fearless” baseball looks like.

Elly De La Cruz, who has hit this league like a lightning bolt, scored on a triple and a throwing error in the fourth -- a play that had all the excitement of an inside-the-park home run. Later, when Joey Votto walked to lead off the ninth, Reds No. 1 prospect Noelvi Marte, who was called up on Saturday, entered as a pinch-runner and stole third base.

It’s a young team still on the rise, but one clearly playing fearless baseball and carving out its own identity.

At this point, the Blue Jays’ identity is the team that never lets you relax, never lets you turn off the game in the seventh inning and get to bed early. The cardiac kids seem to live life in a one-run game.

That’s a dangerous way to live, but every one-run game has a winner -- even those that don’t exactly qualify for the game of the year. Like Bichette says, he wants his team focusing not on what could go wrong, but what could go right.