'Not your average road trip': Springer lifts Blue Jays in Seattle

July 8th, 2024

SEATTLE -- It’s been so long since a Blue Jays game felt like that.

For three hours, you could forget their record, forget the disappointments and forget all the reasons why. Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Mariners at T-Mobile Park, flooded with Blue Jays fans down from western Canada, felt like it really meant something.

In each of the final three innings, the Mariners stranded the bases loaded, the Blue Jays’ bullpen making big pitches in big moments as the crowd roared, back and forth. Seattle was stuck on the one-yard line so long that Pete Carroll nearly broke into the stadium to call a pass play, but the Blue Jays didn’t budge.

Toronto eventually broke the tie in the 10th on a Daulton Varsho single that scored Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but the moment of the series came earlier. Down three in the seventh, launched a game-tying home run to right-center field and howled with emotion as he rounded the bases. It’s the most passion we’ve seen from Springer in ages, pumping his fists as his helmet nearly spun off his head in the fervor of it all.

“I kind of blacked out a little bit,” Springer said. “I know I was excited. It was a big moment for us as a team and I’m just happy to help.”

This is the beauty of a series in Seattle.

There are many ways to be eight games under .500, which is where the Blue Jays sit now, 41-49. Some versions of that are more exciting than others, and lately, this team’s losses haven’t had much entertainment value. Think back to those postseason teams of 2015 and ‘16. Yes, they captured Canada because they won, but they were exciting. It was chaotic, charismatic, a rock concert every night.

Atmospheres like this can draw that out of a team and out of a game.

“This is not your average road trip,” manager John Schneider said. “It’s so cool to see the fans, even before the game, and the fact they’re all shoved in behind our dugout is great. You kind of get to know them a little bit over the course of the weekend. The support has just been phenomenal every time we come here. It’s just a cool weekend of baseball.”

What a strange sensation, too, to launch a game-tying home run 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles for the locals) from your home field and get that type of reaction.

“It means that our fans are great,” Springer said. “This is one of the best places to go. Our fans come here to support us from all over the place. It’s awesome to see and it means a lot to us as a team. To hear them go nuts is just awesome.”

This continues a renaissance for Springer, who was having the worst season of his MLB career until he suddenly wasn’t. Back on June 24, his OPS bottomed out at .559. Sunday, just 12 games later, it’s .672. He’s hit five home runs and driven in 16 runners in that span.

That’s where the emotion comes from. Springer, like his manager and teammates, has said all along that this was still in there. He’s done it for a decade in the big leagues, but for the first few months of the season, those days were fading in the distance.

“That’s a huge, huge swing,” Schneider said. “[Ryne] Stanek is tough and that’s a 98 mph fastball. I couldn’t be happier for George, the way he’s turned it around. I’ll keep saying this, he’s such a big part of what we’re doing. For him to have that swing after [Mitch] Garver hit his, it shot us back to life a little bit.”

The Blue Jays still have a mountain to climb in the AL Wild Card race, of course, and they don’t exactly have the rest of the season to work with. They have the next three weeks until the July 30 Trade Deadline to pick a direction for the rest of their season, and while a winning streak could change the equation, they’re still widely expected to be sellers as they attempt to reset for 2025.

For an afternoon, though, that cloud didn’t hang over this club. For the first time in weeks, it didn’t just feel like another ballgame, trudging forward into the inevitable.