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Vladdy's epic Aroldis battle ends in standing 'O'

@baseballexis
August 11, 2019

TORONTO -- Let the kids play. Ahead of Sunday’s series finale, brand new T-shirts were draped over every chair in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse, with the words, “Let the kids play” scrawled across them in bright colours and large font. Toronto certainly didn’t need any encouragement to do that, with

TORONTO -- Let the kids play.

Ahead of Sunday’s series finale, brand new T-shirts were draped over every chair in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse, with the words, “Let the kids play” scrawled across them in bright colours and large font.

Toronto certainly didn’t need any encouragement to do that, with a rookie-laden roster, but by the end of the matchup against the Yankees it was evident that the kids are here to do more than just play, battling one of baseball’s best teams in a fight to the very end of a 1-0 loss at Rogers Centre.

If the bottom of the ninth inning was any indication of what might be to come for the future of the franchise -- despite the outcome -- there’s a lot to be excited about. Former Yankees infielder and Toronto’s 26-year-old third baseman Brandon Drury led off the frame with a single to end Masahiro Tanaka’s bid for a complete game after eight stellar innings.

Aroldis Chapman, the closer for the American League East leaders, entered in his place. Catcher Reese McGuire’s name was next in the order, but instead of heading to the plate, the 24-year-old had a chance to take a seat in the front row for a pinch-hit appearance from Vladimir Guerrero Jr..

“I knew the situation,” McGuire said. “I knew there was a chance they were going to pinch-hit for me and I was pumped for Vlad, excited for him to get that AB. It was kind of funny because as soon as I was dapping him to say, ‘Go get ‘em, bro,’ the crowd erupted. They must have all seen him at the same time coming out of the dugout. They were all excited.”

Guerrero battled Chapman for 13 pitches, three of which hit 100 mph. The 20-year-old rookie phenom fouled off seven pitches -- including one to the 500 level of the stadium -- eventually grounding into a double play and exiting the field to a standing ovation from the crowd of 27,790, leaving everyone in awe of his performance.

“The mentality right there is to get him out,” Chapman said. “It’s as simple as that. But it was a great at-bat by him. He made me work. I pitched him inside, I threw a slider, I threw a two-seamer, and nothing. It was just a good at-bat from him there.”

Added Yankees catcher Austin Romine: “That was one of the best at-bats of the day by anybody on both sides. They were just battling. It was one of their better hitters and our closer going after it. It was enjoyable to see, especially when he grounded into a double play. That was a good way to end [the at-bat] for us, but they were battling. It was fun to be a part of that.”

Said New York manager Aaron Boone: “You’ve got a young, rising, great-looking hitter against the game’s dominant closer. It was a great match to watch those two go at it.”

Cavan Biggio, Toronto’s 24-year-old designated hitter, was in the hole for all 13 pitches, feeling the crowd becoming increasingly excited as the at-bat continued.

“I was just hoping for a base hit or something more,” Biggio said. “It was a very competitive at-bat in a big situation. And it was exciting to watch, from the atmosphere, with the crowd getting into it and all that.”

After throwing six innings of one-run ball for the home team, Trent Thornton was in the clubhouse for all of the excitement, but he felt it just as much as anyone.

“I was sitting next to [Ryan] Borucki in the locker room, and both of our hands were sweating like crazy,” Thornton said. “I mean, that was an incredible at-bat right there. If he connects, that thing is going a long, long way. Him, and a lot of other guys on the team, are a lot of fun to watch because anything can happen on any pitch.”

With two outs and Guerrero retired, Bo Bichette came to the plate to take on Chapman. The 21-year-old shortstop had already extended his career-opening on-base streak to 14 games with a leadoff single in the first, and he added another knock on the eighth pitch of his at-bat against Chapman, just Toronto’s fourth hit of the game. Biggio followed, battling New York’s closer for six pitches before ending the game with a strikeout. Still, the fight from the rookies was encouraging.

“Those were some real quality at-bats there going against our guy there at the back end, who was dealing,” Boone said. “There was probably a little more energy than normal, based on how that inning unfolded.”

“I’m not going to wait for questions,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said to start his postgame media availability. “That was an exciting game. I’ve never seen somebody hit a double-play ball and get a standing ovation from the fans. That at-bat by Vladdy against the best closer in baseball was awesome to watch. I love the way we’re playing. It’s pretty cool. It took Chapman 27 pitches to get three young guys out. That was pretty cool.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.