Pickoff of Vlad Jr. costly as Blue Jays' 2023 run ends

October 5th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- Another Blue Jays season has crashed to its heartbreaking end, and one of the lasting images will be , right arm reaching out to his own dugout for a miracle as the Twins roared in celebration around him.

In one of the biggest moments of Wednesday’s 2-0 loss in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series, which ended the Blue Jays’ postseason run just 27 hours after it started, Toronto was finally knocking on the door. The last thing anyone expected in that moment was a pickoff play.

That included Guerrero.

With Bo Bichette at the dish with a full count and two outs in the fifth inning, Guerrero stood on second with George Springer ahead of him on third. The roaring crowd felt like it was huddled over home plate all together, waiting for the deciding pitch, when Sonny Gray pivoted and fired to second. Carlos Correa was there to make the lunging tag, and Target Field erupted as the Twins galloped off the field.

“I think that we can all look at each other in the face and say collectively we fell short of executing what we wanted to do,” said manager John Schneider. “It's not for a lack of information or prep. In that moment, that can't happen.”

These are the problems that have plagued Toronto all season. Even as an 89-win team that reached the postseason, the Blue Jays need to be graded relative to expectations. This organization has preached clean, efficient baseball from the top down, dating back to the minute Guerrero and his teammates stepped foot in Dunedin, Fla., for Spring Training, but that abandoned the Blue Jays when it mattered most.

Guerrero was so eager to score, much like Bichette in Game 1 when a Correa throw to home cut him down, but the thought of a pickoff in that situation wasn’t on his mind.

“No, obviously not. Especially with a runner on third base,” Guerrero said through a club interpreter. “I wasn’t expecting that. Obviously, they did it.”

Gray’s insights after the game were fascinating, saying that Correa had identified this play from the very first inning and planted the seed. It all started with the crowd, which made communication nearly impossible for the Blue Jays between bases.

“[Correa] comes up after the first inning and he says, ‘Hey, listen, listen, listen to me. They can't hear the third-base coach yell “back.” There's going to be an option to pick.’” Gray explained. “He's like, ‘The timing pick is going to be there. It's going to be there.’ We were like, ‘OK, OK, OK.’ So the game unfolds how it unfolds. We get there in the fifth inning, 3-2 count and I hear, ‘Timing pick, second base.’”

Springer is all too familiar with Correa’s savvy. They played together in Houston and won a World Series together. Hard as it was to watch, Springer won’t be holding that over his young teammate.

“That’s a good play by them,” Springer said. “They had run that play in the past, but that’s two guys who have played at this level and been in these moments. It’s just a good play. I don’t blame Vladdy or anything like that. He was doing his best to score on anything. Hats off to them.”

These missed opportunities bled through the series for the Blue Jays. An offense that scores one run over two games will never succeed, but the opportunities were there. The inning after Guerrero’s blunder, the Blue Jays loaded the bases for Matt Chapman with just one out, but after nearly doubling down the left-field line -- it was maybe a foot wide of the chalk -- Chapman grounded into a double play, ending the threat.

Even the runs Toronto allowed Wednesday came with questions, as the Blue Jays pivoted from a brilliant performance from José Berríos earlier than anyone expected, bringing in Yusei Kikuchi early in the fourth. Kikuchi soon allowed the only two runs of the game.

In so many ways, these are the stories of the Blue Jays’ season. They had more big names, arguably more talent and countless opportunities, but instead of another champagne celebration, it’s all over.

“So you can sit here and second-guess me, second-guess the organization, second-guess anybody,” Schneider said. “I get that. I get that. And it's tough. And it didn't work out for us today or yesterday. But that's baseball sometimes. There's 29 teams that are going to say the same thing when the season's over. But yes, a tough way to end the year.”

That image of Guerrero will play for the next few days, then resurface in next spring’s previews. As much as Guerrero wanted a replay, he wanted to turn back the clock, but time has run out.