The 2020 Blue Jays are allergic to boring baseball.
Friday’s 6-5 win over the Rays in 10 innings to open the Blue Jays' four-game series at Tropicana Field wasn’t just a big win in the American League playoff picture, but also a perfect snapshot of how this young team plays the game. When it's good, it's great, and even when it stumbles along the way, it’s always entertaining.
Both teams entered the weekend riding five-game win streaks.
“It’s almost like you’re playing in playoff games every day,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “One little thing. They’re understanding now that if you play clean games, you win like this. If you make a little error or a bad baserunning [mistake], you’ll lose those games.”
This was already the Blue Jays’ seventh extra-innings game of the season, and their third win, thanks to Cavan Biggio's third hit in a 3-for-3 night and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.'s sacrifice fly. Having one of baseball’s hottest relievers, Jordan Romano, in their back pocket didn’t hurt the Blue Jays, either.
Toronto’s offense came to life in the second and, to nobody’s surprise, the long ball got things started. Teoscar Hernández was first to strike with a towering solo shot to center field, his ninth of the season. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. went back-to-back just two pitches later, but his homer took a much different path to the bleachers.
If Guerrero’s frozen rope hadn’t cleared the wall, it might have blown right through it. Leaving the bat at 115.9 mph, it was the hardest-hit home run of Guerrero’s career, but these numbers are suddenly commonplace for the hard-hitting Blue Jays. Hernández hit a home run with the exact same exit velocity this season, while Rowdy Tellez's 117.4-mph homer from Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y., tops them all.
That means the Blue Jays’ three hardest-hit home runs since Statcast began measuring in 2015 have all been hit since Aug. 12.
“He’s mentally fine now,” Montoyo said of Guerrero. “When you struggle, it’s tough. He’s just a kid, but now he’s locked in. He looks like he’s going to hit and he feels it. You can see it. His timing is perfect. That’s key for us, the way he’s swinging the bat right now.”
The play in the second inning that best captured the 2020 Blue Jays wasn’t a home run, though. The game log will show that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was thrown out at home plate to end the inning, but it was much more.
Gurriel had doubled earlier in the inning and stood on second base with Randal Grichuk at the dish. Grichuk flared an infield single against the shift, but when Brandon Lowe made his throw to first base, Gurriel broke home. The throw beat him by a mile, but Gurriel adjusted mid-slide, pushing himself back into the air and contorting around the tag for what looked like one of the most impressive baserunning moves we’ve seen in 2020.
A video replay ruled Gurriel out after he was initially called safe, but what is more “2020 Toronto Blue Jays” than that play? Gurriel’s dash home was aggressive -- bordering on reckless -- but still showcased some incredible talent in an unexpected way and, in the end, it was top-shelf entertainment regardless of the result.
Gurriel also had the defensive play of the game, and there was no debate about this out at home plate. After Yandy Díaz singled in the first inning, Ji-Man Choi sent a ball into the left-field corner that Gurriel needed a long run to get to. On what looked like an easy trot home for Díaz, Gurriel unleashed a missile that couldn’t have been more accurate if he walked the ball to the plate himself. The lows have been low for the Blue Jays defensively, but plays like this are why this roster remains so tantalizing.
After a largely uneven start, the Blue Jays suddenly find themselves sitting just inside the AL postseason picture with as much momentum as any team in the Majors.
“We’re treating every single game like a playoff game,” said Biggio, who credited some of the team success he and other members of this roster had while coming up through the farm system.