Blue Jays fall late in battle of ex-teammates

July 22nd, 2023

SEATTLE -- It felt like a postseason game broke out in the middle of a house party.

The Canadian invasion had T-Mobile Park shaking as Blue Jays and Mariners fans, split right down the middle, traded roars. It was the perfect night out in Seattle, where the drinks were cold and the right songs played at the right times.

Then, everyone’s favorite ex showed up and ruined the fun.

Teoscar Hernández walked off the Blue Jays in the bottom of the ninth, handing them a 3-2 loss that stings as much as any they’ve taken this season. Jordan Romano’s frustration as he walked off the mound in front of half a home crowd captured just a fraction of the moment.

“You’ve got your best guys in there and you feel good about those guys,” Toronto manager John Schneider said. “They’ve performed so well the entire season and you have all the faith and trust in the world in those guys. Teo hit a pitch that was up in the zone a little bit. You like that matchup with Jordy versus anyone, really.”

It was a scene the Blue Jays had witnessed so many times before. They were just used to celebrating with him instead of watching.

“You are always trying to do good against the team that you were with, no matter what,” Hernández said, “but I don't have anything negative to say about them. Nothing personal either. The emotions are high and I was enjoying the moment.”

There are heavy layers to this loss, stretching back to last year’s historic collapse in the Wild Card Series and the major trade that shook up these two franchises just six weeks later.

Last November, the Blue Jays traded Hernández, one of the organization’s most beloved players, to the Mariners for . It was the beginning of a rebrand, one that continued in December when they sent Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and then-No. 1 prospect Gabriel Moreno to the D-backs for Daulton Varsho. They didn’t get better or worse, necessarily, but they were suddenly different.

Friday night, it looked like Swanson would be the story of that trade. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh, blowing his best fastball past Eugenio Suárez before stomping off the mound, pumping his fist and shouting. This was the type of game that brings lions out of everyone.

As we’ve seen too many times this season, though, the offense couldn’t do that “something else” late in the game. In the very next frame, the Blue Jays loaded the bases themselves, which brought the capacity crowd to a boiling point. Alejandro Kirk was brought in to face another old teammate, Tayler Saucedo, with one out in the biggest moment of the game.

Kirk grounded into a double play, and the game stayed within Seattle’s reach.

“He knows Saucedo. We all kind of do. Just trusting him to get a good pitch and get it in the air,” Schneider said. “It didn’t work out that way. I know it’s a risk when Kirky puts the ball on the ground for a double play, but again, he’s a dude for us and he’s going to be going forward. I just liked that spot.”

There is so much overlap between these two teams. Even with most of a continent separating Toronto and Seattle, T-Mobile Park sits just 113 miles from the Canadian border into British Columbia. These two teams feel like rival high schools, with the familiarity adding to every dramatic turn.

It’s another painful example of great performances being wasted, too. Before Swanson came on for his big moment, gave the Blue Jays 5 1/3 of the best innings he’s ever pitched in this uniform. Doing this in front of the crowd that welcomed him to MLB for his first three seasons only made it more impressive.

“If you look at our season overall, without him, where would we be?” Schneider said. “He’s been steady. He’s been reliable. That’s just another really good outing from him.”

Now at 54-44 with the Trade Deadline looming, the Blue Jays remain a team that is, just like Friday’s game, so incredibly close.

These old ghosts keep haunting them, though, and the old friends aren’t helping.