'Never count us out': Bo, Panik lead walk-off

June 3rd, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With the Blue Jays down three runs in the seventh, the Buffalo rain grew stronger and it was beginning to look like fans would never see the ninth inning at all. An hour later, lifted a sac fly into center field for the loudest, wettest, unlikeliest walk-off win of the Blue Jays’ season.

Panik gets the glory in the 6-5 win, but it was 's triple that made it inevitable. After Reese McGuire and Marcus Semien opened the bottom of the ninth with singles, Bichette ripped a two-run triple down the right-field line. No play this season has better captured who Bichette can be.

On a 97.7 mph fastball well up and out of the zone, nearly level with Bichette’s neck, his bat speed and aggression came together perfectly. By the time Bichette raced around second and stomped into third, his helmet bouncing on the ground and his wet hair flowing, the 23-year-old beat his chest and yelled towards the dugout. We haven’t seen it every night this season, but that’s Bo Bichette.

“We fight no matter what,” Bichette said. “We know we can put up runs. We know we can stop runs from scoring. The biggest thing is that this reminds us to never stop playing.”

This is what the Blue Jays lineup is capable of. The early innings were thin, but there’s a reason nobody in that dugout wanted a rain delay. On good days, this lineup is capable of sustaining offense from one through nine, but even on bad days, this lineup is capable of landing that one big blow in the late innings. They just needed to stay on their feet long enough for the shot.

Bichette has seen plenty of 0-2 counts lately as we’ve seen the good and bad of his trademark, swing-happy approach, but his manager saw some signs earlier in the game. Something was coming.

“You know what I said on the bench when he was hitting those foul balls to the opposite field?” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “‘That’s him. He’s staying back.’ Then he hit that ball down the line, because that’s when he’s really good, when he stays back on those foul balls and with his two-strike approach. It’s outstanding.”

Just as Bichette needed that moment, this is a win that the Blue Jays needed as a team, too. Sure, it’s just the first week of June, but “early” doesn’t exist in the American League East, where the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees all loom as postseason contenders.

The Blue Jays went through a brutal, six-game losing streak just over a week ago where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. This group needed a bounce back in the other direction, and they’ve gotten it with this quick, two-game sweep over the Marlins to open up their residency in Buffalo.

The walk-off win also re-wrote the story of the night, which otherwise would have been Alek Manoah’s first rough outing as a professional baseball player. Manoah allowed four runs, including three homers, over his 3 1/3 innings, walking three. The big right-hander didn’t have his top velocity and shied away from his fastball in some key moments late, but this is all part of the development process for a young pitcher. This just seems more glaring because the much-hyped Manoah is dealing with this for the first time on the big stage, not down in Class A.

Good luck shaking Manoah, though. Following the game, he said that he’d been hit harder outside of baseball before, so everything would be all right. For now, he’ll be focusing on the win.

“It was an unbelievable experience. What a big-time hit by Bo,” Manoah said, grinning wide. “That’s just what he does. Leaving it in the hands of the World Series champ, you feel comfortable in the dugout when he’s at the plate.”

Which brings us back to Panik. A sacrifice fly isn’t the wildest variety of walk-off, but it counts all the same. Is Panik the man you want at the plate when you need a three-run home run? Probably not. But if you need a veteran with a slow heartbeat who understands the moment, Panik will do just fine.

“It’s always better winning in the rain,” Panik said in the dugout after the win. “This is just a great win by the boys. Our bullpen did a great job keeping us in it. Never count us out. That’s the one thing about the Blue Jays. Never count us out.”