Blue Jays get 'grimy and grindy' in quest for WC berth

September 5th, 2023

OAKLAND -- Blue Jays manager John Schneider was not going to sugarcoat his team’s plight after losing the left side of the infield and his starting catcher to the injured list just days apart. As he put it, things were bound to get “ugly, dirty, grimy and grindy,” and his team had to embrace it.

Toronto has embraced it to the tune of five wins in seven games since losing third baseman Matt Chapman to a right middle finger sprain and shortstop Bo Bichette to a right quad injury. Monday afternoon’s 6-5, 10-inning victory against the A’s at Oakland Coliseum might have been its grimiest and grindiest.

The Blue Jays lost a three-run lead when Lawrence Butler, Ryan Noda and Jordan Diaz hit solo homers in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, respectively. The first two came off starter José Berríos, and the third was against reliever Yimi García.

• Games remaining: at OAK (2), vs. KC (3), vs. TEX (4), vs BOS (3), at NYY (3), at TB (3), vs. NYY (3), vs. TB (3)

Standings update: The Blue Jays (76-62) closed within a half-game of the Rangers (76-61) for third place in the American League Wild Card standings.

After relievers Génesis Cabrera and Jordan Romano stranded a runner at third in the eighth and ninth innings, pinch-hitter Santiago Espinal, veteran Cavan Biggio and rookie Spencer Horwitz each drove in a run in the 10th to give Toronto a three-run advantage.

Romano weathered Butler’s second homer of the game, with nobody out, and automatic runner Shae Langeliers on base in the bottom of the 10th, but he secured a crucial win for the Blue Jays.

If nothing else, this win proved a point that Schneider made to his team before Toronto embarked on six games against the National League West cellar-dwelling Rockies and a 95-loss A’s team: Complacency is a mistake.

“You have to be focused,” Schneider said. “You have to have energy. You can’t just say, ‘These are going to be three wins locked up because of what their record is.’ You have to have intent with everything that you’re doing.”

Biggio, who had run-scoring singles against two left-handed pitchers, did not need reminding.

“I’ve been on that side of things,” Biggio said, referring to the A’s. “When I came up in 2019, we were a below-.500 team, but we played some pretty good teams. We won games against Boston and New York, and they certainly were ready to win that year.

“It comes down to playing good baseball. Winning a Major League game is hard.”

This one sure was.

Oakland starter Luis Medina held the Blue Jays to one hit over the first four innings before he walked Alejandro Kirk and Daulton Varsho on 10 pitches to open the fifth. Ernie Clement’s single loaded the bases with nobody out, and Toronto needed two-out run-scoring hits from George Springer and Biggio to produce a three-run inning after Kevin Kiermaier’s broken-bat double play got a run home but threatened to dim the rally.

Berríos, coming off consecutive five-run outings and winless since Aug. 5, struck out seven in six innings with an improved fastball. He retired 14 consecutive A’s before he allowed Butler’s first homer with two outs in the fifth. Noda took Berríos deep in the sixth and the A’s tied it at 3 in the seventh on Diaz’s homer off Garcia.

Once the game reached extra innings, Espinal wasted no time turning the game Toronto’s way. His double off lefty Francisco Pérez scored automatic runner Mason McCoy. With one out, Biggio singled home Espinal, and Oakland intentionally walked Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Horwitz then doubled home the third and final run of the inning for a 6-3 Toronto lead.

Romano bowed his head after allowing Butler’s two-run homer with nobody out in the bottom half of the 10th, but Toronto's closer escaped a one-out walk to Tony Kemp by coaxing reigning AL Rookie of the Month Zack Gelof to ground into a double play that ended the kind of win the Blue Jays have to produce with three starters out -- with veterans playing in situations out of the ordinary and rookies up from the Minors coming up big.

“We know who we’re missing, and I think guys stepping up has been awesome,” Schneider said. “We understand that whatever’s happened has happened, and we can’t get it back. We could have said, ‘All right, we’ve got two of our stars hurt, and even three with [catcher Danny Jansen] going down, so let’s kind of shut it down.’ And they’ve done the exact opposite.”