Blue Jays achieve rare feat in extra-inning Game 1 win

Berríos goes toe to toe with Lynn in seven scoreless innings

July 7th, 2023

CHICAGO -- For 10 innings Thursday, the Blue Jays made scoring look impossible. For both teams.

Playing in front of the smallest crowd they’ll see all season in Game 1 of the doubleheader at Guaranteed Rate Field, the Blue Jays went 1-for-31 with 16 strikeouts over those first 10 innings. José Berríos and the Blue Jays’ bullpen, stubbornly burning through the White Sox lineup over and over, refused to let that be the story.

Handed another shot at breaking the scoreless tie in the 11th inning, the Blue Jays suddenly found every hole imaginable and cruised to a 6-2 win in extras. The six runs are tied for the most in a single extra inning in Blue Jays history, something they’ve done just three times and not since 2011. Then, in Game 2, the Blue Jays topped the White Sox 5-4.

That score of the first game does a terrible job of capturing it, though. It was the pitching, then lack thereof, that decided the long first leg of Thursday’s marathon.

Berríos was brilliant, cutting through the White Sox lineup like a buzzsaw. He and Lance Lynn traded steady blows, both throwing seven scoreless innings with Berríos striking out six and Lynn mowing down 11, including Bo Bichette three times. Both deserved a win, and while neither was credited with one, Berríos got the late relief.

“I was in the training room doing my routine after pitching,” Berríos said. “I was saying, ‘Oh, baseball.’ On the day of a doubleheader, we’re playing extra innings, but thank god we finished this game with a win.”

The timing couldn’t be better, either. Berríos’ outing saved the Blue Jays bullpen ahead of Yusei Kikuchi in Game 2 of the doubleheader, and with Alek Manoah returning to the big leagues Friday in Detroit, the Blue Jays need to be fresh.

“We have that on our minds, yes,” Berríos said. “But you try not to add any pressure. I just took the game pitch by pitch, and thank god I was able to throw seven innings today.”

This has been a remarkable run of pitching for Berríos. For most of the 2022 season, the Blue Jays simply had to hope for the best as Berríos and his 5.23 ERA battled uphill all year long. He never truly “lost it,” and his misses weren’t all that ugly, but it felt like opponents were hitting absolutely everything … and hitting it hard.

Now, you’re seeing the old Berríos. This is La Makina, “the machine”, who earned that reputation with the Twins as one of baseball’s most consistent starting pitchers. It’s been one of the single most important developments of the Blue Jays’ season. Without this version of Berríos every fifth day, you’re looking at an even more worrying stretch run ahead.

“Today was huge,” manager John Schneider said. “He just cruised. I think he only threw 87 pitches? He cruised, then turned it over to Trevor Richards with two really good innings. That lines things up. It keeps guys fresh and allows you to be more aggressive.”

Along with Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Kikuchi, Berríos (who actually threw 89 pitches Thursday) has helped to carry the Blue Jays with a four-man rotation. Trevor Richards, who worked as a bullpen day opener a handful of times in Manoah’s absence, took over for two excellent innings of high-leverage work late before handing off to Jordan Romano, who slammed the door shut in the 10th to tee it up one more time for his offense. This is how the Blue Jays draw it up, but it rarely goes so smoothly.

With 108 innings, Berrios now ranks 11th in Major League Baseball, right behind Gausman (109 2/3) and just ahead of Bassitt (105 2/3).

“I feel like it was a really big marathon,” Berríos said. “But I feel strong and healthy. It was up and down, but we’ve been able to stay focused and on track, start by start. That was my last one of the first half, and I finished really strong.”

Beyond Berríos, so little about this game was pretty, but a win is a win. Schneider speaks so often about playing baseball “in sync,” meaning all phases of the Blue Jays’ game clicking at the same time. Thursday’s win was miles from that, but when one facet of their game performs as well as Berríos and the bullpen, sometimes that’s enough to steal one.