'Well-balanced' Blue Jays rally late to top O's

Semien hits 33rd homer as Toronto gains momentum ahead of Friday opener vs. A's

September 2nd, 2021

TORONTO -- Nothing has been simple for the Blue Jays lately, even against the Orioles, with Wednesday’s series finale going down to the wire.

The 5-4 win over the Orioles gave the Blue Jays the series, though, working around an unsteady start from Steven Matz and some late letdowns to escape into the off day on a high note. This is when the stakes start to get higher as the A’s come to town on Friday for a series with major implications in the AL Wild Card race.

Locked in a late tie, it was a sacrifice fly from Randal Grichuk, who entered as a defensive replacement for Corey Dickerson the inning prior, that finally put the Blue Jays out in front late. Prior to the shaky late innings, though, the Blue Jays actually showed some signs of overcoming what’s ailed them of late, with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. coming up with a big, two-run single with a pair of runners in scoring position.

These aren’t the All-Star names you’ve heard leading many of the Blue Jays’ wins this season, but at this point in the season, it doesn’t matter if it’s the bat boy who finds a way to sneak a hit through. A win is a win.

“Our lineup is well-balanced. We’re seeing the bottom of the lineup do some good things,” said Marcus Semien. “Of course, [Vladimir Guerrero Jr.] got hot in those first two games. We can beat you in a whole bunch of different types of ways. It’s good to see [Alejandro] Kirk with the big at-bat to get the runners over, then a huge at-bat by Grichuk at the end.”

With the Red Sox earning a late win over the Rays, the Blue Jays remain 4 1/2 games back of the second AL Wild Card spot, but they did gain a game on the A’s, who lost Wednesday. Toronto now sits 2 1/2 games back of Oakland, a gap that could quickly close if it takes two of three -- or all three -- from the A’s this weekend at Rogers Centre.

Semien also got in on the action himself Wednesday, launching his 33rd home run of the season to tie his career high set back in 2019.

“It feels great. I feel like I got a lot of home runs earlier in the year in the first half, and I’ve just been steady with the power,” Semien said. “I’ll take it. I’m glad to get us a lead early in the game. I know that’s something we want to do, so we’ll take it.”

Semien’s 2019 season was his best as a pro, earning him a third-place finish in American League MVP voting. With Shohei Ohtani and teammate Guerrero expected to go 1-2 in this year’s voting, Semien will be right there in the conversation for No. 3 again as he’s tied for second among all AL position players with 5.3 fWAR. Semien has hit for power, been an efficient baserunner and has played second base like he’s been there his entire career.

Manager Charlie Montoyo saved his highest praise, though, for Matz, who looked shaky early and tied a season high with four walks. By the time he walked off the mound, though, Matz had limited the damage to two runs over five innings. Like Blue Jays starters have been doing nearly each night lately, he gave them a chance.

“He found a way. To me, he was the player of the game,” said Montoyo. “He wasn’t missing by much. The umpire did an outstanding job calling the pitches, because they were balls, but they were close. Matz kept going and going, but he never gave up. He got in trouble, then he made big pitch after big pitch. That’s why we won this game. He was great.”

Matz was coming off two consecutive starts without issuing a walk and has been on a fantastic run lately, now owning a 3.80 ERA. His season has featured its fair share of ups and downs, beginning with his terrific start to the season and some inconsistencies since, but the left-hander finally seems to have settled into the best version of himself recently. The Blue Jays will gladly take this production, especially from someone who is the rotation’s No. 5 starter on paper.

Wins like Wednesday’s aren’t what a season is remembered for. This was built on quality at-bats from the bottom half of the lineup and a starter from the back end of the rotation finding a way to admirably battle through not having his best stuff. It still counts all the same, though, and the Blue Jays know they’ll need to bring their game to a different level on Friday when the Wild Card race shifts into another gear.