When Hyun Jin Ryu has his best stuff, it often doesn’t matter what the hitter in the box has to say about it. On days like Sunday against the Mets, though, when he’s forced to battle early, all Ryu needs to do is keep his head above water long enough for this young Blue Jays lineup to have its signature inning.
Ryu scattered eight hits over six innings in Toronto's 7-3 win at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., but he still managed to seem in control. Seven of those were singles, with at least three either glancing off an infielder’s glove or slipping just under, so there was no heavy damage taken. The zero in Ryu’s walk column made things even easier. He got some help from Lourdes Gurriel Jr., too, on both sides of the ball.
Gurriel saved an early run in left field with a fantastic diving catch on a J.D. Davis liner that looked destined for the gap, and it was nearly a replay of two other catches he made in the series. On both Friday and Saturday, Gurriel dove coming in on balls hit by the Mets. This one pulled Gurriel more to his left, and while he has had his problems moving back towards the wall defensively, Gurriel is showing an unusual knack for adjusting his body at the last moment to make these plays and save his pitchers.
That was enough of a gift to Ryu, but Gurriel decided to hand him the lead, too. In the second, Gurriel turned on a changeup from Mets starter David Peterson and launched it a projected 447 feet to left field for a two-run homer. It was the seventh home run of the season for last week’s American League Player of the Week.
Like many on this roster, Gurriel is young and lacking experience in a playoff race, but that hasn’t seemed to matter. One way or another, the Blue Jays just keep bouncing back. After dropping the series opener, Toronto won the next two games.
“Mental toughness,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “There’s so many tough games, but the ones we lost, we come back and regroup, then the next day we win those games. It’s been amazing and fun for me to watch. Having such a young team and winning or tying the last nine series has been amazing. They’ve done a great job.”
Ryu didn’t need much more help than that, but once he finished up his sixth inning and received congratulations in the dugout, the Blue Jays blew things wide open in the bottom half. It wasn’t exactly a fireworks show, though, as they opened the inning with four walks, capped off by Jonathan Villar's with the bases loaded. This was an encouraging sign for a lineup that has been boom-or-bust at times and will need to find new ways to manufacture runs against top-end pitching down the stretch and into the postseason.
“We trust [Ryu] 100 percent,” Espinal said after the win. “We trust him to get out of trouble and, if he doesn’t, we’ve got his back no matter what. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got his back. Every time he pitches, we’re just trying to go out there and give 100 percent from everybody.”
With Sunday’s win moving the Blue Jays to 26-20, they sit in fifth place in the American League postseason picture and will now need to line up their rotation for the first round.
How the staff shapes up beyond Ryu is still to be determined, but he is the unquestioned Game 1 starter. Ryu is accustomed to pitching on a regular schedule of four or five days of rest, but he understands that there are bigger factors at play in a stretch run.
One lesson Ryu will take from this start against the Mets is the in-game adjustments he made, which was something he wanted to improve earlier this season.
“After I’d given up that early run in the first inning, I had to tweak my game plan and the pitch sequences,” Ryu said through an interpreter. “I thought they were on top of the pitches I was making. Even from now on, I think I’ll have to adapt to different situations inning by inning. I think that really helped me in not giving up hard hits or extra-base hits. That really helped getting through those runners on base."