Varsho drags 'Flu Jays' to victory despite clubhouse virus

May 14th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- What a win for the Flu Jays.

Scraping together their nine healthiest men behind José Berríos, who woke up Monday morning still unsure if he could even pitch, the Blue Jays pulled off a 3-2 win over the Orioles that means as much to them as any so far this season.

“You don’t want to say that May 13 is a huge game, but this is a huge [expletive] win,” manager John Schneider said. “We had nine guys. We obviously had no moves to make. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys that were out there tonight.”

This is the second time a virus has torn through the Blue Jays’ clubhouse this season, but this one has been particularly harsh. Schneider sounded like he should find a recording studio before his deep voice lost its gravelly rasp. It was , the star of the show, who might be the one healthy player left. Grinning wide in front of the postgame cameras after waves of weary Blue Jays had trudged by, Varsho looked like the last survivor in a zombie movie.

“I told them before the game, ‘There’s no secrets here, boys. You’re not getting pinch-hit for, you’re not getting pinch-run for. Vogey, Kirky, I hope you’re feeling fast. Yeah, it’s May 13, but that’s a huge [expletive] win.”

Schneider is right. It doesn’t matter if it is May 13, the Blue Jays are living in a completely different context than most teams at this point.

Now 19-22, the Blue Jays are in the basement of the AL East, staring up at this O’s team that has blurred past them. Three or four seasons ago, the Blue Jays were cast as the next great powers in the division, but they’re still fighting to taste that, and given how these past few seasons have ended for Toronto, frustrations are building quicker than ever.

That’s why a win like this carries so much weight, even when fans are still bringing sweaters to ballparks. The Blue Jays can’t afford to continue their skid through this series against the O’s and their upcoming date with the Rays. Even with some soft spots against the White Sox on the other side of this hill, the Blue Jays have put themselves in a spot where another three-game skid could have serious, long-term implications.

Now, with a water in one shaky hand and a Gatorade in the other, the Blue Jays try to begin their climb again.

"Obviously, their record isn’t toward the top like ours and some other teams are, but that’s a tough team,” said Orioles starter Corbin Burnes. “I think you saw it tonight. Every AB felt like it was a tough out. Pitching-wise, when they line up their guy like that with their best bullpen arms, it’s going to be a tough game. Definitely what you sign up for when you get in division games."

Burnes was stuck facing Berríos who, other than a pair of home runs surrendered to Adley Rutschman, looked like his dominant self over seven innings before Yimi García and Jordan Romano put on a masterful performance on the back end.

Berríos only knew he’d be able to pitch around 10 a.m. Monday morning when his fever broke and he began to sweat it out. There was water, fruit, painkillers and electrolytes working to rebuild him. Berríos said that he felt pain "everywhere" in his body, leaving him worried that he might strain something if he threw too hard, but this man is "La Makina" for a reason.

Varsho was brilliant, robbing a home run from Ryan O’Hearn in the fourth and then launching one of his own in the eighth to tie the game at 2 and save the Blue Jays from another crippling loss. Surrounded by sick and tired teammates, even Varsho, typically one of this club’s most reserved personalities, was beaming with pride.

“I think this showed that the nine guys in the lineup really, really care about this team,” Varsho said. “Up and down through that lineup, we put really good at-bats together and we won this game because of that.”

Call this a character win. The Blue Jays didn’t play perfect baseball, but that’s not what this was about. Playing with no bench, half a bullpen and a roster running on fumes, the Blue Jays found a way to gut one out with whatever they had left.