ST. PETERSBURG -- The series finale between the Blue Jays and Rays was interrupted for 20 minutes by the George Springer Variety Show.
In a brilliant two-inning burst, Springer played the best baseball we’ve seen from him in a Blue Jays uniform, setting his team up for a 9-5 win on Sunday afternoon. It all started with a wild inside-the-park home run in the top of the second inning, capping a five-run outburst.
Combine this with a two-homer performance from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and the Blue Jays put together one of their best offensive performances of the season driven by the stars who should be driving this whole postseason push. The series win at Tropicana Field, a venue that has given Toronto nightmares over the years, gives the Blue Jays a 4-2 road trip and keeps them in the driver’s seat of the AL Wild Card race heading into the final week of the regular season at home, which is right where they want to be.
- Games remaining (6): vs. NYY (3), vs. TB (3)
- Standings update: Toronto (87-69) sits second in the AL Wild Card race, two games up Houston (85-71), which lost to Kansas City, and 2 1/2 games up on Seattle (84-70), which lost to Texas to drop a half-game out of a playoff spot.
- Tiebreakers: Win vs. Houston; lose vs. Seattle; lose vs. Texas
“This was an awesome road trip,” said manager John Schneider. “Coming off a sweep at home, then two division teams who are really tough. These guys played their [butts] off. Yeah, yesterday was a tough one, but this was about as good an outcome other than 6-0. I love the way they’re going about it, everything from offense to defense to pitching.”
Springer earned every bit of his inside-the-park home run by launching a ball 410 feet, far enough to clear the wall in 24 other MLB stadiums. When it fell a foot short, though, Springer got a good bounce off the angled wall in left-center field and turned on the jets while center fielder Manuel Margot watched it ricochet past him into no-man’s land. By the time Springer bolted around third and slid headfirst into home, the relay from the cutoff man wasn’t close enough to make it a play.
The three-run homer put the Blue Jays in front, but it was just the appetizer.
In the bottom half of the next inning, Springer completed the hat trick with the best throw and best catch of the game.
Curtis Mead launched a ball off the top of the wall in right field, but Springer fielded the ball perfectly and fired a rocket to second base, beating Mead by a mile. The next batter, Isaac Paredes, sent a short liner into right field, but Springer raced towards the foul line and fully extended to make the diving catch. Each play robbed the Rays of a run, keeping the momentum fully on the Blue Jays’ side in one of their biggest games of the season.
“You don’t really see that too often,” Schneider said, “but between the inside-the-park homer and the two plays in right, throwing out Mead and catching the soft liner, he took the game over there for about 25 minutes. George, at this time of year, is a good guy to have on your team.”
This is Springer’s time to shine. From the moment the Blue Jays handed him a six-year, $150 million contract -- the biggest in their history -- in January 2021, they’ve wanted to put him back in the big postseason moments that made him a star with the Astros. Springer’s first two seasons with the Blue Jays have featured a near miss and a brief Wild Card Series appearance that ended with him being carted off the field with an injury, so Toronto is still waiting to see him on the biggest stage.
“We’re doing what we need to do,” Springer said. “We’re slowing the game down. You’re seeing guys walk, have a good quality at-bat when it has to happen. You’re seeing guys get moved over. You’re seeing what it takes to win in September. It’s not always about stats.”
Guerrero is still waiting on a “moment” in the postseason, and he’s heating up at the right time. His first home run in the sixth was a scorching shot that would have gone through the center-field wall if it hadn’t gone over it, and his second in the ninth (which went back-to-back with a solo blast from Bo Bichette) was the insurance run the Blue Jays have so desperately needed at times this season.
As Springer met with the media following the win, a jubilant Guerrero walked past, grinning, and shouted.
“Atta boy, Georgie!”
This might just be the Blue Jays’ best baseball of the season and it’s happening at the best possible time, with two stars leading the way.