ST. PETERSBURG -- Bang. The balloon finally popped.
During a nightmarish week, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Blue Jays. But on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, everything that could go right did just that in one of the biggest offensive outbursts in franchise history, as Toronto posted a 20-1 win over the Rays.
It all started with the Blue Jays stringing hits together and playing the clean assembly-line brand of baseball that had long eluded them. Two hours later, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. strolled up to the plate with no batting gloves on and launched a grand slam off Luke Raley -- yes, the position player -- in the ninth to put the Blue Jays up by 14. They weren’t even done there.
The 19-run win doesn’t wash off the five-game losing streak or the 1-7 stretch the Blue Jays just had against American League East rivals, but it’s their most important victory of the first two months and the fourth-most runs this organization has scored in a game.
“We’ve been saying for the past couple of days that we knew it was going to happen, but you never expect that,” said manager John Schneider. “It lets everyone take a deep breath and get back to neutral a little bit, then understand that we’re still a really, really good team. Maybe not 20 runs, but the approach for those first five or six innings is what you expect.”
This isn’t just about a win, but how Toronto did it and where it all came from.
All nine starters recorded at least one knock in the Blue Jays’ 27-hit outburst, the second-highest total in club history and just two shy of their record (29) set last season in Boston. It started at the top, too, with George Springer going 4-for-5 and falling a double short of the cycle. Schneider has said before that “George is what makes us go,” and there hasn’t been a better example of that this season.
Springer’s first hit was a single to lead off the game. His second was a towering home run to left field in the third inning. That was followed by a ground ball that he beat out with two outs and a runner on third in the fourth, dragging another run across. These have been two key ingredients missing in the Blue Jays’ recent struggles: power and timely base hits with runners in scoring position. Who cares if they aren’t all pretty?
“It’s good to see some positive on our side. It’s good to see a lot of stuff hit the grass and guys actually stay on base. It’s just a good day,” Springer said. “This can hopefully spiral into a lot more, and it shows you what we can do on any given day.”
Behind Springer were Bo Bichette and Guerrero with three hits each, something that finally looked like the production of a lineup stacked with perennial All-Star candidates. Things truly got out of hand in a nine-run ninth inning with two position players taking the mound as Guerrero, Matt Chapman and Danny Jansen each launched a home run. Toronto will take it anywhere it can get it.
After the game, the Blue Jays had life in their eyes again. Music pulsed from the clubhouse as you could hear the players chanting together, “One! Two! Three! ...”
Yes, they went all the way to 20.
Even with all of the baseball ailments that Tuesday’s blowout cured, it’s an emotional victory more than anything.
“You heard what Chris Bassitt said yesterday. It’s easy to look around and say, ‘Wow, we suck right now.’ [But] you can’t panic,” Schneider said. “You can’t let that drag you into any negative thoughts. The guys, to their credit, have been great. The effort has been there. Hopefully this kick-starts us.”
That kick-start is important, because for as bad as the Blue Jays looked this past week, one quick glance at the names on this roster tells you all you need to know about how hot they can get. If this was a group of rookies and journeymen, it would be one thing, but Toronto is built for greater things than it has shown recently.
José Berríos lost a bit of the spotlight when the floodgates opened, but he deserves just as much credit for holding a very good Rays lineup to just one run on five hits and two walks over seven innings. Nearly everyone in uniform made an impact. If you check the box score, you might even find a base hit next to Don Mattingly’s name.
Wednesday brings a new test, and surely a better effort from the Rays, but the Blue Jays finally have oxygen.