Backed by historic HRs, Ryu stifles Yanks

Left-hander exits as a precaution with arm tightness after 6 innings, 80 pitches

September 6th, 2021

NEW YORK -- The Blue Jays signed to pitch in big games, and with the belief that their young roster would soon put him in the position to do so. It’s happening just as planned.

Ryu was brilliant in Monday afternoon's 8-0 win over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, throwing six scoreless innings with six strikeouts on just 80 pitches. No longer the undisputed ace of the staff and no longer expected to carry the rotation on his back, Ryu entered Monday with a 4.75 ERA since June 4, but the veteran rose to the moment in the biggest game of the Blue Jays’ season. At this point, that’s every game. Toronto (74-62) moved to three games behind Boston (79-61) for the second American League Wild Card spot after the Red Sox fell to the Rays.

“I felt really good with all of my pitches today,” Ryu said. “It’s one of those games where I felt the best. I said after my last start that every game means a lot for us right now. It puts us in a better position. This is something we have to focus on. I wasn’t worried about pitch counts or anything. I just wanted to focus on the game.”

Ryu’s early exit was due to some arm tightness after the left-hander threw a handful of sliders, a pitch he’s rarely gone to in games. Ryu insisted that this wouldn’t interrupt his throwing routine and said he would not require any medical attention, while manager Charlie Montoyo knew to trust his veteran with the call after six. Anything related to arm tightness sets off alarms, but the initial expectation is that this is not serious.

The first inning is the perfect snapshot of what the Blue Jays had in mind when they signed Ryu in December 2019.

In stepped , the timely veteran addition in this grand plan, who launched his 36th home run of the season. Next, it was , who hit his 40th, becoming the youngest player in Blue Jays history to reach that milestone. A 2-0 lead in hand, Ryu mowed through the Yankees on just 12 pitches, handing the baton back to the offense. For a team that’s struggled to hit its stride collectively this season, this was what it looks like when the pieces all fit together.

Semien wasn’t done, though. He provided what the Blue Jays have needed all season long, which is a big blow of insurance late in a game. With a long line of quality at-bats in front of him in the ninth inning, Semien stepped in and launched a grand slam for No. 37, setting a club record for most homers in a season by a middle infielder. Semien, like Ryu, is playing some of his best baseball in the biggest moments. Just as young pitchers look to Ryu as an example, Toronto’s young position players look to Semien.

“For me, when my mechanics and timing are sound, I think I see the ball better and I’m more confident,” Semien said. “I’m seeing that with everybody in the cage when they work. This time of year, you really get a good feel for what you’re doing. You see the results.”

It’s fitting, too, that Semien’s first home run was immediately overshadowed by Guerrero until Semien stole the spotlight again late. Semien has been one of the best players in baseball this season, but so much of the attention has landed on Guerrero. Both are in the top five of the MLB home run race, trailing Shohei Ohtani’s 43, and there may not be a more dominant offensive duo in the sport.

In a perfect world, Ryu would be pitching to the 2.69 ERA that landed him third in AL Cy Young voting last season, but not much has gone according to plan in 2021. At this point, the Blue Jays need Ryu to be the starter who doesn’t blink on the big stage. That’s what he did against these same Yankees on Sept. 24 last season, throwing seven scoreless innings to punch the Blue Jays’ tickets to the postseason for the first time since 2016. With just 26 games left, they’ll all be high stakes.

“Early on, you could tell he had it. It was huge,” Montoyo said. “We needed at least six innings from him and he was on. Against good hitters, he kept them off-balance, and his fastball was actually harder than he’s thrown all year, up to a 92 mph average, then his slider. … It’s great to see him and Danny Jansen on the same page. It’s beautiful to see two guys on the same page like that.”

The one blemish Monday was George Springer, who is battling through discomfort after returning from a left knee sprain. Springer fouled a ball off that knee that hit him between the padding of his brace, and the Blue Jays are calling it a “left knee contusion.” He’ll be evaluated and continue to push through as his body allows, but his determination to play -- like Ryu’s effort -- just shows how big each of these games are.