IKF walks it off behind strong pitching by Berríos, bullpen

June 6th, 2024

TORONTO -- Did the Blue Jays ever need that one.

was the walk-off hero in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday night in Toronto, and by the time his teammates were done mobbing him, they were 100 feet past the infield dirt into left field, celebrating a 3-2 win at Rogers Centre.

“That felt good. It felt good, especially my first year on the team,” Kiner-Falefa said. “To get that moment with the Blue Jays meant a lot to me. It was very cool that the stadium stayed after for the interview, as well. It was a really cool moment for me, my first real cool moment as a Blue Jay.”

Kiner-Falefa’s deep single off Craig Kimbrel, who he holds in high regard and called "a Hall-of-Famer," was the exact situation he loves being in. Kiner-Falefa is a contact hitter -- which is why manager John Schneider loved him in that spot, too -- and he has the right personality to match the moment. Kiner-Falefa understands the moment as well as anyone on this roster.

This was the moment the Blue Jays needed after being outscored 17-3 over the first two games of the series, including a 10-1 loss Tuesday that felt like one of the low points of the season. The Orioles are still playing a completely different level of baseball than the Blue Jays this season, well on their way to chasing 100 wins for the second consecutive year, but the Blue Jays need to slay some giants along the way.

“That’s a good win. We know they’re a good team and we’ve been saying that for a couple of days, but that’s a good win,” Schneider said. “José was great and that was kind of just a total team effort there.”

So much credit belongs to and the Blue Jays’ bullpen for holding the Orioles in check, particularly after their power displays earlier in the week. Anthony Santander took Berríos deep to open the scoring in the second, but that came on a breaking ball that tumbled down and out of the zone. A pitcher can only do so much sometimes.

Otherwise, Berríos was his reliable self, working around more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) to hold the O’s to two runs over his six innings. Tim Mayza, Chad Green and Yimi García combined to keep the score where it was just long enough for the offense to finally break things open.

Too often this season, the story of the day is that a Blue Jays starter pitched well … but wasn’t given enough support. Berríos has found himself in that spot a handful of times, and with a quiet offense behind him, the first mistake he or any other starter makes is too often a fatal blow. These starters deserve better, and while they won’t say that out loud, Kiner-Falefa will.

“Our starting pitchers have done an amazing job and we have not been giving them the runs that they deserve or they should be getting,” Kiner-Falefa said. “José, [Yusei] Kikuchi, all of them should have more wins. We just haven’t been doing a good job of scoring.”

Berríos and Kiner-Falefa are alike in this way, they’re thoughtful players who know how to inhale, exhale and see the bigger picture.

It’s easy to say that you’ve turned the page to a fresh day, and doing so is crucial over the course of a 162-game season, but there are moments when remembering yesterday is important. The Blue Jays didn’t just lose Tuesday’s game, they were completely outclassed. Another loss Wednesday would have landed with such a thud, particularly if it had fallen apart late, so Berríos was fully aware of the heightened importance.

“Honestly, we know where we’re at right now,” he said. “We started this series with two losses, but that’s part of the game. Having that in mind, we came here tonight to do our best. We came here with a great plan. Honestly, they’ve been doing really well in the box, their hitters have, but we kept attacking. We were confident. Thank god we ended the night with a W.”

Now, the Blue Jays “really need to start clicking”, as Kiner-Falefa put it.

If they’re going to win the scrappy, 3-2 games, then they need to master that identity. This wasn’t just about Kiner-Falefa’s big moment, but about the fantastic bullpen effort that set it up. Winning tight games demands airtight baseball, and in the end, these low-scoring battles all need a hero.