TORONTO -- José Berríos made some new friends by beating his old ones on Sunday afternoon in Toronto, facing the organization he spent a decade with before joining the Blue Jays.
The 5-3 win over the Twins at Rogers Centre was another glimpse of the rock-solid Berríos, one of MLB's steadiest pitchers in 2021. With an offense that’s making September look like batting practice, the Blue Jays moved to 15-3 on the month and with a Yankees loss, the Blue Jays now have a 1 1/2-game cushion for the second AL Wild Card spot. The Red Sox won, keeping them one full game ahead of the Blue Jays for the first spot.
“I felt like I was playing back in Puerto Rico in my backyard, with a lot of friends,” Berríos said after the win. “I’ve known them for a long time. I enjoyed this day a lot.”
Now that Berríos has settled into himself in Toronto, you can see more clearly with each passing start why he fits this team so well. Sunday’s outing, in which Berríos allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings, set the table for an offense that’s capable of winning every time they get that line from their starter. Berríos also has a knack for saving the bullpen, going at least 6 2/3 innings in each of his last four starts, which the Blue Jays need down the stretch. Yes, there’s additional depth allowed by expanded rosters, but the Blue Jays would love to protect their back-end arms whenever possible so that they can punch the gas down the home stretch of the season.
This wasn’t a revenge game, though. He wanted to win for his new team, but no part of Berríos wanted to stick it to his former team. That respect between Berríos and the Twins’ players was evident throughout.
“He’s a competitive person, but obviously, he knows he’s facing people he’s very close to, people he has relationships with and people he has known forever,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. “It’s not an easy thing to do, to go out there and completely stay focused. Different people approach games like this, I think, a little bit differently.
“I’ve seen people barely acknowledge the people on the other side of the field. That was not José today. He made a point to basically acknowledge every one of his teammates, the guys in the dugout, the guys going to the plate, and was still able to focus and he threw a good game.”
Toronto’s offense gave Berríos everything he needed in the very first inning, too. The five-run first included seven consecutive base hits by the Blue Jays as they batted around, and it was highlighted by Bo Bichette’s 26th home run of the season, a two-run blast that brought the All-Star shortstop up to 97 RBIs on the season.
“When Bo starts hitting those foul balls to right field, that means he’s staying behind the ball and seeing it deep. When he does that, look out,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. That’s what he’s doing right now. He’s having great at-bats and right behind [Vladimir Guerrero Jr.], so there’s always going to be somebody on base.”
Bichette got it done in the field, too, ending the top of the third with a pair of standout defensive plays. His best came on the second out, a ground ball up the middle from Luis Arraez that Bichette fielded on the run before spinning and throwing to Guerrero for the out. Bichette never broke stride and never hesitated, and after some struggles earlier this season on fundamental plays, he’s shown that he can be at his best when the degree of difficulty is at its highest.
This was just another smooth, convincing win from the Blue Jays. Even when they strung wins together earlier in the season, it rarely felt sturdy or sustainable, but right now the team is unified in its best baseball of the season.
“We trust each other very much,” Guerrero said through a translator. “We’re sticking together. We know where we’re at right now in terms of the Wild Card race. Every game, I feel like we’re more together, we’re trusting each other and we’re backing each other up. If someone misses an at-bat, we’ll make sure the next guy picks it up.”
With the smallest of cushions over the Yankees, who are coming off an ugly loss to the Indians, Toronto can keep this wild month rolling as it hits the road to St. Petersburg to face the Rays. It will be Robbie Ray’s turn to take the baton from Berríos and keep this rotation’s momentum going, but at this point of the season, that’s no longer something the Blue Jays just hope for. It’s something they expect.