Berrios K's 11, HR jacket back in Blue Jays' W

August 29th, 2021

With a heat index in the triple digits at Comerica Park for Sunday's series finale, there was no need to layer clothing.

That did not matter to the Blue Jays, who battled the dog days of summer while sharing a jacket in the dugout during their 2-1 win over the Tigers.

In a genius idea birthed by team interpreter Hector Lebron, Toronto's coveted home run jacket made its first appearance on July 29 following a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home run at Fenway Park. Its legend has only grown since then, and why wouldn't it? The snazzy blue blazer features an array of meaningful sayings and colorful patches, the most telling of which, of course, is the emblem on the right chest: Blue Jays HR club.

Hit a homer, wear the coat -- usually with Guerrero on hand to help slide it on. It seems an entirely fitting accessory for the team that leads the American League in round-trippers with 192, and trails only the Giants, who entered play Sunday with 197, in MLB.

As Toronto struggles to overcome its recent battle with hitting with runners in scoring position, the long ball is king. After ranking first in MLB as recently as Aug. 12 with a .286 team average with RISP, the Blue Jays’ average plummeted to .144, the lowest in the Majors. Toronto has a 6-9 record since Aug. 13, scoring three or fewer runs in six of those defeats.

Home runs won’t always save the day, but they certainly came in handy this weekend during Toronto’s series win in Detroit. Alejandro Kirk’s sixth-inning missile on Saturday gave the Blue Jays the boost of energy they needed to outlast Detroit in 10 innings.

On Sunday, solo shots from and gave Toronto an early lead. Bichette’s dinger was his 21st of the year; Smith’s was career No. 1.

And if you thought the 25-year-old rookie would opt out of the jacket because of the heat …

“It was definitely more, 'Give me that,'” Smith said with a laugh. “Being in Triple-A and seeing guys put it on, we were always joking -- 'Would it fit us? Would it be too big?' Once I put it on, I realized it was a little bit too big for me. ... Luckily, the inning was over pretty quickly after that so I got to take it off and get some of that heat gone.

“When it's that hot, what's one more layer?”

The home runs paired nicely with one of the best outings of ’ season. Though his offense didn’t give him much wiggle room, the Blue Jays' righty didn’t need it, compiling 11 strikeouts over seven sharp innings that included no walks and one unearned run.

All that despite a bizarre rain delay when the field was cleared and tarped during a fifth-inning shower that lasted less than 10 minutes. Play resumed after 26 minutes.

"It was weird, because it was hot out there,” Berríos said. “At the same time, I didn't want to overthink or over play or over warm up, so I tried to calm myself down and tried to keep myself cooled down.

"The hardest part [of a rain delay] is staying focused on the game and staying strong in your mind."

Berríos’ 3.23 ERA took a 47-point hit in his previous three starts -- during which he compiled an 8.76 ERA -- but he looked to be back to his old self Sunday, and the rain didn’t do a thing to water down his impact. He relied on a nearly equal mix of four-seamers and sliders, with a handful of curveballs and a few changeups sprinkled throughout to draw 12 swings and misses.

Could this be the beginning of the end of Toronto’s offensive woes? The club hopes so. With just 33 regular-season games remaining, the Blue Jays are on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in. At six games out of the second AL Wild Card spot, though, they’re not mathematically eliminated either, and a strong September could yield surprising results.

“We're winning because of pitching and defense, and that's great. Nail-biters every day,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “It’s good that we're winning games when we're not hitting, because you know we're better than what we're doing right now at the plate.

“So, that's coming. I know I keep saying that and it hasn't come, but it will come. And when it comes, it's going to be a lot of fun for this team.”

While there’s certainly still much work to be done, the recent resurgence of the home run jacket -- as well as Berríos -- is at least a step in the right direction.