A grade-ace performance by Gausman

Righty carries shutout into ninth, finishes with 88 pitches in dominating outing

April 21st, 2022

BOSTON -- When  climbed down the cleat-gouged dugout steps at Fenway Park after throwing eight shutout innings on 87 pitches Thursday afternoon, bodyguards surrounded him.

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo had a decision to make. Would he let Gausman chase the complete-game shutout, or would he turn the ball over to the man he calls the best closer in baseball, ? When he looked down the dugout, though, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was standing by Gausman.

“Not only Vlad, the whole team,” Montoyo said. “El Barrio was there next to Gausman saying, ‘Stay away from him!’”

That’s one of Montoyo’s nicknames for his club, particularly the energetic young core. “La Gente Del Barrio” is written across that famous home run jacket, meaning “people from the neighborhood,” a nod to the many countries and cultures that come together to make this roster. On Thursday, El Barrio wanted to see Gausman pitch the ninth, and he got his shot.

That shot lasted just one pitch -- Gausman’s 88th, and a single that ended his day -- but the right-hander was brilliant in the Blue Jays’ 3-2 win, chewing through the Red Sox with an easy aggression only baseball’s best can pull off. This was the height of Gausman’s talents on full display, his trademark splitter and slider giving Boston’s lineup fits.

Gausman seemed to be getting better as the night went on, too. His two hardest pitches, at 96.2 and 96.3 mph, came in the eighth inning on a day that wasn’t exactly warm. He understood the decision to pull him, nodding to Romano’s talent just like his manager did. But the competitor in Gausman wanted the ball.

“In my mind, that was my game, so I was going out there in the ninth to get three outs,” Gausman said. “That was my goal. Obviously, it was a good first pitch to [Trevor] Story, and he hit it the other way. That could have been a ground ball to shortstop, then I’m still in the game. Being that Romano is fresh, though, I felt they wanted to bring him in for that spot.”

Toronto didn’t exactly stick the landing, either. With one runner on for Romano, a walk to Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts’ double and Alex Verdugo’s groundout quickly brought the Red Sox within one run and woke the Fenway faithful who’d been lulled to sleep by Gausman. Romano -- who turned 29 on Thursday -- locked it down, as he always seems to do. But there’s a reason Montoyo opened his postgame media availability with a big, long exhale.

That said, it’s April. Nothing in Gausman’s tone suggested he was upset by the move, and as a veteran who has battled through tough lineups in tough ballparks like Fenway before, he has the benefit of some perspective.

“I was joking with the guys that if you’re still in the game when they’re singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the eighth inning, you’ve done something right,” Gausman said.

What allowed Gausman to do that was control, which led to efficiency. He was at just 51 pitches through five innings and kept himself in line for a shot at the complete game the entire time, and even though he wasn’t forcing as many whiffs as we sometimes see, plenty of the contact allowed was harmless.

It’s something that even the opposing starter has to appreciate.

“He’s got good [stuff],” said Tanner Houck, offering a blunt, accurate review. “I mean, that’s as simple as you can put it. … You don’t get to this level without having good stuff. So he was out there mixing well. Really good slider, good splitter as well.”

This won’t be a weekly occurrence from Gausman, but it showed exactly why the Blue Jays handed him a five-year, $110 million contract this past offseason, pairing him with José Berrios atop their rotation. It’s important, too, because every conversation about this team must be framed within postseason expectations.

Come October, when the Blue Jays still expect to be playing baseball, they’ll need ace-level performances, not just good ones. Seeing this from Gausman on a day in Boston that was both chilly and windy -- October, anyone? -- can only leave Toronto feeling more confident.