Gausman ready to give it his all with season on the line

October 8th, 2022

TORONTO -- Kevin Gausman is tasked with keeping the Blue Jays’ season alive in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series.

After leaving his last regular-season outing with a cut in his right middle finger, Gausman will start the win-or-go-home game on Saturday, as the Blue Jays look to rally back from a 4-0 loss to the Mariners in Friday’s Game 1.

After six postseason appearances since 2014, the right-hander understands the assignment.

“That’s the one thing about the postseason,” Gausman said on Thursday. “You’ve just got to be ready for whenever or whoever it is.”

Gausman is no stranger to the rigors of October. He was in the visitors’ dugout with the Orioles when Edwin Encarnación hit an 11th-inning walk-off home run in the 2016 Wild Card Game at Rogers Centre, by then having already pitched in three postseason games.

“I’d pitched the last game of the [regular] season, so I didn’t have anything to do with [the Wild Card contest]. But, man, it was electric,” Gausman said of the Blue Jays’ win in 2016. “It was nerve-racking. I remember the next day, my head was hurting, because I think I was so locked in on every pitch.”

The days of a single-game Wild Card setting are over, but the pressure of the moment remains. Adding to the intrigue: Gausman will face Robbie Ray, who won the AL Cy Young Award last year with the Blue Jays before signing a five-year deal with the Mariners in the offseason.

On Friday, the Blue Jays came undone by a couple of mistakes from starter Alek Manoah and an inability to string together consistent at-bats. Righting the ship and keeping the season alive will hinge heavily on how Gausman performs in Game 2. 

“Turning to a guy like him in a must-win game is something we feel really good about,” said Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider after Friday’s loss. “He's been a leader in the clubhouse, a leader of the staff. He has had an amazing year, so we're looking for just another quality outing from him.”

If Manoah emerged as the Blue Jays’ ace this season, Gausman was a very close second.

The 31-year-old delivered a 3.35 ERA with 205 strikeouts over 174 2/3 innings in his first season with Toronto, turning his splitter into an art form and playing it well off of a four-seam fastball and slider.

He’s also been a much-needed steady hand throughout the year.

“Once you get to the postseason, don’t try to think too much,” Gausman said of his season and the Blue Jays’ performance. “Just go out there and give it your all, and know that things are going to be heightened, but [don’t] let them snowball.”

A point of concern for the Blue Jays may be Gausman’s numbers while pitching at home. The righty has allowed a 4.57 ERA at Rogers Centre against a 2.30 mark on the road. Opponents have hit .305 with a .805 OPS against him in Toronto, but just .243 and .604 in other ballparks.

Still, this is the most important moment of his team’s year. And he embraces the opportunity to play in front of his fans.

“Home-field advantage is huge,” said Gausman. “We’re going to rely on these Canadians to bring some energy. … I like our lineup, I like our staff and our bullpen has been unbelievable all year.”

That bullpen carried a heavier load than perhaps the Blue Jays would have liked in Game 1. Toronto used five relievers on Friday, and though almost all of them were kept to a low pitch count, Schneider and the team would benefit from a tighter performance from their Saturday starter, who went six innings or more in 18 of his 31 regular-season starts.

But no one is losing sight of all the nuances of October.

“The biggest thing that George [Springer] talked about was: just go out and have fun,” said Gausman. “I think it’s great that we have three games, because those first couple of innings go by pretty quick.”