Stumble vs. Yanks can't spoil a 'really good homestand'

Most encouraging: A strong start by Gausman, who hit peak velocity after two rough outings

April 18th, 2024

TORONTO -- It was all set up to be Redemption Wednesday in Toronto, but the Yankees didn’t care about that narrative.

had already bounced back, calming any early season worries, and had launched another two home runs, but Erik Swanson and Tim Mayza couldn’t keep the good times rolling. The Blue Jays took the series, but with Wednesday’s 6-4 loss at Rogers Centre, they fumbled the sweep at the goal line.

The finale was a missed opportunity made more difficult by the fact that Chad Green, who’s dealing with some right shoulder soreness after throwing 17 pitches in his one inning of relief Monday, wasn’t available. The Blue Jays couldn’t walk the tightrope with a short-staffed bullpen, but for now, they’ll take a 6-3 homestand and board their plane for San Diego.

“Today’s a sour taste,” manager John Schneider said. “You have an off-day, but you had a sweep right there against a really good team and didn’t get it done. Still, that’s a really good homestand, and the at-bats were really good, up and down the lineup against good pitching. I thought we played extremely well. It’s nice to be home in front of our fans.”

Schneider, who was ejected in the ninth inning for arguing balls and strikes, struck an optimistic tone when looking back at the series. A series win is a series win, particularly against the Yankees, but a sweep would have been so much sweeter. These small moments are the ones we’ll look back on in September if the Blue Jays find themselves close to any tiebreaker scenarios with New York.

“We’re playing really good baseball right now,” Gausman said. “This series especially. [Tuesday, in a 5-4 win] was the best I’ve seen our offense one through nine since I’ve been here. It was incredible the amount of pitches those guys saw. I think George [Springer] saw over 30 pitches yesterday. That’s absurd.”

Gausman’s pitch count shot up to 101 over just five innings of one-run ball, the real turning point coming in the very first inning when he loaded the bases. It felt like Gausman was trudging through hitters, every at-bat a challenge, until he got to Gleyber Torres. After setting up Torres with two sliders, Gausman reached back for a 97.9 mph fastball -- his hardest pitch of the 2024 season -- and blew it past him.

These are the moments that make Gausman an ace when he’s right. He’ll find some danger along the way, but much like Jordan Romano in the closer’s role, Gausman always finds a way to make the big pitch before things tip over the edge.

Finally, it seems like Gausman is his full, complete self on the mound. Gausman won’t bring this up unless it’s mentioned first, but his shortened Spring Training has to have been a factor in his slow start.

“I think that sounds like an excuse,” Gausman said, “but that definitely had something to do with it. Hopefully, as we go, I’m only going to get better and better and we can put those ones behind us.”

This rotation has its groove back. José Berríos is pitching like a man in the early days of a career year, and newcomer Yariel Rodríguez flashed some upside in his recent MLB debut. But this is Kevin Gausman we’re talking about, the third-place finisher in American League Cy Young Award voting who struck out 237 batters over 185 innings last season.

Toronto’s offense isn’t exactly blowing anyone’s doors off, but with its rotation pitching like this, it doesn’t need to.

In this last trip through the rotation, the Blue Jays’ starters combined to post a 1.29 ERA with 33 strikeouts over 28 innings. Even if you haven’t watched a game, those numbers alone are enough of a hint as to why the Blue Jays went 4-1.

“The sky's the limit with all of these guys,” Gausman said. “Every day, we have an ace on the mound who can go out there and throw seven [shutout innings] with 10 punchouts, really dominate a game. You always feel confident that on any given day, those guys are going to go out there and give it their all. They all work extremely hard.”

So many individual things went right Wednesday, from Gausman to Varsho and a three-hit day from Kevin Kiermaier, who has been slow out of the gates. It felt like Swanson slamming the door shut in his first appearance back or Mayza saving the day would round out the run of redemption arcs, but against a team like the Yankees, you’ve got to hold that ball tight until you’re all the way across the goal line.