ST. LOUIS -- Which sins must Kevin Gausman have committed in a past life to earn such cruel and unusual punishments from the baseball gods?
A year after Gausman’s bad luck reached historic levels with the second-highest BABIP (.363) for a qualified pitcher since 1920, we saw flashes of the same in his 2023 debut. The scoreboard on Saturday showed a 4-1 Blue Jays loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. But the game itself pointed to three words you’ve read before: Gausman deserved better.
The three unearned runs scored against Gausman came on a pair of unusual at-bats, but none should have scored. With two outs and runners on the corners in the third, Nolan Arenado rolled a ball to Matt Chapman at third base that ends the inning 99 times out of 100. Chapman double-clutched, though, and couldn’t get the runner at first. The next batter, Nolan Gorman, dribbled a grounder past a diving Chapman to score the second and third runs.
The details matter here because that final hit, from Gorman, showed the exact challenge the Blue Jays face when trying to align their defense behind Gausman. Prior to the game, manager John Schneider used an example. You’d expect hitters to pull Gausman’s trademark splitter, being a slower pitch, but it produces some ugly and unpredictable “capper hits”... like a roller up the third-base line from a lefty.
“It’s weird. With the uniqueness of the split, you have to take that into consideration,” Schneider said. “It’s such an imperfect science. It’s tough to predict where each ball is going to go based on the action of that pitch. Then you couple it with what hitters are trying to do with his fastball, too. If they’re trying to wait on his splitter, they’ll naturally be late on his heater, so it’s about taking all of those things, putting them in a blender and hopefully coming out with the right outcome.”
Gausman has dealt with all of this admirably. He may be the calmest, coolest member of the Blue Jays, a “quiet leader” as Schneider puts it, with the ability to reel in his teammates at the right times.
“It’s unfortunate when those things happen, but I know how good Matt Chapman is, plus [shortstop] Bo [Bichette] and everybody,” Gausman said after the loss. “When anything happens, you’ve just got to keep making your pitches. That’s what they usually say to you, too. ‘Hey, get me another ground ball.’”
Adding to Saturday’s cruelty, though, was a look across the diamond to see what the opposite experience looks like. St. Louis starter Jack Flaherty walked seven batters and hit another, but he carried a no-hitter through his five innings. The Blue Jays walked 10 times as a team but managed just three hits, balancing out the Cardinals’ good fortune.
For a younger pitcher or one more prone to emotional swings, luck like Gausman’s might lead to a hole in the clubhouse drywall. Gausman has an incredible ability to make the next pitch, though, knowing that this luck has to change eventually.
“He’s an impressive human being. He doesn’t get rattled by anything,” said pitching coach Pete Walker. “He just takes things day by day and trusts his stuff. He knows it’s a year that things didn’t necessarily go his way, and he still had a fantastic year. His ability level and what he’s capable of is exciting to think about if the stars align a little bit. He’s certainly one of the best pitchers in the game of baseball.”
We hear so much now about “trusting the process” in professional sports. It’s a term that has been stretched terribly thin at points, but it applies well to Gausman.
Gausman’s splitter looked as good as ever on Saturday. His fastball was on, too, buzzing past a swinging Arenado for his first strikeout of the game. To look for Gausman’s splitter and instead see his fastball coming high in the zone must be a near-impossible assignment for a hitter when Gausman is at his best. Then, there’s Gausman’s slider and a new “sweeper” he’s throwing, according to Schneider.
From Gausman’s pitches to his locations and feel for the moment, it’s all there. It’s crucial for Gausman to understand that he’s doing an excellent job at the parts of the game that are fully within his control, and he does. Someday, his luck will normalize. Water always finds its level.
Until then, Gausman will plow forward with the same easy demeanor that has made him one of baseball’s best. The loss will show next to his name, but like many things in the box score, there’s more to the story.