Inevitable happens: Gausman issues a walk

Four-pitch free pass laughed off after ace's dominant start to open doubleheader split

May 8th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- This is the way the streak ends: Not with a bang, but with a walk.

On Saturday at Progressive Field, it finally happened. After notching 45 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings without allowing a base on balls, Blue Jays starter  issued his first walk in the fourth inning of Toronto’s 8-3 win over the Guardians in Game 1 of a traditional doubleheader.

Surprise, surprise: The walk was bound to arrive. Despite the incredible run of control Gausman was on, no starting pitcher since 1871 has gone an entire season without issuing a walk (minimum four games started). But the way it happened was a little odd given the way he approached his start.

On a day when the wind was blowing in, Gausman was even more ready to go into attack mode. He went after batters, and he didn’t falter when a few infield singles and seeing-eye hits found their way through the infield defense. But against slugger Franmil Reyes -- the 137th batter Gausman has faced this season -- he quickly went to his first 3-0 count in 2022.

Against the Guardians’ powerful batter, who has been hot this week -- including a 110 mph homer to help send the Blue Jays to an 8-2 loss in Game 2 -- Gausman never gave up on the at-bat, but he knew he had to be careful.

“I was just mad it was on four straight,” Gausman said. “That was what I was mad about, but I mean, he’s a good hitter who can do damage and obviously is a big, strong guy.”

Manager Charlie Montoyo couldn’t believe it.

“I was like, ‘What just happened?’” Montoyo said. “That’s impressive, but we were surprised because it was four straight balls.”

There are now only four pitchers in the Majors who have yet to issue a walk this season, and all are relievers. Gerrit Cole set the record for consecutive strikeouts without issuing a walk last season, when he punched out 61 batters before walking Joey Gallo (then with the Rangers) on May 17, 2021.

Gausman still has one great streak that’s alive: He has yet to allow a home run. That one didn’t seem to be in jeopardy Saturday. The way the wind was affecting fly balls, Gausman wasn’t afraid to give up a few lifted baseballs.

“There were a couple of balls that were hit pretty hard to the outfield that you could just see [center fielder George Springer] run back on and having to run in on,” Gausman said. “When the wind’s blowing straight in like that, it definitely gives you more confidence to not be afraid to give up a fly ball. Whereas if it were blowing out, maybe you pitch a little bit differently.”

Perhaps the most important mark for Gausman to hit Saturday was the 100-pitch one. The right-hander prides himself on going deep into games, even saying he wished he had gotten a couple more outs despite finishing after 6 1/3 innings with 104 pitches. But his pitching counterparts have taken notice of that determination to go seven or more innings for the good of the team.

“He just consistently goes deep into games,” said Ross Stripling, who allowed four runs in four innings in Game 2. “I’ve been pitching after him these past four or five turns, and I think that’s part of the reason I come out so early: Our bullpen is so fresh because he does so well. That’s an awesome problem to have.”

Even if there was no history surrounding it, the start Gausman has gotten off to for the Blue Jays after signing a five-year, $110 million contract in the offseason has been extremely reassuring.

What’s even better? The Blue Jays’ rotation that Gausman anchors is about to get even stronger. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched four innings and allowed five runs (two earned) with six strikeouts for Triple-A Buffalo on Saturday in his rehab assignment. Once Ryu returns, Toronto’s rotation will be back to full strength, with Stripling likely moving back to a bulk man or sixth-starter role.

Entering Saturday’s doubleheader, the Blue Jays’ starting staff was tied with the Angels for the lead in WAR per Fangraphs (2.7) -- and it might be even more dangerous in the coming days.

“I think each one of us has the mentality every five days that we’re good enough to go deep into the games and give our team a chance to win,” Gausman said. “I feel like we’re all pretty confident right now.”