MINNEAPOLIS -- The Blue Jays had a fifth inning to forget on Thursday night at Target Field, losing two players and a key game as the AL Wild Card race approaches the final week of the season.
The early exit of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with a right hand injury is just as worrying as the 7-2 loss to the Twins, with Gurriel playing some of the best baseball of his career in September. His double brought home the Blue Jays’ first run of the game and gave him 30 RBIs this month, tying a club record for September. Gurriel is the definition of a streaky hitter, but this heater was perfectly timed.
Gurriel got tangled up with center fielder Randal Grichuk on an awkward play in the alley. As the two closed in on the rolling ball, Grichuk made the scoop and Gurriel ducked below his throw. As Grichuk released the ball, though, his momentum carried him onto Gurriel and the spikes of his cleat came down on Gurriel’s hand, which was pressed flat against the ground. Gurriel remained on the ground as trainers came out to tend to him, eventually leaving the game with his hand wrapped in a towel.
X-rays on Gurriel’s hand came back negative, but he received two stitches in his middle finger.
“Everything we’ve heard is the best news we could get,” said John Schneider, serving as manager with Charlie Montoyo serving a one-game suspension, due to the benches-clearing incident in Tampa Bay. “There’s obviously a couple of stitches, but we’ll see how he is tomorrow and hopefully it’s not too long.”
This is salt in the wound as the Blue Jays dropped to one game behind the Yankees for the second Wild Card spot and three back of the Red Sox for the top spot. This race has been all about these three teams for weeks now, but the Mariners, winners of five in a row, are suddenly just a game behind the Blue Jays.
Three batters after Gurriel went down, it happened again. Thomas Hatch, who was called on after Steven Matz lasted just three innings on 80 pitches, let go a fastball for ball four against Brent Rooker and spun off the mound. He, too, was removed from the game. Hatch’s diagnosis is “right hamstring discomfort,” which comes just a couple of weeks after his most recent hamstring issue in Baltimore that cut a start short. The very next batter, Nick Gordon, took Julian Merryweather deep for the three-run shot that finally broke this game open.
Gurriel is “day to day” for now, but it’s difficult to envision him jumping right back into the lineup with those stitches tomorrow. Corey Dickerson and Jarrod Dyson are on the roster as depth outfielders, but the solution defensively could be the star himself, George Springer.
Springer has struggled through September, and while that’s been easy to ignore with the Blue Jays playing their best baseball of the season, it’s a little easier to spot when the team picks up its first back-to-back losses since Aug. 26 and 27. When Springer worked back from two quad injuries earlier this season, there seemed to be a moment where he snapped back into being the $150 million man who impacted the game in every possible way, and Schneider thinks that’s close. The clock is ticking, too, with just nine games left.
“This is probably the first time he’s really had to grind, between being hurt and not playing 100 percent and not getting the results he wants,” Schneider said. “I think we all know in this clubhouse and the entire league knows that he’s about one swing away from being where he needs to be. Watching him every day working in the cages and on the field, seeing how he’s progressed, just recently it’s very encouraging. You trust that he’s going to break through very, very quickly.”
All of this leads back to one place: urgency.
Cold streaks and brief skids -- even of just two or three games -- can be fatal at this point in the season with the Wild Card race as close as it is.
“Charlie always says that momentum is the next day’s starter and we love that José [Berríos] is out there against these guys again,” Schneider said. “I think it’s no different than what it has been. Everyone knows that every game is huge. You come prepared for tomorrow, hopefully get back on track and get back on a nice little roll here this weekend.”
That roll might need to come without the lineup’s most productive hitter this month, at least for another day or two, but this roster is stacked with enough talent to make it work. This isn’t just about being talented, though. It’s about being timely with all eyes on the Wild Card.