Not walking Vlad Jr.? He'll just end the game

Blue Jays slugger calls his 1st career walk-off knock, capping 4-hit night with extras win

June 16th, 2022

TORONTO -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. called it.

With the Blue Jays and Orioles tied at 6 heading to the bottom of the 10th inning and Guerrero set to lead off with Bo Bichette as the automatic runner at second base, Toronto’s All-Star first baseman approached Alejandro Kirk, the following batter in the order.

“I told Kirk to get ready, because they may walk me,” Guerrero said in Spanish. “When they didn’t, I said, ‘Well, the game is over right here.’”

He was quick to back it up.

Guerrero squared up the second pitch he saw from Orioles reliever Félix Bautista, a 99 mph fastball, for a single that plated Bichette and gave the Blue Jays an electric 7-6 walk-off win on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

It was the first walk-off hit of the 23-year-old Guerrero's big league career and one of his four knocks on the night, which included his team-leading 16th home run. He had two RBIs and three runs scored. This is what the Blue Jays had been longing for from their superstar.

“It was something we've been waiting for,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Like, he's doing OK, but we're waiting for the MVP Vlad Guererro Jr. to show up -- and he showed up today, for sure.”

This season hasn’t exactly been linear for Guerrero. Like much of the Blue Jays' offense, the 2021 American League MVP runner-up had a slow start offensively, at times showing flashes of greatness and at others fading into frustration. But June has brought some consistency -- and with it, the excellence Guerrero and everyone around him have come to expect.

Guerrero started the month with a .249 batting average, a .780 OPS and nine home runs. He’s hit .333 with seven homers in 14 games since then.

What’s changed? He’s having fun again.

“I think [my struggle] was more mental,” Guerrero said. “I wasn’t enjoying the game. Everyone that knows me, they know how much I enjoy this game. So I sat down in Detroit and said, 'I’m going to have fun, no matter what happens.’ ...

“I’m a human being, and I’m going to fail at times. But I’m still going to try and enjoy the game.”

Along those rough stretches, Guerrero counted on the support of teammates such as Teoscar Hernández and George Springer, who gave him advice and got the slugger to think about the game from a different perspective.

Eventually, it was a chat with Springer that made things click.

“He asked me a question about having fun,” Guerrero said. “I thought about it and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to enjoy it no matter what from now on.’”

Capping a four-hit game with a walk-off knock seems like some nice fuel to that reacquired mentality. Guerrero, usually the one giving his teammates the ice-bucket treatment after wins, was treated to a nice cold shower on the field after his big night.

“I was so happy that the water felt warm when it hit me,” Guerrero said. “It was so much fun.”

Guerrero’s heroics were enough to not let another strong outing from José Berríos go to waste. The Blue Jays right-hander delivered his third consecutive quality start with seven innings of three-run ball and eight strikeouts.

Pitching with a lead from the second inning on, Berríos yielded a pair of home runs that allowed the Orioles to stay in the game. Yimi Garcia then gave up back-to-back doubles and a homer that allowed Baltimore to tie it in the eighth, eventually setting the stage for Guerrero to shine.

“That was great to see,” Montoyo said. “Because we all know that if [Guerrero] gets going, he can carry this team.”

Toronto's offense was cooking all night, though. Matt Chapman and Hernández each hit a two-run homer, and Kirk continued his hitting spree with a first-inning RBI double.

“I’m not surprised, you know?” Guerrero said. “That’s the way we play and the way we are. ... We’re there for each other.”

Having that kind of production behind him certainly doesn’t hurt Guerrero’s confidence level when stepping into the batter’s box. It’s also part of the reason why he got a chance to hit leading off the 10th. As Blue Jays hitters heat up, opposing pitchers are forced to pick their battles.

But as Guerrero stated before stepping in, the Orioles picked the wrong one. It was yet another boost for one of MLB’s most prolific hitters beginning to find his stride in 2022.

“I never lost confidence in myself,” Guerrero said. “I’m always out there trying to go out there and play hard."