TORONTO -- Two months ago, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. walked off the Red Sox at Rogers Centre and stomped defiantly across the turf, pointing to the ground and shouting, “This is our house.”
He’s ready to take some ownership now. Monday night in Toronto, Guerrero scorched a single to left field in the bottom of the 10th to walk off the Yankees, delivering the Blue Jays’ biggest win of the season, 3-2.
As Guerrero rounded first base, arms stretched out wide, he rounded back toward the mound where he was met by his teammates. They mobbed him, dousing him with every beverage the dugout had, a job usually reserved for Guerrero. As he emerged from the mess of bodies, Guerrero made one thing clear.
“This is my house,” he said. “My house.”
These moments have been waiting for Guerrero, begging for the superstar we saw in 2021 to reemerge and carry the Blue Jays to postseason glory. He has been on the edge of doing so all season, but stacked up against one of the best seasons in Blue Jays history, his ‘22 campaign has left fans hoping for more. That will all disappear, though, with more moments like this one.
The win extended the Blue Jays’ lead in the American League Wild Card race to 2 1/2 games over the Rays and three over the Mariners, both of whom were off Monday night. With Toronto’s magic number down to three, they still hold full control of their own destiny with a shot to clinch at home this week against the Yankees or Red Sox.
Monday was a taste of exactly why the Blue Jays want to clinch this thing at Rogers Centre, then open with the Wild Card Series in downtown Toronto.
“You have to enjoy it. You have to embrace it,” said interim manager John Schneider. “Respect the fact you’re here, and enjoy what the fans are giving you. At the same time, you have to stick with what your approach is. You have to take care of the ball and make big pitches. Those guys have earned the right to have this atmosphere and to have every pitch be very, very important.”
In 2015 and ‘16, when the Blue Jays returned to the postseason for the first time since their back-to-back World Series wins in 1992-93, you saw what this city -- and country -- can become. Guerrero has heard from two fellow Dominican stars from that era, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who told him that he hasn’t truly seen Toronto until he sees it in the postseason.
Toronto saw this again in 2019 when the Raptors won the NBA championship. It becomes a destination. The city orbits around it.
“We’re not afraid to fail,” Guerrero said. “We’re having fun right now. We’re thinking about trying to win that game and having fun.”
Guerrero’s heroics stood atop an incredible effort from the Blue Jays’ bullpen, which took the torch from Kevin Gausman’s 6 1/3 innings of rock-solid work. All eyes were on Aaron Judge, who is chasing Roger Maris and 61 home runs this week in Toronto, but the Blue Jays managed to hold him to a single and two walks. At this point, just surviving Judge is good enough.
“It’s a big win against a good team. This is a big series, obviously,” Gausman said. “We’re chasing something. We know that they need to win one more to celebrate here. We’d like to win all three here and not let them do that.”
Gausman allowed two runs through two innings, but he found a new gear soon after to showcase the ace-level talent he possesses. It’s fine timing, too, with two excellent outings coming off two difficult starts earlier in September.
Teoscar Hernández, continuing his own hot streak, pulled the Blue Jays even in the fourth with a bases-loaded double. Hernandez was inches from a grand slam -- and enjoyed every second of watching the ball soar -- but it fell shy, just over the outstretched glove of Harrison Bader. The tension from there, inning to inning, was exactly what you can expect in October.
“This past week, it’s been playoff games for us,” Guerrero said. “It teaches us that we have to prepare ourselves for those moments if we get there in a week or two so we can be ready.”
Like he says, it’s his house. When Guerrero is at his best, his peaks reach higher than any, and this won’t be his last opportunity to play the role of hero with the spotlight squarely on him.