'You've got to trust yourself': Clutch Vladdy breaks out in the 9th

June 4th, 2023

NEW YORK -- ’s Saturday afternoon at Citi Field almost went from bad to worse in a heartbeat.

The first pitch of his at-bat in the top of the ninth with the go-ahead run on second base was a curious called strike, low and inside, which immediately prompted arguments from Blue Jays manager John Schneider. The skipper was ejected, presenting Guerrero with another unfavorable omen as he continued his two-out at-bat with an 0-for-3 line on the day.

Unsullied, Guerrero hooked a 1-2 knuckle curve down the left-field line for a double, driving in to deliver a 2-1 victory for the Blue Jays over the Mets. The clutch hit helped secure the third consecutive series win for Toronto. Almost equally as important, it provided a much-needed reward for Guerrero.

“Yeah, it’s huge, obviously everyone kind of knows where he’s at,” said Schneider, who shared that he knew Guerrero delivered when he heard the roar of the dugout from the clubhouse. “He’s one of the best players in the game, and I think that at-bat can kind of get him rolling a little bit. It’s a big spot and he came through.”

Entering Saturday, Guerrero had been in a quiet stretch of sorts. In his previous 10 games, he’d only notched two extra-base hits, and he had an OPS of .626. In the first inning against Mets starter Tylor Megill, Guerrero was unable to deliver with a runner in scoring position, grounding into a fielder’s choice on the first pitch with nobody out.

His struggles were compounded by the Blue Jays’ inability to drive in runs for most of Saturday’s matchup, leaving 11 runners on base and going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position, including two unsuccessful at-bats with the bases loaded in the first inning. But for a lineup heralded for the potency of its youth, it seemed especially fitting that Guerrero would be the one to shake off his rough day and deliver the big hit.

“He’s been grinding -- there’s been some really good swings, some hard-hit balls,” said Schneider. “There’s a little redemption there. We had them on the ropes a little bit and you don’t cash in. … I’m just happy for Vlad. I’m happy that he was the guy today to come through.”

It would have been easy for Guerrero to let the frustrations of the moment boil over. The Blue Jays had had issues prior to Schneider’s ejection -- including a punchout on an automatic strike after a pitch-clock violation by in the seventh. But much of Guerrero’s attention at that moment went toward ensuring that his emotions remained in check.

“I just stayed focused and trusted myself,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “I was talking to myself [saying], ‘OK, you’ve got to trust yourself. I’m looking for a good pitch.’ Thank God we got the result that we wanted.”

It’d be difficult to characterize the pitch he swung at as a “good pitch.” The two-strike knuckle curve from Mets closer David Robertson was heading for Guerrero’s shins, with 51 inches of vertical break, per Statcast.

In protective mode, Guerrero threw his bat at the ball -- in a manner that Schneider referred to as “Sr.-esque,” a nod to Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s penchant for hitting balls thrown anywhere. Remarkably, Guerrero Jr. was able to get the barrel on the ball, hitting it with an exit velocity of 98.4 mph and sending it past third baseman Brett Baty’s glove toward the left-field corner.

“Yeah, it was a low pitch -- when I hit it, it was basically with one hand,” said Guerrero. “But I got the barrel on it, so when I saw that it was down the line, I knew [Baty] had no chance.”

Guerrero’s late triumph was a microcosm of the Blue Jays’ efforts to remain positive and even-keeled.

Starter , who’s been re-establishing himself as a consistent starter in 2023, tiptoed out of danger multiple times to deliver a strong six-inning outing, striking out six while only giving up one run on four hits and three walks. With unavailable, stepped in, shutting the door by striking out Brandon Nimmo to earn his first save of the year.

For Toronto, it was an encapsulation of the energies and mindsets that they try to carry each day.

“Not just for me, but for the entire team -- it was a big hit,” said Guerrero. “I always say, regardless of if you struggle with the ups and downs, you’ve got to stay positive. Eventually things like that, good things are going to happen. They’re going to come.”