'The game is over': Vladdy calls his walk-off winner

June 29th, 2022

TORONTO -- When Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s ground ball skipped through the left side of the infield to walk off the Red Sox, chaos began to orbit around Toronto’s brightest star.

Guerrero jumped into the arms of Bo Bichette, who’d just singled home the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, then was mobbed by his teammates on the mound, the hero of the 6-5 win.

Through the mess of blue and bodies, Guerrero emerged again, like Marshawn Lynch spilling out of a gang tackle. He high-fived José Berríos hard enough to make the front office wince, then stomped towards the dugout, arms raised high and fingers pointing emphatically down to the dirt.

“This is our house! This is our house!” Guerrero shouted, a grand showman with an audience in the palm of his hand.

By the time he reached Charlie Montoyo, standing near the top of the dugout steps, he nearly took his manager’s arm off. This might be as much emotion as we’ve seen from Guerrero on a baseball field, his personality exploding into confidence as he celebrated his second walk-off win in as many weeks.

He deserved the moment. Besides, this is his house, and he already knew exactly what was going to happen.

“I told Charlie before my at-bat, 'The game is over,'” Guerrero said.

Guerrero smiled and added that, when Montoyo heard him call his shot, he was nervous, but told him, "I trust you. If you say so."

“He was telling me that he was going to end the game,” Montoyo said. “I like when he does that, because when you do that as a player, you’re psyching yourself up. He’s good at that. He knew that if he got a chance to hit, this game was going to end. He already had that mindset going in.”

No matter what you see from any number of superstars on this roster, no player has the gravitational pull of Guerrero.

Most days, there’s a greatness to Guerrero, but other days there’s a hint of magic. We haven’t seen that as often in 2022 -- perhaps his three-homer game with a bloodied hand this April in New York had some -- but it’s starting to appear again. Guerrero is a generational offensive talent, but without his feel for the moment and the joy that radiates from the 23-year-old when it all clicks, you don’t have the full Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Wednesday night was just that.

“This feels very special,” Guerrero said, “playing against Boston, a great team like they are, in the same division. It’s very special."

Guerrero was set up, of course, by what Ross Stripling called the “secret weapon” of Alejandro Kirk, who came in to pinch-hit and singled to open the inning. The beauty of having Gabriel Moreno and Kirk on the same roster is that, on days like this, you can pull one of baseball’s hottest hitters off the bench in the biggest moment of the game.

“To tell you the truth, once I saw Kirk pinch-hitting and he got the base hit, I knew right then that we were going to win this game,” Guerrero said. “The top of the lineup with one, two and three up next? We were going to win this game, for sure.”

Besides, did you really expect an entire game to go by without Kirk adding another trademark moment to his breakout season?

“I’ve been teammates with amazing players, MVPs and Rookies of the Year,” said Stripling, who gave the Blue Jays five strong innings. “Kirk just gets it done, night after night. He puts the bat on the ball consistently, walks more than he strikes out, probably approaching a 1.000 OPS now. I think he has the third-most votes for the All-Star Game? He’s one of a kind.”

The walk by George Springer and RBI single from Bichette set the stage, but once the ball was rolling thanks to Kirk, everything felt inevitable. And that’s what Guerrero feels like when he’s at his very best: an inevitable force that will beat you. It’s just a matter of when.

Coming off some recent series losses, this win leaves the Blue Jays as energized as they’ve been all season. Before leaving the podium following the win, Montoyo stopped to make sure he recognized the Toronto fans, who cheered and chanted through Guerrero’s post-game interview.

As Guerrero spoke, his teammates doused him in Gatorade and water, but Guerrero didn’t move an inch to dodge the shower. Instead, he raised his arms into the sky and waved his hands, bringing the crowd back to a roar.

He wants more.