Vlad's 45th HR boosts Triple Crown chances

September 14th, 2021

TORONTO -- How did that get out?

is running out of new ways to widen eyes and leave jaws agape, but with his 45th big fly of the season, he found one in Monday’s 8-1 win over the Rays at Rogers Centre. In the process, he took the lead in MLB’s home run race.

The Blue Jays marched to their 12th win in 13 games this month, and they took the top Wild Card spot in the American League.

Guerrero’s 45th homer was among his most special of the season. But if you blinked, you probably missed it. He laced a low-and-inside fastball into the left-field corner, and it left the yard on a line in 3.3 seconds. At a 15-degree launch angle, the frozen rope is the lowest home run of his career, and it’s tied for the lowest over-the-wall home run of the season.

“I think the third baseman jumped,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I think I saw that, and I thought it was gonna hit the wall. There’s no way that ball’s going out. And then when it went out, I went, ‘Oh my God.’”

Though it barely cleared the wall, it left Guerrero's bat with a 113.9 mph exit velocity. So it certainly wasn’t cheap.

The solo shot pushed Guerrero past Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani (44), and now the 22-year-old sits atop two of the three Triple Crown categories. He’s batting .318, just ahead of Astros’ Michael Brantley (.315), and his 103 RBIs are four shy of the White Sox’s José Abreu.

“​​It’s very impressive,” said Breyvic Valera -- who drove in three in a three-hit game -- via translator Hector Lebron, regarding Guerrero’s latest long ball. “I mean, unbelievable. I’m just very happy for him. That was unbelievable.”

Guerrero has been on quite the power surge lately, with nine home runs in his past 15 games. His 45 home runs move him into fourth all-time on the Blue Jays’ single-season list, and he’s now one shy of Joe DiMaggio’s record for home runs by a player age 22 or younger in the American League.

And one more thing: Guerrero now has more home runs in one season than his Hall of Fame father, who maxed out at 44 with the Expos in 2000.

“I guess he’s a more patient version of his dad,” said Nelson Cruz, who played with Guerrero Sr. on the Rangers in 2010. “He’s more aware of the strike zone. He doesn’t swing at pitches out of the strike zone. I mean, it’s really remarkable what he’s doing.”

Could Guerrero hit 50? That’s a goal that both father and son have for Vlad Jr., and suddenly it’s within reach.

“Since I was a kid, and my dad retired, he asked me that,” Guerrero recalled last month. “[Saying] that he would love for me to hit 50 homers because he never could. So that’s my own individual, personal goal, to hit 50 homers.”

It should be close, but right now Guerrero is on track. His 45 homers through the team’s 144 games (he’s only missed one) equates to a 50.6-homer pace. With good health and plenty more hard contact, it’s doable.

Monday’s home run was the cherry on top for a Toronto offense that had already taken a seven-run lead through five innings in support of starter Alek Manoah, who delivered eight scoreless frames of one-hit ball. He notched his 100th career strikeout in the sixth inning.

The Blue Jays have slugged to all fields and from all edges of the lineup card this month, posting an otherworldly 1.044 team OPS. That’s better than any individual big leaguer’s OPS for the season.

It’s rare for a lineup to click with such consensus, obviously, and it’s a fun wave to ride for as long as possible. Guerrero’s league-leading power has been on display all season, and it’s even more prominent now -- when the playoff-hungry Blue Jays need it most.