Bullpen day doesn't go Blue Jays' way in latest Trop flop
At the very least, there is now another reason to hope for a Blue Jays/Rays meeting in the American League Division Series.
The two teams wrapped up the season series yesterday with a rare lopsided 7-1 win favouring the hometown Rays.
The result, and a win by the New York Yankees over the Texas Rangers, pushed the Jays half a game behind the Yankees for the second and final AL wild card.
But the talk after the game surrounded an eighth-inning, game-already-decided hit batsman.
That the batsman was Kevin Kiermaier, the same Ray that scooped up a dropped data card belonging to Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk earlier in the series and surreptitiously delivered it to a member of the Rays coaching staff only to get caught and have to admit his actions turned this one into a bit of a high end drama.
Jays reliever Ryan Borucki, who delivered the first pitch, plunking Kiermaier, swore after the game he missed armside and the ball just got away from him.
The Rays weren’t buying that.
Borucki was pretty much immediately tossed for the action despite pleading his case to crew chief Joe West. West’s response according to Borucki was ‘You gotta go.’ ”
Kiermaier, who was initially sheepish when his initial deed was exposed, was post-plunking rather fired up.
“I hope we play those guys (in the post-season). I really do,” Kiermaier said. “I hope we play them … The motivation is there. That’s all that needs to be said.”
Borucki, who managed to hit Kiermaier exactly between the two numbers on the Rays’ centre fielder’s back, said there was no intent on his part.
“I just pitched him on Monday the same way,” Borucki said. “I pitched inside against him. I wanted to switch it up this time and go armside to start and then work my way in. It just didn’t work out that way. Ball slipped out of my hand and I accidentally hit him.”
Manager Charlie Montoyo, who spent his entire coaching and managerial career in the Tampa Bay organization prior to joining Toronto was kept busy holding an irate pitching coach Pete Walker from getting at West after the Borucki ejection.
“What tells you everything was Pete’s reaction,” Montoyo suggested afterwards. “We didn’t want to use another pitcher. That’s why Pete was so upset … We didn’t want to use (Nate) Pearson. If you call that pitch, if you make that call that is what is going to happen.”
Pearson wound up being the sixth pitcher the Jays had to use on the day in a game that, as mentioned, was already all but decided.
Bullpen starts became a thing a few years ago in Tampa. Suffice to say the Jays have yet to master this particular innovation.
With Hyun Jin Ryu on the injured list, the Jays opted to go with a collective start among their relievers.
The hope going into the game was Julian Merryweather, who started the game for Toronto, could give them one and possibly two innings and then hand things off to Ross Stripling, who could give them three or even four and avoid taxing a bullpen that was already leaning towards fatigued with both Jordan Romano and Trevor Richards having pitched in three of the past four games each.
This one blew up in the Jays’ faces as Merryweather and Stripling were both out of the game one out into the third and left the Jays in a six-run hole.
Because the Jays were playing a rare September day game, just how costly this loss was to their wild-card hopes would have to wait until the evening results. After the Red Sox and Yankees won Wednesday night, the Red Sox are 2 1/2 games up on Toronto, and the Yankees are a half game ahead of the Jays.
Breyvic Valera, who has been a steady presence at third since the injury to Santiago Espinal, was placed on the COVID injured list after being exposed to a relative who had tested positive.
When the team announced the move they included the information that Valera is double vaccinated and has not tested positive but for the time being it left the Jays a little short-handed.
In response to that, the team recalled Kevin Smith from triple-A Buffalo. There is a chance Espinal could return to the team during the Minnesota four-game series which starts Thursday in Minneapolis.
Montoyo, while still amped up following the late-game dramatics, was asked if he had a message for his players with the season now down to 10 games and a wild card there for the taking.
“This is the first series we’ve lost (in a while). We’ve won seven in a row,” Montoyo said. “We are playing good baseball. Today our pitching struggled a little bit and we were playing from behind, but we have been playing good baseball. They know what is going on.”
So no, no big speeches from Montoyo. This one didn’t go the way he had hoped but he still likes the way the Jays are positioned and who can blame him.
Even with the Yankees’ win last night, the deficit for that final wild card spot is only half a game.
Of the Jays’ 10 games that remain, four are against the 66-85 Twins, three are against the 48-103 Orioles, and the three other games right in the middle of those two series are three games against the Yankees at the Rogers Centre.
The Yankees finish up with three at Boston, the aforementioned three against the Jays and finish up with three against Tampa at Yankee Stadium.
The schedule is very much in the Jays’ favour.