TORONTO – Maybe the Blue Jays got away with one this time.
Their first game back in Toronto following a trying 1-6 road trip was far from perfect. There were missed opportunities at the plate and avoidable errors in the field. But on a night some Canadian baseball history was made in Toronto, Jose Berrios delivered one of his best starts of the season and the bullpen preserved a one-run lead over the final three innings to deliver a much-needed 4-3 win.
Finally, a little relief. But still, there’s plenty of work ahead for the 46-42 Blue Jays, who are still precariously close to the Orioles on the edges of the American League wild-card standings.
With that in mind, the mistake made by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the top of the fourth inning stood out more than it otherwise might. The bases were empty with two out when third baseman Matt Vierling swung and missed for what should have been the third out of the inning. Danny Jansen’s throw to first was on target, but Guerrero Jr. did not step on the base, allowing Vierling to reach and the inning to continue.
As the Blue Jays considered whether to challenge the call, Guerrero Jr. gestured to the dugout, seemingly indicating that the play wasn’t worth a challenge. Regardless, the Blue Jays challenged and the call was upheld. When the Blue Jays nearly picked off Vierling on the next play, they were unable to challenge as they had just burned theirs. At first base, Guerrero Jr. was visibly frustrated.
Thankfully for the Blue Jays, Berrios was able to escape the inning without further damage on a night he had some of his best stuff of the season. But the play was still significant, as it featured an avoidable mistake and clear frustration from a star player.
As for Berrios, he struck out 13 Phillies over six innings of work Tuesday, matching a career-high while topping out at 96 mph He allowed three runs on six hits, including a home run to second baseman Bryson Stott, but he was in control all night, attacking a depleted Phillies lineup that had no answer for his stuff.
To this point, it’s been an up and down season for Berrios, but he now appears to be finding himself with one more start on the schedule before the All-Star break.
On an equally positive note, Jansen returned to the lineup after missing 33 games with a fractured finger. His familiarity with the Blue Jays’ pitching staff will help right away, and his bat shouldn’t be overlooked either given the amount of pull power he’s shown since late last year. In his return, Jansen singled out in three trips to the plate.
With Jansen back, the Blue Jays optioned Gabriel Moreno to triple-A in the hopes that regular playing time there will further his development. While Moreno’s arm strength, speed and bat speed are undeniably impressive, his game management needs work and he showed little power, with just one extra-base hit in 18 big-league games.
Meanwhile, Rob Thomson made some history from the first-base dugout Tuesday, becoming the first Canadian-born manager ever to manage an MLB game in Canada. The Sarnia native is just the seventh Canadian-born manager in MLB history and the first since 1934. By way of contrast, 313 Canadian NHL coaches have coached in Canada and one Canadian NBA coach has done so: Jay Triano.
“It’s great to be home. I love coming back here,” Thomson said. “I love the ballpark, especially when the roof is open … It means a lot. It really does.”
Whether his players felt similarly is another question. The Phillies are without JT Realmuto, Alec Bohm, Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson this week due to border restrictions for unvaccinated travellers.
“I’m not going to let Canada tell me what I do and don’t put in my body for a little bit of money,” Realmuto told reporters. “It’s just not worth it.”
That’s for the Phillies to figure out. As for the Blue Jays, they got a much-needed win — one of many they’ll need to get this once-promising season back on course.