TORONTO — If you can’t get hits with runners in scoring position, get hit with runners in scoring position.
A painful, improbable rally got the Blue Jays back on track in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Orioles at Rogers Centre. They strung together three consecutive walks — two against starter Grayson Rodriguez and one vs. reliever Shintaro Fujinami — to load the bases before a wild Fujinami plunked Matt Chapman and Danny Jansen to give Toronto the lead.
Fujinami’s ode to Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn couldn’t have come at a better time for the Blue Jays, who dropped the first two games of this crucial series. Add in the injury to star shortstop Bo Bichette and a Trade Deadline that didn’t offer much to a Toronto front office shopping for a bat, and this was already shaping up to be a depressing week.
Instead? Ice packs for Chapman and Jansen and a win for the Blue Jays.
“We know that pitcher and you have to be patient,” said manager John Schneider. “It worked out with a couple hit-by-pitches and him not being around the zone. You take any win you can get. Our guys were ready for him and he just wasn’t in the zone. You’ve got to take advantage of opportunities.”
Toronto’s early offense was just as graceless, and that’s just fine. The beautiful runs count for just as much as the ugly ones, and George Springer would take anything he could get.
Springer was riding a 0-for-35 streak when he stepped in for the second time Wednesday night and looped a sinking liner that fell in front of center fielder Ryan McKenna. It left Springer’s bat at 68.2 mph, not even cracking the speed limit on some highways, but Springer was due after hitting into some harder outs in recent games.
As Springer jogged up the first-base line, he threw his arms up into the air and looked to the sky as he saw the ball drop, a full-body exhale. Well aware of his “Ofer” rut, Springer turned back to his dugout, arms still raised in a cheeky, self-deprecating celebration.
“Oh, there was no joking there. That was happiness, genuine happiness,” Springer said. “It’s no secret that it’s been a hard stretch for me. It’s not the time to go through it, but that’s the game. I’m just glad that I could help in that spot and it felt good to see the ball hit the grass.”
In the dugout, his teammates were in on the fun. With a wry smile postgame, Springer said he’d have to keep their best chirps in-house, but that brotherly love helps during the tough times.
“A lot of it is hilarious,” Springer said. “Everybody on that field and in our dugout knows what I’m going through and what each guy goes through every day. They understand this game is hard. To see anybody go through a stretch like I’ve had, it makes it hard for guys. I’ve been on the other side of it. To hear all day how much they believe in me, and for them to have my back, is special to me. That’s pretty much all that matters.”
Such an oddball game needed a steady hand, though, like the straight man in a comedic duo.
Yusei Kikuchi played the role perfectly, giving the Blue Jays six innings of one-run ball to lower his ERA to 3.67. In a season where so many Blue Jays players have struggled to play to expectations, Kikuchi is a shining example of one who has blown right past them.
This was Kikuchi’s 54th appearance with Toronto and rarely has his manager been more generous with his praise.
“He was absolutely outstanding,” Schneider said. “He had electric stuff from the get-go. He landed curveballs and sliders out of the zone. His curveball, slider and fastball was just awesome. There wasn’t a whole lot of hard contact. I’m sure he doesn’t want to see [Orioles first baseman] Ryan Mountcastle over the offseason, but he was awesome. His stuff was just on.”
There’s still so much room for improvement with this Blue Jays team, who are now weathering the loss of Bichette, and the “three” you’ll see in Wednesday’s hit column isn’t all that encouraging.
The Blue Jays made it work, though, and if your name isn’t Matt Chapman or Danny Jansen, you won’t have the bruises to remember how they pulled this one off.