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Photo Credit: © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Clutch hits from Whit Merrifield and George Springer propel Blue Jays to split doubleheader

It was a really gloomy day for the Toronto Blue Jays offense. Pair that with a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, and this had the recipe to be a nasty sweep.

Toronto dropped the first game 4-2 in a matchup that included Toronto going 1-8 with RISP and leaving 10 runners on base. Game 2 had a similar look to it (with an unreal amount of ground ball outs), until the 7th inning provided some of the biggest hits of the season from guys who needed them badly.

Toronto trailed 2-1 going into the bottom of the frame, and they got a leadoff walk from Santiago Espinal. Espinal would end up on third base due to a couple of wild pitches from Rays reliever Colin Poche. It brought up the first of multiple buttons that John Schneider pushed correctly, as he pinch hit Whit Merrifield for Jackie Bradley Jr. He also pinch ran Bradley Zimmer for Danny Jansen, who had just walked to get on first.

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Coming into tonight, Merrifield had been batting .182 as a member with the Blue Jays. Aside from his defensive prowess of being able to play multiple positions, he wasn’t leaving much to be desired at the plate. Merrifield put all of that behind him, and delivered with his biggest hit as a Blue Jay. He doubled down the left field line, scoring Espinal and Zimmer to give the Jays a 3-2 lead.

Speaking of guys who needed a hit, next up was George Springer. Springer hadn’t homered since August 28th, but he came through with a loud two-run bomb to expand Toronto’s lead to three. His celebration, the home run lights flickering throughout the stadium, and the crowd all let out a burst of joy that we hadn’t seen all day. Springer’s had a flare for the dramatic in his two seasons with the Jays, and this one was no different.

The Blue Jays tacked on two more runs in the 8th to push the score to 7-2. The loss was tough enough for the Rays to swallow, but the Blue Jays really dunked on them by having Zimmer log an at-bat to end the inning.

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Despite Merrifield’s and Springer’s hits being incredible, it was still a full day of baseball to catch up on…

Game 1

Alek Manoah was slated to start, but he was a late scratch due to having a stomach bug. Julian Merryweather was deemed the starter shortly after the news, making his first start since the 2020 season. Merryweather allowed a single to the first two batters of the game, and one of them would come around to score as Toronto fell in an early hole 1-0.

Mitch White followed Merryweather to eat as many innings as he could to save the bullpen arms. White did the job, as he had one of his best outings as a Blue Jay. It came out before the second game started that White got a call around 10:00 this morning to report to the stadium as soon as he could, since he’d be the bulk guy. With Manoah still on the fence about starting the second game, White had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to keep the high-leverage bullpen arms rested.

Had White started the game, he would’ve earned a quality start, as he went six innings, allowing seven hits, three runs, zero walks and two strikeouts.

It is what it is, but White deserved a lot better for what he did this afternoon. Five of the six innings he pitched were scoreless, and if it wasn’t for a careless error from Teoscar Hernandez and a bang-bang play at first base, a couple of runs probably wouldn’t have scored.

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White allowed three consecutive singles to lead off the 3rd inning, with the final one coming from Jonathan Aranda that he just beat out at first base; Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t keep his foot on the bag while receiving a throw from Espinal at second base. The Rays followed that by cashing in two runs on an RBI fielder’s choice and a sac fly. Manuel Margot singled to left with two outs, and Randy Arozarena went first to third on the play. Hernandez fielded the ball in left, but he walked the ball in with little urgency. Being the pesky baserunner that Arozarena is, he scurried around third and came into score. Hernandez realized Arozarena was running home a little too late, so he rushed a throw to home plate which sailed over Danny Jansen’s head.

From there, White put up nothing but zeros. Whether White gets another start or not is unknown, but there were multiple adjustments that he utilized during his start today that he can use going forward. He trusted his fastball with two strikes and kept his tempo/rhythm at a safe pace, trying not to do too much.

The game ended in semi-dramatic fashion; with the Blue Jays trailing by two runs, Bo Bichette came to the dish representing the go-ahead run with two outs. Looking to repeat his late-inning heroics, Bichette put up a fight, forcing Pete Fairbanks to throw him eleven pitches in the at-bat until Bichette eventually grounded out to first.

Game 2

Manoah was able to start this one, creating his own “stomach bug game.” He may not have been 100%, but The Big Man fought through his illness for a stellar outing, completing his 22nd quality start of the season. His final line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, and 5 K’s.

Despite Manoah’s gutsy performance, the offense was nonexistent while he was dealing. Tonight’s Rays starter was Yonny Chirinos, who used to be a common opponent of the Blue Jays back in 2018 through 2020 before he sat out multiple seasons with injuries.

Bradley Jr. singled with one out in the 3rd inning and advanced to second on a wild pitch, but Springer and Guerrero Jr. grounded out to strand Bradley at second. In the next inning, Bichette doubled to lead it off. Lo and behold, the next three batters grounded out to end the inning. All told, 10 of Toronto’s first 15 plate appearances ended in groundouts.

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Trailing 1-0, Guerrero Jr. led off the 6th inning with a double, although he was nearly thrown out at second by David Peralta. Had Aranda not missed the swipe tag, Guerrero would’ve easily been out. Bichette grounded out to get Vladdy to third, and Alejandro Kirk drove him in with a RBI groundout to the pitcher to tie the game at 1. It’s almost comical how much the Blue Jays had to fight and claw to get that one run.

Manoah gave up a home run from Aranda in the 7th, the first of his young major league career. From there, it was all Blue Jays, as explained in the opening sentiments.

Toronto leads the five-game series 2-1, and still maintains a 0.5 game lead over Tampa Bay in the Wild Card and AL East standings. Ross Stripling will look to keep the momentum going tomorrow evening, as he will face Drew Rasmussen.


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