Confounding Blue Jays management decision in focus on seven-year anniversary of Buck Showalter’s gaffe
2 months ago
Seven years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays were battling the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card. It was still a one-game elimination format at the time so the Jays had to win if they wanted to advance and the Orioles were looking to make it to the ALDS for the third time in five seasons.
It was a back-and-forth affair that day in Toronto in October of 2016, with the Blue Jays getting the lead early before the Orioles drove in two runs in the fourth inning to get the advantage. An Ezequiel Carrera single to left field tied the game in the fifth and the score remained that way through the next four innings, with both clubs looking to find a hero to take the lead and advance into the ALCS to face the Texas Rangers.
That hero for the Jays would be Edwin Encarnación, as the Dominican-born slugger would demolish Ubaldo Jiménez first-pitch fastball over the left field wall to walk off the Orioles, walking the parrot around first base and plating three runs and sending the Jays into the next round for a second straight season.
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Blue Jays make questionable pitching decision on the anniversary of Encarnación’s walk-off home run
The storyline that day came from the Orioles side and manager Buck Showalter, who chose to keep closer Zack Britton in the bullpen during a pivotal point in the game (or any point in the game for that matter). Britton was dominant all season long, posting a 0.54 ERA through 69 outings and amassing an AL-leading 47 saves while finishing fourth in the AL Cy-Young voting that year. To say that he should have been used is an understatement and the Orioles paid the price, going home empty-handed.
Fast forward to today, and the Blue Jays find themselves on the ropes in the AL Wild Card once again. Having not won a postseason game since that 2016 playoff run despite appearances in 2020 and 2022, the Jays struggled to produce at the plate in their first game against the Twins and dropped the decision by a score of 3-1, which also broke the Twins 18-game playoff loss drought.
Getting the ball for the Blue Jays in the second game was José Berríos, an All-Star right-hander who spent parts of six seasons with Minnesota prior to being traded to Toronto at the 2021 trade deadline in exchange for top prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson.
The right-hander was fantastic early, striking out five batters through three innings while allowing just three hits on the day while keeping Twins batters off balance with his fastball and slurve combination. The bats were unable to get him any run support but Berríos was keeping them in the game, facing slugger Royce Lewis to start the third inning. Berríos ended up walking the righty-batter, his lone free pass on the day, and that’s when one of the most controversial pitching decisions in Blue Jays history came into effect.
Manager John Schneider, executing what appears to be a pre-determined game plan, was walking out to the mound to take his veteran starter out of the game with three left-handed batters on deck, opting to use Yusei Kikuchi instead.
This decision left Blue Jays fans pretty upset on social media and this move started garnering attention from across the league, as Berríos was being taken out of a game in a pretty quick fashion considering he was pitching so well, with the Jays opting to take a more analytical approach to attach lefty vs. lefty or at least force Twins manager Rocco Baldelli to make some substitutions. The end result was Donavon Solano coming in to take over for Alex Kiriloff.
With Berríos now out of the game, Kikuchi allowed a single and a walk to load the bases before a Carlos Correa single put the Twins ahead by one run with zero outs still on the board, with that run being credited to Berríos. The southpaw got a double play shortly after but that brought in another run, making it 2-0 before the inning was over.
Ironically, a questionable pitching decision for the Blue Jays came on the same day seven years later when the Baltimore Orioles made their own questionable pitching decisions, one that cost the Orioles then and ultimately cost the Blue Jays today.
There is no guarantee that Berríos and the Blue Jays would have won considering the bats could not find a way to capitalize with runners in scoring position as well as an untimely baserunning miscue by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who was picked off at second base, but to have Berríos removed from the game when he was pitching so well will be the storyline for this game for years to come.
A storyline which could cost Schneider and potentially other front office staff their jobs this offseason, as fans in Toronto are tired of watching annual losses in the Wild Card round.
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