On Tuesday night, we saw a Blue Jays team built to win under pressure
Photo credit:© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
3 months ago
The dog days of summer were long. There were too many missed opportunities and there were an awful lot of unforgivable errors.
The Blue Jays fell out of a playoff spot as they let too many games slip while their nemesis Seattle Mariners carried an eight-game winning streak into the third Wild Card spot in the American League. Such has been the story of the 2023 Blue Jays. They couldn’t seem to carry on the momentum for any longer than a handful of games, and then Seattle flew past them.
As the Jays entered Camden Yards in Baltimore this Tuesday, they had a chip on their shoulders. They may have taken two out of three at Cincinnati, but that didn’t change the fact that they were out of the playoffs. It was simply too late to change that story now, and it was up to them as to how the rest of the script went. The thought of a faceoff against the Orioles was a frightful nightmare since they seemed to beat up the Jays mercilessly no matter what.
Gone are the days when the Trash Birds were a mere pushover, they’re now a force to be reckoned with as their blazing-hot young core exceeded anybody’s most optimistic expectations.
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It was almost too easy to tell the ending to this story based on how it went several times in the past. The Orioles always seemed to find ways to torture the Jays with wave after wave of quality at-bats and pitchers who always managed to rack up outs. The task in front of the Jays was worrying.
Toronto took a 2-1 lead when Daultn Varsho smashed a ball to the deep left field. The Jays made it 3-1 a couple of innings later, but that lead sadly didn’t last long as the Jays scuffled to score, and their defence failed to protect the lead as the Orioles tied the game at 3-3. There wasn’t much the Blue Jays could do either when they flailed against the Orioles’ flame-throwing relievers Yennier Canó and Felix Bautista came in to plow through helpless Jays hitters. It really looked like a story we had seen before.
Despite the despondence, the Jays’ formidable bullpen was a glimmer of hope as they also retired the pesky Orioles hitters. Thanks to a solid performance from Jays’ relievers coupled with shortstop Bo Bichette’s stellar Troy Tulowitzki-esque defence in the bottom of the ninth, the Jays could keep the game tied when they entered the tenth inning. The tall task now was to muster up hits and runs to untie the game.
Despite having a quick and clean inning, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde took out Bautista and replaced him with Mike Baumann for the top of the tenth. This pitching change offered some hope for the Blue Jays to break through but the ongoing frustration of their bats meant an extra-innings rally was far from a guarantee.
Moments after broadcasters Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez called Baumann a “tough customer,” Brandon Belt stepped up to the plate and smashed the very first pitch to the stands to give the Jays a 5-3 lead. Suddenly, what seemed ludicrous looked more than manageable. The Jays scored one more run on Baumann’s wild pitch and kept the 6-3 to win it on Tuesday night.
With a huge win start to a fierce series at Camden Yards, the Jays still have to answer one more question: “Are they ready to showcase their full potential?”
Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. But one thing is for sure — the pressure is no longer on them and it’s on those who are in playoff spots to defend their positions. That pressure shift could be the key to the remainder of the 2023 Blue Jays season, because this group looks like one built to thrive when the games get tough.
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