The Toronto Blue Jays did a lot of things right Friday night, beating Atlanta 13-5
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Where to start? Robbie Ray‘s 6 2/3 innings of 5-hit, 2-run ball for his 50th career win, consistently hitting 98 mph on his heater? Vladdy’s strong play at first? Bo Bichette looking much more comfortable at short, making a clean double play in the second on a 105 mph grounder by Dansby Swanson? Or the Jays’ SIX home runs?
The damage started in the bottom of the third. Drew Smyly was struggling, with only his fastball and curve working. Bo Bichette came up for the second time, and Smyly decided to mix things up with an 89 mph cut fastball, right over the middle of the plate. 420 feet (and a 105 mph exit velocity) later, the Jays were up 2-0. In the fourth inning, Alejandro Kirk was batting with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on third. Smyly goes 3-0 on Kirk, and (with Springer on deck) decides to challenge Kirk with a 91 mph meatball right in Kirk’s power zone. Turns out Kirk had the green light. 428 feet, Jays 4-0.
In the fifth, Smyly tried to sneak a 76 mph breaking ball past Randall Grichuk. Unfortunately for Drew, (a) the ball did not break and (b) Randall was looking for it. Jays 5-0. Later that inning, with Jacob Webb pitching, Kirk comes up again. Completely unfair to expect another 428 feet, right? So Kirk hits his second homer 435 feet instead. Jays 7-0.
Before the game, Teoscar Hernandez was asked if he felt 100%. He replied that, having been sitting for so long, he expected to be rusty. But he said that he would do his best to contribute in some way. In the sixth he came up with two men on base, and got a 95 mph fastball right over the plate. If he can hit 427 foot home runs to dead centre when he is “rusty”, it will be fun to see how he plays when he is comfortable again. At this point the Jays were up 10-0.
The Braves made it interesting in the top of the 8th, with three runs scored on two singles and two walks off of a rusty-looking Ryan Borucki. But Joel Payamps got the final two outs, limiting the damage. The Jays lead was cut to “only” 12-5. Lourdes got one back with the Jays’ SIXTH home run of the game in the bottom on the inning. Jordan Romano closed out the ninth, including striking out Dansby Swanson on a 100 mph fastball (the fastest pitch of his MLB career).
There were a lot of positives in this game. Ray was dominant (through the first 6 innings, he had allowed only one run with five strikeouts). This gave the bullpen a rest, which is particularly important given that Saturday’s game is expected to be a bullpen game. The Jays’ baserunning was clean – aggressive without being crazy. And the defense – including the always “exciting” left side of the infield – was solid, with Santiago Espinal at third looking particularly sharp (Santiago also went 2-5 with a double on the night, raising his batting average to .350). Kirk looked much more relaxed behind the plate, and worked well with Ray. And Romano looked like the Jordan of old in the ninth.
This was the first game this season with both George Springer and Teo Hernandez in the lineup. If tonight’s game is any indication, the rest of the season could be fun.
As an old baseball philosopher once said, “It’s starting to come together!”
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.