Without any fans in the seats at Citizens Bank Park, you could almost hear the sigh of relief.
It came from the visiting team’s dugout the moment the Toronto Blue Jays, in danger of squandering a 6-1 lead, finally closed out the Philadelphia Phillies 6-3 Sunday to cap what had otherwise been a dismal four-game stand and snap a six-game losing streak.
Six stellar innings from pitcher Taijuan Walker and a two-run blast from Teoscar Hernandez helped the struggling Jays finally stop the bleeding and make up some lost ground in what has been an unlikely bid to secure a spot in the post-season.
For a minute there, not even manager Charlie Montoyo was sure they could pull it off.
“It’s funny, because when you go to a losing streak, you’re always waiting for the worst,” Montoyo said after the game.
A couple of muffed catches by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., a third baseman who is still trying to find his feet at first, felt for a moment like they could have been the opening the Phillies were waiting for, he said.
“The moment we made those errors in the seventh inning, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, what’s gonna happen?”’
The Phillies drew within three in the seventh after reliever Thomas Hatch loaded the bases, helped out when Guerrero Jr., fumbled the throw to first on a single by Rafael Marchan. Guerrero missed another throw three plays later, allowing Alec Bohm to drive in two before he was thrown out at second.
That brought Travis Shaw to first base and reliever Shun Yamaguchi to the mound midway through the eighth, when he managed two strikeouts but walked two before replacement Anthony Bass helped secure the final out of the inning.
“I knew he wasn’t going to hit again – if he was going to hit in the eighth, I’d be like, 'I don’t want to lose that bat,” Montoyo said of the decision to replace Guerrero Jr., at first.
“But also, I know we needed defence there at the end, and he’s just learning how to play the position. I know Shaw’s pretty good there, so that’s why we made that move.”
Montoyo confirmed that Matt Shoemaker, who tore up his knee last April and sat out the rest of the 2019 season, will get the ball when the Jays begin a four-game homestand against the mighty New York Yankees on Monday night in Buffalo.
But Sunday night belonged to Walker, who managed eight strikeouts over six innings with just four hits and one run, throwing 104 pitches and 66 strikes.
“My only goal was to win the game today – I wanted to go out there, set the tone, just pound the zone and give my team the best chance to win,” he said afterward.
“I try to make that my game plan every game, I just try to attack the zone. I don’t try to get too cute, I don’t try to pick the corners or anything. I just really try to stay on the plate with all my pitches and make them put the ball in play.”
The returning health of the pitching staff is good news for a team that’s trying to right the ship in order to first secure a playoff spot, and then deliver a decent performance once there. Pitching coach Paul Walker said Nate Pearson and Canadian-born Jordan Romano are also close to rejoining the lineup.
Pearson, who strained his pitching arm last month, will likely throw for an inning or two Monday, Walker said.
The Jays struck early in the first after Bo Bichette drilled a double off the glove of first baseman Alec Bohm, sending the walked Cavan Biggio to third and setting up RBIs for Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
The Phillies also got on the board quickly when Hernandez fumbled a Didi Gregorius blast off the right field wall. The Jays failed to capitalize on chances early in the second, loading the bases twice. Only Joe Panik managed to try for home, where he was tagged out after Bichette’s glancing blow left the ball within Medina’s easy reach.
But they notched two more runs in the sixth when Adam Haseley couldn’t handle a drifting double from Jonathan Davis, driving in Gurriel Jr., and Panik to make it 4-1.
“You could tell from reaction in the dugout, guys were – I guess you could say relieved,” Davis said of the play afterward.
“When you feel like people have been kind of stepping in your neck for a little bit, it’s good to be able to get some air.”
Bichette made use of the right field wall again in the seventh, nearly reaching the seats with a poke that ultimately stayed in the park but allowed him to get to third before a centre-field homer from Hernandez gave the Jays a five-run lead.
The only blight on Walker’s solid outing was an error in the bottom of the fourth, when he fumbled a line drive from Scott Kingery and turned was should have been an easy out at first into a single for the young second baseman.
Hernandez was left limping with pain but stayed in the game midway through the bottom of the fifth after slamming into the wall in the midst of a daring catch on a deep ball from Andrew McCutchen. Montoyo said he hit the wall’s concrete footing with his toe.