With the postseason in mind, Kevin Gausman said he and the Blue Jays were just being cautious by pulling him early from Sunday’s game.
The veteran righthander, making his 31st start of the year, left after just three innings when the middle finger of his right hand, next to his fingernail, split open.
The Jays won 6-3 to complete their three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox, remaining atop the American League wild-card race.
“I just think obviously with the postseason coming up, I didn’t want it to get any worse,” Gausman said.
He said the hand injury has happened before – but not for about 25 starts because he’s been good at managing it. Only his splitter irritates it, because of the way that particular pitch comes off his middle finger. He planned to get laser treatment to help it heal and give it an extra day of rest before throwing in the bullpen.
The Jays improvised on Sunday by bringing in Zach Pop much earlier than planned. On top of pitching two shutout innings, the right-handed reliever also flashed some spry fielding skills on two line drives drilled at him – scooping one on the run and another with his glove behind his back. He earned the win, and Jordan Romano later earned the save – the first time in franchise history a game was won and saved by Canadians on home soil.
While the Jays have already clinched, they are still battling to hold off the Seattle Mariners in the American League wild-card standing and earn the right to host in the first round. The Jays’ win, combined with a loss by the Rays on Sunday, eliminated the possibility Tampa could finish atop the three-team AL wild-card field.
As the Jays leave for Baltimore, they don’t know how long to pack for, and where they’ll be heading afterward.
Hot bats from Whit Merrifield and Teoscar Hernandez provided more than enough runs for the Jays to beat Boston in their final home game of the regular season. The Jays, eager to determine who and where they will play when the wild-card round opens on Friday, close with three games in Baltimore against the Orioles.
Hernandez homered in his first two at-bats Sunday – a walkoff solo shot into the centre field Flight Deck in the first inning, and a rocket down the left-field line in the fourth. That makes three home runs for Hernandez in the past two games, and the 14th multihomer game of his career.
Whit Merrifield, acquired from the Kansas City Royals in early August and set to make his postseason debut at age 33, continued to demonstrate his value as he homered to left in the third inning and then brought home Danny Jansen on a line drive in the fourth. In the seventh, Merrifield singled and later slid in safely at home under a high throw from the shortstop.
“I’m swinging at pitches I can handle and not missing them,” Merrifield said. “In the big leagues you don’t get many pitches you can do damage with, so when you get it, you better not miss it. And I’ve just done a better job of being ready for that pitch.”
Merrifield also made a crafty play with Bo Bichette in the infield, and caught a deep pop-up at the edge in a weird spot of shallow right field, too. Merrifield’s strong bat (he has a .382 batting average in his past 10 games), quick baserunning and solid defence of late pose questions about who will start at second base in the playoffs. Santiago Espinal, whose strained oblique has sidelined him since Sept. 22, is working to recover and earn his spot back.
Gausman said it had been particularly rewarding to see Merrifield enjoying the Jays’ champagne celebration after the team clinched a playoff spot. “It was everything that I hoped it would be,” Merrifield said of his first clubhouse celebration of that kind. “I hope we can do about four more of those this year.”