An absolute blizzard of lucky bounces and aggressive base running, including a Lourdes Gurriel steal of home, allowed the Toronto Blue Jays to defeat Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox 7-5 on a foggy and bizarre afternoon at Fenway Park on Tuesday.
Many things remain unknowable about the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays, including why does Alen Hanson exist on this team at all, why are Gurriel’s arms so bad at throwing baseballs to first or second, and why is Toronto’s pitching so good while their hitting is so very bad? Entering play on Tuesday, Toronto was third best in the American League in team pitching ERA, batting average against, and collectively led the majors in striking out batters. Unfortunately, on the hitting side, the Jays were also second worst in batting average (.183), fourth worst in OBP (.261) and fifth worst in slugging percentage (.318).
The good news is no team is ever this bad over a full season. One thing was certain entering Tuesday – Toronto’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was absolutely screaming for a course correction. As of Monday night, Toronto’s team BABIP was .239, the third worst in the majors. Over the course of a full season the worst team BABIP will generally be in the mid .270’s – last year’s lowest team BABIP went to the Los Angeles Angels who ended the season with a .277 BABIP. A low BABIP doesn’t necessarily indicate a bad team – especially if said team is proficient at home runs (see last year’s Yankees or 2015 Blue Jays) – but it does help us determine if an entire team is getting unlucky over a short or medium term on balls not hit over the fence. The Jays up to this point were getting relatively unlucky on balls not hit over the fence in their first 11 games. On Tuesday afternoon, in a foggy Boston, it appeared as if that luck was being corrected all at once.
Matt Shoemaker made the start for Toronto and looked strong, despite allowing three runs (two earned) on a Mitch Moreland home run in the first, a defensive misplay at first, and a Mookie Betts home run in the sixth.
Enter the balls in play. Down 2-0 in the third, Toronto appeared to be on their way to another four-innings-without-a-batter-reaching-base type of game against Chris Sale. Sale cruised through the first couple innings, topping out at 93 MPH. Not quite the velocity we expect from Sale but better than Boston’s seen in his first two starts. Then things got squirrelly. With Hanson at the plate with one out in the third he found a hole on a ground ball to left field. Next up, Billy McKinney found another ground ball see its way to Mookie Betts in right to put a runner on first and second. Next up Freddy Galvis and, you guessed it, ground ball, base hit, McKinney to third, Hanson makes it in to score, 2-1 Red Sox.
After Teoscar Hernandez finally got a ball in the air to record a sacrifice fly to centre field, McKinney scored to tie the game at 2-2. The next ground ball was not so lucky, as Brandon Drury found when he bounced one into the ground to end the inning. Three ground balls, one fly out, 2-2 tie after three.
After a quick bottom third, including a nice throw by Danny Jansen to catch Christian Vazquez attempting to steal second, Toronto goes to work again. Randal Grichuk grounds out a single to left field, then Jansen singles on a ground ball to right field as Grichuk aggressively takes third. Next, Gurriel, after working his way to a full count, swings at a very high, and very outside pitch to send a soft single the other way into right field. Grichuk scores, 3-2 Jays.
Richard Urena then bunts his way to an 0-2 count. Urena then attempts to bunt again and succeeds, advancing the runners. Mckinney to the plate and a breaking ball bounces off Vazquez’s glove and allows Jansen to score, 3-2 Toronto.
Now the fun can begin – Chris Sale, working out of the windup, sees Gurriel break for home and mid delivery yanks it, way off course, throwing the ball towards the visitors dugout, allowing Gurriel to successfully steal home. Next pitch, McKinney flares a bloop into shallow centre, 5-2 Toronto. Chris Sale’s bad day continues. Galvis then grounds out to end the inning and the day for Sale. Four innings, five earned runs, seven hits, a ton of ground balls, and three strikeouts.
Boston would score two more in the sixth, including the Betts solo home run, to make it 5-4. Two walks by Hernandez and McKinney, followed by another high-and-outside hit by Grichuk that dropped in shallow centre scored Hernandez to make it 6-4.
Two consecutive doubles by JD Martinez and Bogaerts in the eighth off of Joe Biagini would make it 6-5 for Toronto. In the top of the ninth McKinney found his way to first after being hit by Matt Barnes. McKinney then advanced to second on a wild pitch before scoring on a Freddy Galvis double into the right field corner.
All in all the Jays had ten hits, two walks, nine strikeouts, eight singles, two doubles and zero home runs. Of those eight singles five were ground balls and two were weakly hit singles into shallow centre. This was a win entirely based around weakly hit ground balls, bloop singles, good starting pitching, and aggressive base running. Old school types will definitely chalk this one up to heart and keeping your puck on the ice but it also might just be a statistic correcting itself in front of a very frustrated Chris Sale.
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