TORONTO — Needing a win to stay afloat in an American League Wild Card race that gets closer and more chaotic by the hour, the bottom line of the Blue Jays gave them a new day of life.
Danny Jansen and Cavan Biggio weren’t expected to be the stars of the Blue Jays’ biggest game of the season, but they each showed up at the right time in Toronto’s 6-4 win over the Orioles at Rogers Center Friday night. For Jansen this is an encouraging end to the season in which he re-emerges as the man behind the plate. For Biggio, it’s a huge reintroduction after six months of struggling to find traction.
The win left the Blue Jays one game behind the Red Sox, who defeated the Nationals 4-2 on Friday, for the second AL Wild Card spot. The Mariners played against the Angels and a win will tie them even with Boston, while a loss would put them back next to Toronto. The Yankees, who lost to the Rays, are now just one game ahead of Boston for the top Wild Card spot.
The short version? Four teams are separated by two games with only two games left on the schedule. Brace yourself.
Jansen got the Blue Jays rolling with a two-run homerun in the third, and the 26-year-old was quietly one of the Blue Jays’ hottest hitters in September and October. When Jansen hit the injured list for the second time this season on July 23, he hit .176 with a .595 OPS. With Alejandro Kirk on the scene and No. 1 prospect Gabriel Moreno generating waves of hype in the minors, it was easy to fire Jansen, but he’s earned his way back to the top of the ladder and has done it admirably.
“That’s how you win games,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s how you win 90 matches. That has to happen. There’s no way the top of the lineup can carry you all the time, and that’s certainly what happened this past month. Lourdes Gurriel [Jr.] to be seventh and things like that, but today it was [Santiago] Espinal, Biggio and Jansen.”
Biggio got the surprise start at first base with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at DH, Biggio’s first MLB game in nearly two months. Montoyo was encouraged by Biggio’s Triple-A at bats as he slowly worked his way back from an elbow injury until August, but he didn’t exactly kick in the door. Yet there is a reason why this staff and front office continue to trust Biggio despite a long season of injuries, and he rewarded them with his greatest achievement yet.
Going 3-for-4 with an RBI, some aggressive baserunning and a handful of solid plays at first base, Biggio exceeded all expectations. It’s only one game, but suddenly it’s easier to imagine Biggio as part of a potential post-season roster, or at least a contributor to the last two games. With Gurriel still struggling with a hand injury with stitches and Randal Grichuk struggling, Biggio could earn a few more at bats, be it at DH, first base or a corner spot late in the games.
“Those two months where I couldn’t contribute and was just around the excitement but not part of it, it felt like a little bit of FOMO [fear of missing out]’ said Biggio. “I came here ready to contribute in any way I could. Whether that starts now, trying to take an extra base like I did late… whatever I need to do to help this team win, that’s why I’m here. ”
It was actually the entire bottom half of the lineup that led this win as Espinal had a few hits and Corey Dickerson landed a solo home run, continuing to show how valuable his left-handed bat is to this lineup. The Blue Jays are strong offensively when their star-studded top five click, but when the bottom half is there to complement it, this group gets scary.
The stage for this was set by Steven Matz, who turned in one of his best performances of the season with more than seven innings of a two-run ball and five strikeouts. Like Biggio and Jansen, Matz was not the star of this rotation, but he has quietly put in a very valuable season, giving the Blue Jays a 3.82 ERA and maintaining their attack in numerous games like this one.
The Blue Jays probably have yet to win, and they may still need some help from the teams that face the Red Sox and Mariners. But they gave themselves another chance. If the stars can’t pull it off on Saturday, Friday’s win is another example of how every corner of this lineup can take over in the biggest moments.