TORONTO — On the final day before sending nearly 20 percent of their roster to Los Angeles for the all-star game, the Toronto Blue Jays needed vital contributions from some of those players to land the much needed victory on Sunday.
All-star catcher Alejandro Kirk hit a tiebreak, two-run homer in the eighth inning and freshly batted all-star Jordan Romano earned the save when the Blue Jays defeated the Kansas City Royals 4-2 to 36,681 at Rogers Center.
The win allowed the Blue Jays to close their first half at 50-43, an improvement from last season’s 45-42 record at this point. While it didn’t seem to be going so smoothly for the past four months, 50 is a nice, strong number.
With Sunday’s win, the Blue Jays took over three of the Royals’ four, although it’s hard to read too much into that as this was a last-place club in Kansas City missing a whopping 10 players – including outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor and Kyle Isbel – who failed Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements. That led to a roster in which several players made their Major League-debut during the series.
Nevertheless, the Blue Jays did what they had to do and improved to 4-1 under interim manager John Schneider.
Blue Jays starter Jose Berrios continued his strong July with a great outing. Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez led off the game with a single to the middle, moved and scored on consecutive soft contact bloops by Vinnie Pasquantino and Edward Olivares to give the Royals a 1-0 lead.
Berrios recovered from that, however, by using his curveball to strike out back-to-back. He gave up a homerun to first baseman Nick Pratto in the second inning to give the Royals a 2-0 lead, but then calmed down well, aiming for the minimum in the next four innings.
Reaching a top speed of 95.9 mph, he relied on a curveball that looked downright deadly at times, responsible for six of the seven strikeouts he generated. In total, Berrios gave up one walk and two runs on seven hits over 6.1 innings and 90 pitches.
It’s a pretty sight for the Blue Jays to see the right-handed return to form this month. After his worst start of the season – against Milwaukee on June 26 when he gave up eight runs in 2.2 innings – he has remained stable. Including Sunday, over his last four starts, he gave up eight earned runs in 23.1 innings (3.09 ERA).
While he hasn’t been dominant this year, at least he looks more like the stabilizing pitcher the Blue Jays were hoping to get when they traded for him last July and signed him to a $131 million seven-year deal in December. He was one of only four pitchers to score an ERA of less than 4.00 in each of the past five seasons (minimum 10 starts per season), joining the elite troupe of Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer.
Meanwhile, Berrios was matched by Royals starter Kris Bubic. The southpaw kept the Blue Jays’ offense slumbering and off-balance for most of his seven innings using an effective combination of fastball, changeup and curveball.
Santiago Espinal and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reached on infieldhits in the third inning, then came in to score on an error by Royals shortstop and Bobby Witt Jr., and a sacrifice fly by Bo Bichette. That tied the score at 2 and was the lone attack the Blue Jays had until Kirk’s homerun.
Half an inning later, Romano was on the mound and made quick work of the Royals, eliminating three in a row.
Before the game, he got a nice surprise when he learned that he had been selected in the American League roster for Tuesday’s all-star game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He replaces New York Yankees starters Gerrit Cole and joins teammates Kirk, Guerrero Jr., Alek Manoah and Santiago Espinal – who was named to the team on Saturday – in Los Angeles.
George Springer was also selected but chose not to attend to rest a sore right elbow that has plagued him since late June.
“It’s really special,” said Romano, who is from Markham, Ont. “The coaches have worked with me a lot. [Bullpen coach Matt] buschmann, [pitching coach] Piet [Walker], Schneider and all the staff. To see their hard work and my hard work pay off together is really special.”
The 29-year old Romano came in on Sunday with a tie for AL with 19 saves. He has a 2.73 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 33 innings. “I’ve always wanted to go to an all-star game,” he said. “It wasn’t the ultimate goal, but it was one of my goals.”
With six all-stars, the Blue Jays are on par with the Yankees and Atlanta Braves for most of the major clubs.