CHICAGO — Tuesday’s chaotic 12-inning slugfest between the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays took its toll on everyone.
It was Toronto’s longest game of the season; it was only the eighth time in the past half-decade (a span of 614 games) that the club had played one that lasted more than four hours and 20 minutes. It was a physical chore. A mind too. Not just for the athletes who participated, but also for the coaches at the Toronto dugout who constantly plotted and strategized as the momentum swung between extra innings when the rules of the game changed.
“You have to stay ahead of who’s going to start the heat second, who’s going to come. How do you want to play it? Do you want to drizzle? Won’t you burn and run? said Blue Jays bench coach John Schneider. “Our general rule is: on the road, you play with two people. But it depends on who you have available in the bullpen. And where they are in their order. There are a lot of moving parts.
“You have to have a plan A, B and C depending on what they’re doing. If they decay, you do. If they bring out the first guy, do you walk a guy out to set up a double play? Do you just go after them knowing you got a guy like Romano on the mound? If so, do you play for one on the road? What if you were at the bottom of your line-up? All that stuff plays into it.
And to complicate matters on Tuesday, everyone in the Toronto dugout — players and coaches alike — was not-so-subtly navigating a Doug Eddings strike zone that occasionally encroached on the batter’s boxes. Everyone spent those four hours and 23 minutes of baseball – played in an average 30-degree heat, mind you – on edge. And they weren’t exactly out of it on Wednesday.
You do not believe it ? Here’s what happened just 13 hours after Tuesday’s game ended, as Blue Jays batting coach Guillermo Martinez handed his club’s roster card to home plate:
After sleeping on it, waking up, eating a hearty breakfast, and spending his morning getting ready for a brand new ball game, this man was still so aggrieved he couldn’t help but let everyone know. Eddings that he had missed 26 calls the night before, getting himself thrown out of a game that hadn’t started. And if that’s how crazy Martinez was still, you can imagine how Wednesday’s leadoff hitter Santiago Espinal (Tuesday’s pitch chart left) and cleanup hitter Alejandro Kirk (right) felt :
Of course, maybe that’s why Martinez did it. The Blue Jays hitters showed extreme restraint Tuesday, managing their emotions through repeated waterings that ultimately helped them continue to compete in a game they nearly won. But that doesn’t take away much. On the contrary, it only increases the frustration.
It’s a baseball coach’s job to tune in to the temperature of his team’s clubhouse — no one would have needed much equalizing to know the Blue Jays were still on. steam as they drove to work ahead of Wednesday’s game. And if the batters couldn’t speak their minds to Eddings themselves without putting their team at a disadvantage, maybe a coach could.
Perhaps that would save Toronto batters from carrying the frustrations of the previous night into their plate appearances and let them focus on the task at hand. Maybe there was a performance benefit to be had from it. Maybe Martinez went there to get dumped.
It’s a theory. And if you’re looking for supporting evidence, look no further than Espinal walking to the plate minutes after Martinez was ejected and opening Wednesday’s game with a five-pitch walk against Lucas Giolito, the last pitch one of those tempting secondaries just off the outside of the plate. edge – in an action count, no less – that it was repeatedly lit with gas the previous night:
Three batters later, Kirk pushed Espinal with the game’s first run. And the next time he came to the plate, the likely All-Star receiver worked a 3-0 count before lacing a Giolito fastball 414 feet over the left center field wall:
An inning later, Espinal was back to battle a difficult two-strike fastball before fielding a single down the left, extending a two-out rally and loading the bases for Bo Bichette. That’s when the Blue Jays shortstop fired two tough throws from just outside the zone – properly called balls – before blasting the game with a 388-foot blast:
“It was unexpected, for sure. I know some guys were a little excited,” Bichette said of Martinez’s ejection. fast, everyone was tired. To get here and score fast and score a lot was good to see.
Look, you don’t want to read too much. Martinez getting dumped and the Blue Jays winning, 9-5, were certainly correlated events, but highly unlikely. Our minds like to find patterns, however fragile, and use them to draw radical conclusions. As far as we know, the Blue Jays could have won more had Martinez been a coach.
But what we do know is that members of Toronto’s coaching staff began thinking Wednesday about how its players would react to Tuesday’s crushing loss – and how to put them in the best possible position to succeed.
“After a night like that, guys come in and you naturally start off a bit slow. But you have to hopefully create the energy – or sometimes force it – where it’s, ‘Hey, at 1: 10 is ready to roll. It’s a new day,” Schneider said. “A game like last night changes what you can do in general. Fatigue based, based on who is there and how you can max out their skills. If he tries to start an offense early or if he tries to be a little more aggressive on the bases, whatever it is. So for us as coaches it’s just about making sure the energy level is good.
Of course, if the momentum is as good as the next day’s starter, so is the energy. And on Wednesday, that starter was Ross Stripling, the unassuming swingman who not only replaced Hyun Jin Ryu in the Blue Jays rotation, but an upgrade.
Relying on four seams and sliders, with just enough shifts, curveballs and sinkers strewn around the area to keep hitters honest, Stripling gave his team six one-run innings on 87 generally effective pitches. . Stripling’s switch has been his best pitch so far this season, but tossing him often into a lineup full of dangerous right-handed hitters was never going to be a recipe for success. So, as he does, Stripling has metamorphosed according to the recognition reports presented to him.
“I review every batter with Pete Walker, [Gabriel] Moreno, and some of our guys who put together the scouting reports,” Stripling said. “The fastball lanes. Up, down, in, out. Cursor, curve, change. What causes the ball to fall to the ground? What is the barrel missing? What is the bat missing? All those good things.
“When it comes to right versus left, the most important thing I’m looking at now is, ‘Is change a good option? I get to where I’m safe to throw it at just about anyone. But there are guys who are good at right-to-right shifts. Including [the White Sox.] They have a few guys who are good at right-to-right shifts. So, I still threw in a decent amount of it. Maybe not as much as I’ve done in past starts. But I just go through every batter and make sure I have a good plan for everyone.
Thanks to this design, Stripling gained oscillating strikes on fastballs, breaking balls and changes; he earned strikes called with four of his five pitches; he only allowed one ball in play with an exit speed over 100 mph. He has lowered his ERA in his last 10 outings – four starts, six in relief – to 1.82. He was exactly what his team needed.
Things were going so well — and, perhaps, circumstances were so dire in the taxed Toronto bullpen — that the Blue Jays even extended Stripling beyond the two-trip cap he’d breached on each of his eight previous starts this season. And maybe that’s saying something that Stripling had one of his toughest battles of the day on this third trip from Andrew Vaughn, who just missed a full slider left and over the plate, before giving up his only run when Luis Robert ambushed a curved first-pitch to drive Josh Harrison, who started with a single.
Then again, it’s the good thing to be on a coaching staff when you’re up by a touchdown. You can take those risks. And with off-day tracking, you can call on relievers like David Phelps and Adam Cimber to help drive home a lopsided lead.
At least, that was the design. But Phelps allowed a run in the seventh, and Cimber had all sorts of trouble missing bats in the eighth, getting embroiled in long battles and allowing a series of singles as the White Sox scratched a few more. Cimber finally got Adam Haseley to hit what should have been an end-inning double-play grounder with the bases loaded, but Espinal and Bichette crossed at second and failed to register an out:
Enter Trent Thornton, immersed in firefighting duty in a beleaguered bullpen he has led in appearances and innings thrown this month. A pop-up and a football later, he brought the Blue Jays out. That led to Tim Mayza, who pitched for the second straight day and fourth in the last five, trying to make the final three outs.
Mayza allowed a first single. Then he retired a batter. Then he took off a Jose Abreu comebacker at 108 mph from the left hip.
Again, that’s a cannonball of 108 mph. And Mayza’s only response was to calmly exit at first. He swears it didn’t hurt too much at the time. Adrenaline was flowing. He thinks his belt buckle may have saved him. But neither here nor there, after having about 90 seconds to compose herself, Mayza won the last of the game with her very next pitch.
It could never be easy, could it? Of course, you don’t get into baseball coaching – baseball, period – if you want it to be easy. Blue Jays coaches started their days thinking about their team’s energy level. Thinking about how they could put him in the right place for a game that only started 11 hours after one of the toughest defeats of their season. Schneider took an approach; Martinez, another. All that matters is that it worked.