Sports

Blue Jays reminded of paths not taken after walk-off loss to Chapman, Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Ever see The Simpsons episode when Milhouse discovers that there’s another Milhouse in Shelbyville, expresses disbelief when they meet because he thought he was the only one and then says, “So this is what it feels like when doves cry”?

That’s the Toronto Blue Jays right now as they encounter their opposition on this nine-game swing out West ahead of the all-star break, opening up the middle set of that trip with a 4-3, walk-off loss to the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night. 

Both teams, along with last weekend’s opponent in the Seattle Mariners, and this weekend’s competition in the Arizona Diamondbacks, are having different versions of the same season. All believe they are way better than they’ve shown thus far. Aside from the Mariners, who are atop the AL West thanks to the early struggles of the Houston Astros, all are trudging through the mediocre middle of their respective leagues. 

All of them can also look at one another and know what it feels like when doves cry.

Well, that’s far truer for the others than the Blue Jays (41-50), who were a strike away from their first three-game win streak since taking four in a row May 27-31 only to run out of narrow escapes. Brett Wisely’s seeing-eye RBI single up the middle tied the game before Tyler Fitzgerald completed the comeback by scoring on a Trevor Richards wild pitch.

The decisive rally erased a 3-2 lead built by deadline-deal candidate Yusei Kikuchi, who struck out a career-best 13 in a 7.1-inning, two-run gem, and a seventh-inning, three-run homer from Ernie Clement before an Oracle Park crowd of 32,924.

“The ball didn’t really bounce our way,” lamented manager John Schneider.

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Richards was handling the ninth with Chad Green, the closer in the ongoing absences of Jordan Romano and Yimi Garcia, unavailable after throwing 49 pitches in outings Saturday and Sunday in Seattle, and he probably deserved a better fate.

So, too, did Kikuchi, outlasting the just back from the injured list Blake Snell, who allowed one hit and three walks over five shutout innings before handing the reins to the Giants (45-47) bullpen. 

Kikuchi allowed solo shots to Heliot Ramos in the fourth and Fitzgerald in the eighth to make it consecutive strong outings after a shaky June in which he allowed a 6.26 ERA across six starts. He feels like he began turning the corner June 28 against the Yankees, when he allowed four runs in five innings while striking out seven, and totally dominated the Giants in this one.

“In June, I feel like what led to my downfall was my focus of trying to throw strikes so especially my heater was around the middle of the zone,” he said through interpreter Yusuke Oshima. “Starting with that Yankees outing, I just focused on throwing all my pitches and executing where I’m going to throw that fastball, whether it’s up or whether it’s down. That’s really helped.”

Before the game, Chapman was presented with the Gold Glove he earned a year ago and the reunion with the Blue Jays was another reminder of their potential paths not taken over the winter.

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The 31-year-old was among the slate of Scott Boras clients to sign late, finalizing on March 3 a three-year deal that guarantees $54 million over three years but can be as short as $18 million for one season. It’s certainly the type of deal that would have made sense for the Blue Jays, but it came well after they’d made their moves and had turned the page.

Still, Chapman said they re-engaged at the end, but by then he was already Giants-bound.

“It was a really strange off-season. I didn’t get as many calls or as many offers as I thought I would. Just kind of a weird market. Weird year,” he said. “I didn’t talk to the Blue Jays a whole lot. They kind of had contact with us. I think they had me in mind. But I wasn’t sure how serious they were. I think they had other things that were on their mind before, like (Shohei) Ohtani and some of those things. So it was slow progressing for me. And then by the time the Giants came and we had something going, the Blue Jays kind of came in there at the end, but it was kind of a little bit too late, unfortunately.”

Whether a Chapman deal would have meaningfully altered the course of this Blue Jays season is an interesting question. 

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, ostensibly his replacement at third base, has been one of the club’s steadiest performers, but he could have been used exclusively in a super-utility role handling lots of second base with Chapman at third. Complemented with, say, a Teoscar Hernandez signing, the offence may very well have been strong enough to have them legitimately in the wild-card hunt right now.

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While it’s somewhat unfair to relitigate the past with the gift of hindsight, it’s an important exercise with the Blue Jays facing the end of their competitive window and so many pivotal decisions to make. 

Regardless, Chapman ended up back in the Bay Area, where he’s from, where he started his career and where he’s again playing under Bob Melvin, his former manager in Oakland, left only to look back at his time in Toronto and “feel happy.”

“I really enjoyed both my years with the Blue Jays. I appreciate them giving me the opportunity. I wanted to bounce back coming off a down season with the A’s and it was as a fresh start for me,” he said. “And I got to play with so many talented players, from Bo (Bichette) and Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) to Teoscar and Lourdes (Gurriel Jr.), George (Springer) and then the pitching staff that we had. And then the next year, I know they made some changes, but I thought both those teams were really, really good. I was proud that we got to the playoffs. We played in a really tough AL East. But I would have loved to get some more wins in the playoffs. I think we all agree with that and unfortunately it sucks how it ended. But I look back and enjoyed all my time there.”

Now, Chapman and his Giants are chasing a return to better times, just like the Blue Jays, two teams on different roads, walking the same path.


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