ST. LOUIS – On Shakespeare night at Busch Stadium, the Blue Jays enjoyed a game entirely free of drama. They pitched well. They fielded well. They hit well. They won.
It wouldn’t have made for much of a play, but as baseball games go? Tuesday night’s 8-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals was exactly what the Blue Jays needed given their recent struggles at the plate.
“Everybody needed this day,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “It was great to see the offence come alive.”
“It’s been pretty quiet in there lately,” added starter Kevin Gausman. “For us to get our mojo back, have that high energy, everybody talking in the dugout was nice to see ’cause that’s what we are normally.”
While the return of the offence was easily the biggest development here, the Blue Jays’ starting pitcher was as effective as ever. Gausman continued pitching like an ace, working his way through six scoreless innings with apparent ease, allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out eight.
He generated 23 swinging strikes while throwing a season-high 105 pitches. At night’s end, he led the American League in innings pitched (56) and WAR (2.4 and counting).
But by now, we’ve come to expect that from Gausman, whose fastball-splitter combination has eluded opposing hitters all season. More noteworthy was the offensive breakout of a Blue Jays team that began the day an abysmal .209/.286/ hitting.318 in May.
“We’ve had to face 100 (mph) the last four days, so if the guys are kind of hanging a bit, I could understand,” Gausman said. “But as this team gets going, I think you’ll see it’s deep. Any one of these guys could hit a home run at any given moment. It was nice to see a little bit of that tonight.”
Danny Jansen homered twice and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. added a no-doubt, 438-foot homer of his own as the Blue Jays combined for 12 hits on their way to their biggest offensive outburst in weeks. Bo Bichette and Alejandro Kirk each had multi-hit games while George Springer and Matt Chapman each walked twice as the Blue Jays improved to 23-20.
For a team that had been struggling to convert with runners on base, this outburst did more than assure the Blue Jays of a series split. It may also take some pressure off a group of hitters that had been straining for results with little to show for their efforts.
“Everybody’s pressing at the same time,” Montoyo said before the game. “When your team’s pressing, everyone tries harder and even more with men in scoring position. That’s what’s going on right now with us, but it takes one guy to get hot and we’ll go from there.”
Maybe that hitter will be Jansen, who now has five home runs in just 11 games this year thanks in part to his pull-power approach. He pulled both home runs Tuesday, including a three-run shot in the fourth inning that hit the left-field foul pole.
“It’s my strength and it’s always my strength,” Jansen said. “Now I’m trying to go up there and maximize that and look for pitches to use that. It’s been great for me.”
It was also significant for Guerrero Jr. to add a home run given that he had a .641 OPS in May entering play Tuesday. Right before he went deep, he told Montoyo he was starting to feel locked in.
“I’ve been working really hard and I feel like the more I work, the better I’ve been feeling,” Guerrero Jr. said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “That’s what I meant when I told Charlie that.”
Considering a matchup with Shohei Ohtani awaits in Anaheim on Thursday, this was an ideal time for the team to break out from its slump. But Guerrero Jr. said facing Ohtani, who beat him for last year’s American League MVP award, is nothing new.
“We know Ohtani’s one of the best, but I faced him last year, so it’s kind of normal for me,” he said.
Thanks to the offensive outburst, the Blue Jays were able to get by with just three pitchers Tuesday on a night Adam Cimber and David Phelps were believed to be unavailable. After Gausman’s exit, Ross Stripling pitched two innings and Andrew Vazquez pitched one, saving the rest of the bullpen for the Angels series.
Most important of all, though, the Blue Jays’ struggling offence finally looked like the group that led the American League in home runs and OPS a year ago. The talent’s always been there, and for one night at least, the results started to follow.
“Hitting’s contagious,” Jansen said. “It always is.”
Or, as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet: “A hit, a very palpable hit!”