BALTIMORE — Typically, the loss of an all-star second baseman will be a concern for a team looking for a big run into post-season and beyond.
But when the player who replaces the injured Santiago Espinal is a two-time all-star, well, the pain can go away quickly.
That’s what the Blue Jays got from veteran Whit Merrifield, who made things happen once again on Monday in a 5-1 win over the Orioles on a miserable night for baseball at the sloppy track that Camden Yards.
A game that was delayed two outs to the eighth inning was eventually called off 51 minutes later as conditions worsened rather than improved.
The result allowed the Jays to reduce their magic figure to lock in the top seed in the American League wildcard race to one, and the Detroit Tigers finished it hours later by beating the Mariners 4-3 in Seattle. The Jays will play Seattle in a best-of-three series at Rogers Center starting Friday.
With Monday night’s win, the Jays improved to a season high of 22 games above 0.500 for the first time since the end of the 2015 campaign.
“That’s a sign of a very good team with lots of great personality,” said manager John Schneider after a chilly night. “There was one single focus today when the game started and that was to win.
“It’s difficult because you’re not only managing the game, but you’re also trying to manage forecasts.”
But amid the chilly weather on Monday, Merrifield continued to heat up as he raced towards the first post-season appearance of his career.
The versatile infielder, who seamlessly moved into Espinal’s place as he rediscovered his attacking form, went on a pair of runs in the second inning and used his basic running power to score again in the fifth inning.
“What he’s doing is kind of what he’s been doing his entire career,” Schneider said of Merrifield, which was acquired from the Kansas City Royals on trading deadline. “Not only with his versatility, but with his punch, his ability to run bases… it’s just the little things he does to impact the game that really go a long way. His track record speaks for itself and his career speaks for itself.”
With his single two-run on Monday, Merrifield has now hit it safely in 11 of his last 12 games (he hit 0.421 of the previous 11 heading into the first of three against the O.)
And it is clear that he has benefited from improvements and consistent playing time in the absence of Espinal, who has now missed 11 games with a sideways injury.
“There it is,” said Merrifield, recently, of the benefits of consistent playing time. “Before, it was almost like I knew I was going to have some hitters to try to do something. Now I’m more into the flow of the game from the start and that helps a bit.
“At this point of the year, it’s not about whether I’m comfortable or not. It’s about winning the game. I’m happy to be able to contribute and do some good things to help us win.”
That feeling of accomplishment has added to the anticipation heading into the post-season for the first time in his seven-year career. Obviously getting a player of proven talent like Merrifield can be huge as the playoffs progress, especially considering his latest production.
“Hot streaks are good when they come in, but that’s my type of player,” Merrifield said after his third multi-hit game in four days. “I can do things to help and influence the game. It’s great that they come at such a big time for us.”
It was a game played in unsightly conditions for both the pitcher and hitter, but Toronto starter Jose Berrios presented some encouraging signs for the post-season.
Berrios did six innings on a night that got worse as the game progressed, holding O for three strokes and one run while running three and starting five.
It was certainly a great improvement from his previous two starts where he accepted defeat and allowed a winning combination of 11 runs. With the win, Berrios improved to 12-7, matching his winning total from 2021.
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REMEMBER THAT DATE
A year ago October 3 was a tough day to digest for the Jays as they finished 2021 with 91 wins only to watch the Red Sox score a late win over the Nationals that knocked Toronto out of the post-season.
Fast forward a full calendar year and the Jays have now equaled that total, tied for the sixth-most wins in a single season in franchise history.
“You go from being really excited to being the complete opposite in about 40 minutes,” says Schneider. “There’s a lot going on. Appropriately enough, here we are again a year later. ”
Aside from Merrifield’s heroics in the singles two-out, two-run in the second set, the most notable explosion of the night came from Vlad Guerrero Jr. Homer’s 32nd Jays first baseman of the year traveled 422 feet to the left of the field, an important boom given the conditions… Merrifield night had a chance to get better in the eighth when he came to the plate with a loaded base and two out, only to see a delay. rain called… Some would suggest that, with the puddles, the strike-delay call is long overdue on a sad night for baseball—or any sport—with remnants of Hurricane Ian still ravaging the Baltimore area. But with worse weather in the area for Tuesday, it was a ball game despite the 9C match-time temperature and rain that increased in intensity throughout the game.