TORONTO – Left-fielder Raimel Tapia performed brilliantly with his bat and glove to carry on a superb September for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Tapia’s impressive play in the Blue Jays’ 6-3 win against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday helped improve Toronto’s record in September to a Major League Baseball-best 13-4.
The back-to-back wins against Baltimore also gave the Blue Jays six series wins in a row and put the club 20 games over .500 for the first time since they finished 2021 at 91-71.
“I feel good,” said Tapia, who has recently enjoyed an abundance of playing time with regular left-fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on the 10-day disabled list with a hamstring strain.
“But even when I’m not playing, I’m staying focused. I’m going to the batting cage because you have to be ready.”
Tapia was ready from the start on Saturday. First, he snagged a fly ball off the bat of Orioles leadoff hitter Cedric Mullins that seemed destined to hit the fence for a double.
Then, in the fifth inning, with the Blue Jays’ lead cut to 3-2, the left-handed hitting Tapia came to the plate with the bases loaded and two out. He slammed a double to centre field to clear the bases.
“I love those moments,” Tapia said. “I love feeding off the fans and their energy.”
Tapia’s catch was the start of a first-rate defensive outing by Toronto. George Springer made a dandy diving catch on Ramon Urias’s sinking fly ball in the fourth inning.
Jackie Bradley Jr. entered the game to make a nifty running catch in the ninth. Santiago Espinal made a pair of good plays at second, and shortstop Bo Bichette had to step over second base and runner Terrin Vavra in the second inning to record a tricky pop-fly out.
The Blue Jays (83-63) strong month has widened their gap on the Orioles (75-69) to seven games in the American League wild-card race.
Toronto sits first in the battle for the three wild-card spots, while the Orioles are fourth.
“We’ve had good starting pitching,” Interim Toronto manager John Schneider said. “We’ve got timely hitting, today great defence. Obviously, it’s a good recipe.”
The Blue Jays scored a run in the first inning on Matt Chapman’s sacrifice fly and two more in the second when Cavan Biggio and Espinal knocked one-out singles and scored on Springer’s double off the left-field fence.
Baltimore starter Kyle Bradish (3-7) settled down after his shaky start. He retired nine in a row until a fifth-inning, one-out throwing error from Urias that ignited a Blue Jays rally.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who extended his hit streak to 11 games with a first-inning infield hit that dribbled down the third-base line, reached base on the Urias error.
Bradish’s final batter, Chapman, walked, as did Teoscar Hernandez, to load the bases when Baltimore reliever Jake Reed took over. This set the table for Tapia’s bases-clearing double.
Bradish lasted 4 2/3 innings, yielding six hits for three unearned runs, a walk and three strikeouts.
Toronto starter Jose Berrios (11-5) went six innings, striking out three, walking two and giving up seven hits before 44,448 at Rogers Centre.
He was tagged for a pair of runs in the third inning. A leadoff double from Mullins and a one-out double from Anthony Santander put Orioles on first and second.
Baltimore shortstop Gunnar Henderson drove in his teammates with a single to left to close the Blue Jays’ advantage to 3-2.
Henderson also doubled with one out in the eighth inning and scored on Terrin Vavra’s single off Toronto reliever Yimi Garcia.
Blue Jays stopper Jordan Romano closed the deal in the ninth inning for his 34th save, 21st at home, which is the most saves by a Toronto reliever since Kelvim Escobar’s 22 in 2002.
Schneider reported there is a chance Alejandro Kirk (hip) could return after a four-game absence to catch Alek Manoah on Sunday. Kirk was behind the plate for all Manoah’s 28 starts this season.
Gurriel is eligible to come off the 10-game disabled list on Sunday.
Manoah (14-7) will face Orioles righty Dean Kremer (7-5) in the series finale on Sunday. Manoah is 2-1 with a no-decision in four starts with eight earned runs in 24 2/3 innings against Baltimore in 2022.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2022.