Anaheim, CA – The day before, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was walking around Angel Stadium as if he owned the place. He would hang out and take in the batting cage with his Hall of Fame dad, play all over the field, and hang out with Kendrys Morales and Erick Aybar at the club.
“I pretty much grew up here,” he told a crowd of media gathered at the visitors’ hideout before Thursday’s batting practice. “To be back now as a top player every year is fantastic.”
Even more awesome for the Guerrero and the Toronto Blue Jays was getting the best of Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels in a 6-3 win. Facing the 2021 MLS Player of the Year, the runner-up flew 388 feet in the first, punched a third to his knees for third at 97 mph and sent Homer’s ninth of the season off the left pole. In the sixth.
That single shot put home the last five runs off Ohtani, who still shot 10 in his six tires but took damage throughout. George Springer opened the scoring with an early lead before Santiago Espinal singles RBI and third-half double Bo Bichette gave Hyun Jin Ryu some nice breathing space.
This was only the second time in eight that Ohtani allowed more than two innings while the six strikes against him matched the maximum allowed this season. No wonder then that when asked how to approach the two-way star, Guerrero smiled and replied, “I won’t tell you the key to overcoming it, because then we won’t. I want to keep that part.”
Despite the blows, this approach worked, and the Blue Jays may have begun to break out of the deep stalemate their offensive had suffered during the first quarter of the campaign.
“It’s a process, and it’s not all going to happen overnight,” Springer said. “It’s going to take several matches like this for us to feel okay, but it’s a good start.” “I’m starting to see the players are really good on the hits, I’m starting to see the roles knit together. We scored three goals in the third half and these are just good hits and you get big hits with the guys in the scoring position.”
Guerrero has teammates in back-to-back games for the first time this season, and not coincidentally, he’s starting to become more selective at the plate. While working before the game, the club’s hitting coaches showed him a video of his swing decisions from the previous game and the hitter uses that to “create a game plan”.
“It helped me a lot, especially in the strike zone, and I hope it continues like this,” he continued in the comments, which were interpreted by Hector Lebrun.
Although by no means alone, Guerrero’s chase rate is up to 31.8 percent from 24.5 percent a year ago, which is partly a symptom of the team’s challenge to making steady runs.
“For me, it’s all mental,” he admitted. “Sometimes I’ll go out there thinking about swinging everything, and then as soon as that starts in your mind, you say no, you have to look for the pitch I’m really looking for. That’s when it all starts working.”
It was all working for the Blue Jays on Thursday, as Rio worked his way through five rounds of two-ball runs, both runs in the third inning based on player picks by Mike Trout and Otani.
Rio may have come back for more after just 65 throws but he reported some tightness in his elbow, which prompted manager Charlie Montoyo to pull it off early. The veteran left-hander, on his third start since returning from the forearm inflammation that landed him on the injured list, said what he felt on Friday had nothing to do with his previous injury and refused to link the mph drop speed to the troublesome pace.
“I don’t think that would be a problem. I generally felt it a little bit today,” Ryo said through translator GS Park. “I won’t miss my next start. I think it will be what it is and it will continue from there.”
Otani also had a physical problem, saying that he felt something in his back on the field at first but He decided he could continue.
The Blue Jays gave a 5-2 lead to David Phelps, who worked from a two-and-a-half game for sixth with help from Cavan Biggio.
Just called up from Team Triple-A Buffalo, Biggio sent Jared Walsh smashing into first base, touching the bag for one and then moving on to second as Bichette flagged Max Stassi before Matt Duffy crossed the board. The split-second difference was significant because once Biggio touched the bag, the timing of the third exit determined whether the run counted.
“It worked,” said Montoyo.
Yemi Garcia, Adam Semper and Jordan Romano, who allowed Brandon Marsh to score after a single shot from Danny Jansen in the top of the ninth also gave him his teammates in back-to-back games, closed out a relatively low-stress night.
Before the match, when Guerrero respectfully sang Ohtani’s praises, he told the story of how he requested a picture with him using sign language during last year’s All-Star Game. He said there was a collapsed fingerprint on a wall in his house.
Better than Thursday’s souvenir was another Homer and his team another win.