The Blue Jays fans turned in the lower bowl, pivoting away from the action and toward the Toronto dugout.
Alejandro Kirk was up to bat, but the ovation wasn’t for him. The 20,000 salutes were for Bo Bichette, calling the shortstop back onto the field to acknowledge his latest heroics. It wasn’t a night of many cheers for the Blue Jays fans, but that one roar was all they needed.
"Really good players do really cool things," manager John Schneider said. "Like that tonight."
Bichette and the Blue Jays came home hot. Before Monday’s contest, the shortstop won American League Player of the Week with five homers in his last six games and Toronto rocked an 8-2 road trip. Through seven innings in the home return, it seemed like the momentum was petering out. But then Bichette and the Jays found a way to stay hot.
"The time of the year helps," Bichette said. "A lot of big games and we need all of them. So yeah, that's my focus, to win games."
The first seven frames of Monday’s win were a reminder of just how fickle momentum can be. After a road trip of shutdown pitching and an offensive showcase, the bats went quiet and the pitching was bested by Tampa Bay’s Cooper Criswell, with one career MLB inning to his name. Men were left in scoring position, errors cashed costly runs, and the Jays were four outs from a loss.
The Blue Jays have had chances to pull ahead of the playoff pack before. An eight-game win streak in early June was negated by a 1-9 skid to start July. An 8-2 stretch out of the All-Star Break was immediately followed by a 3-9 slump. And most recently, the Jays came back from a 6-1 road trip in New York and Boston and dropped three straight stinkers to the Angels.
But, coming off the current 8-2 road surge, this Jays run is different, Schneider said before the game. The starting pitching has been strong and reliable, providing the bullpen with a reasonable workload, and a persistent lineup approach paid dividends, scoring at least four runs in 12 of the last 13 games entering Monday. This time, the Jays hope, the hot streak is sustainable.
"I think this team is in a different spot right now," Schneider said. “They're playing a different brand of baseball.”
For the first seven frames on Monday, that difference wasn’t there and the Jays looked awfully familiar to the momentum-killing slumps from earlier this year. And then the difference appeared. It stepped into the batter’s box in the eighth inning, fouled and took pitches into a full count, and then crushed a slider over the left-field wall. The difference was Bichette.
Three innings prior, the Toronto shortstop fell back as a ball screamed by his brow and struck his wrist. After dodging the bullet—and having his "life flash before his eyes"—he smashed his bat to the ground and marched to first base. His game-winning homer an inning later wasn't revenge, Bichette said after the game, but it certainly was sweet.
"Just trying to get a win for the team," he said.