The Cleveland Indians are a .500 baseball team.
They’re second in their division, but nine games out of the Central lead and 6.5 back of a playoff spot. The 2021 Toronto Blue Jays aspire to be more.
Coming off a loss, with their ace on the mound, the Blue Jays played to their goal. They executed against a team below them. Still staring up at a playoff spot with 58 games remaining, Toronto must continue to execute if they want to achieve their ambitions — October.
The Blue Jays have the seventh easiest remaining schedule in baseball. They have inter-division series against the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees, but Toronto also match up against the Orioles, Twins, and Tigers. After slogging through one of the American League’s toughest slates in three different home ballparks, they finish the season with a run of winnable games. But to make the playoffs, they are games that must be won — like Tuesday’s.
“When it comes to the game," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "We did everything right today.”
For Toronto starter Hyun Jin Ryu, a missed postseason would be the first of his career. Seven seasons, seven playoffs.
With nine career postseason starts, the August evening left Ryu undaunted — even in his home debut. As Toronto’s starting lineup echoed through the stadium, Ryu methodically walked along a cut of outfield turf, with a posse of coaches in tow and Reese McGuire matching him stride for stride.
A Rogers Centre cameraman tracked him from to his right, and a sudden cheer erupted from the limited seating as the centerfield screen cut to the lefty. He didn’t break stride or adjust his facial expression in any way.
“He was vintage Ryu today,” Montoyo said. "You could see it from the beginning.”
In the second frame, Ryu looked skyward, searching for a ball in the sky-blue backdrop of the open Rogers Centre dome. There was a moment of panic in his eyes before he looked down, noticing the ball jammed into the webbing of his outstretched glove.
Ryu calmly dislodged the ball and tossed an out over to first base — one of his six straight retirements to begin the ballgame.
Toronto's ace finished Tuesday’s game with seven innings of seven-hit ball, striking out eight and allowing two runs. He was provided with ample run support (seven total tallies) and it started in the bottom of the first.
Five pitches into the game, George Springer stepped back in the box, twisting both shoulders over his head and dropping the bat on his helmet. Zach Plesac's pitch caught just enough of the strike zone's bottom corner, or so said home plate umpire Larry Vanover — Springers’ second borderline strike of the at-bat.
On the next delivery, Springer took the call out of Vanover’s hands, dropping down for a low fastball and delivering it into the left-field bleachers. The 150 million-dollar free agent finished Tuesday's contest with two hits and two RBI.
Not quite Ryu’s perfection, but in Springer’s seven big league seasons, he’s missed the postseason just twice.
The Blue Jays added José Berríos at the deadline to become a playoff team. They picked up Marcus Semien, Springer, and Ryu to play in October. The next 58 games will decide if that goal is fulfilled, but executing on nights like Tuesday — against teams like Cleveland — is a good start.
"We're trying to put everything together," Teoscar Hernández said after the game.