With a full count, George Springer extended his arms. He was behind on the pitch but had to defend Matt Harvey’s slider snapping away from the bottom corner of the zone.
Springer bent his front knee, snapped his hips, and fought off the pitch. It was a defensive swing, but as the ball flew into the outfield, Baltimore centerfielder Cedric Mullins broke into a sprint. Mullins would’ve run down the fly ball had the outfield wall not interrupted his chase, but instead, Springer raised his hand as he rounded first base to celebrate the third home run of his season.
The solo shot gave the Blue Jays the early lead. It instilled confidence that questions of lineup construction were frivolous and Toronto’s season turnaround would carry into another day. The Blue Jays even expanded their lead to four before Baltimore harshly reminded them that Springer’s absence was never the problem.
In the eighth inning, Springer picked the ball off the brown warning-track dirt and hurled it in to Bo Bichette. Toronto’s shortstop turned and fired home, but the throw was too late as Baltimore’s fourth run of the inning scored to tie the game. In a few moments, Toronto’s lead was once again erased as the team’s biggest weakness reared.
"Today," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "The Bullpen didn't do their job."
The return of Springer, and the recent run of good play, didn’t eliminate the shaky pen. Toronto’s bullpen, like many in baseball, remains exceptionally volatile, and the Blue Jays only two relievers perfect in save situations are both on the 60-Day IL.
Heading into Friday, Toronto’s bullpen had delivered 11 straight innings of shutout baseball. But while other teams have select late-inning arms who can overcome the usual reliever variance and consistently end opposing threats, only Jordan Romano has earned that trust for Toronto.
"You cannot come in from the bullpen and walk people," Montoyo said, "That was it. Five walks in the last few innings is just too many."
If anything, Springer’s return has only increased the urgency of the bullpen situation. Toronto rosters two guaranteed 2021 All Stars, an MVP favorite, a starting rotation that has been one of the best in the American League in June, and a team defense that has nudged above league average. When all but one facet of the Blue Jays performs at a playoff level, changes must be made.
In the top of the ninth, Jordan Romano stared back at Cedric Mullins dancing off second base before squatting to the rubber, stretching tall, and firing in to Reese McGuire. His 20th pitch of the outing started at the outside corner of the zone, drawing a swing, but collapsed away for a timely whiff. Romano removed his glove and shouted to himself as he marched off the field.
"[Romano] has been huge. He's been huge," Montoyo said. "He does the same thing every day and he's always ready to pitch."
Toronto’s lone elite reliever put out fires and showed Toronto what they need more of. Friday’s loss was the latest reminder of something George Springer can’t help, and a few solid outings won’t change. The Blue Jays bullpen needs reliability, and the rest of the team deserves it.