Whit Merrifield drives in winner in 13th for Blue Jays

TORONTO — A win is a win. The Blue Jays have grabbed that idea with both hands, and they’re ready to stretch it until it snaps. 

Saturday’s walk-off win over the Red Sox, 4-3 in 13 innings, lacked all beauty, but if you look at the AL Wild Card standings, there’s no column for that. Whit Merrifield beating out an infield chopper to scrape across the winning run was such a fitting way for this game to end, but the Blue Jays are staring at a 13-game season now. There’s no time to debrief, only crash forward.

The Blue Jays have asked their pitching staff to walk on water all season, and it has pulled it off, throwing the offense over its weary shoulders in duffel bags. Saturday was Chris Bassitt’s turn, and the veteran delivered. But as that same old script goes, the offense wasn’t there to back him up. After the win, a confident Bassitt still stood firmly behind it.

“I know there’s been a lot of talk about hitting. We’re the best pitching staff in the big leagues,” Bassitt said, “and we play the best defense in the big leagues. I think the hitting side of it all and the story of our hitters not being great is just skewed.”

If this were April, the Blue Jays might spend time picking apart the dozen different blunders that allowed this game to trudge forth for far longer than it needed to. There’s no time for that now, and the win keeps the Blue Jays moving forward with some sense of momentum in a crowded, complicated AL Wild Card picture:

“This is huge. You win the series out of the chute with the first two, and that would have been a tough game to lose either way,” manager John Schneider said. “It would be tough to come back tomorrow. With where we are, guys would be up for it, but you need to get breaks. You need those breaks sometimes, especially in games like that, and today we got them.”

With so much riding on the coming two weeks, the “what if” game comes naturally.

Back in 2021, the Blue Jays had baseball’s best offense and one of the best in their franchise’s history. They led baseball by a comfortable margin with a .796 team OPS and hit a league-best 262 home runs, a full 21 more than the second-place team. That lineup missed the playoffs, falling short on the final day of the season, and Toronto can’t afford to let history repeat itself.

This is a playoff rotation, period, and if it doesn’t get there, we’ll spend the next decade using it as a reference point. “If only this 2029 offense had that amazing 2023 rotation …”

Toronto’s offense has underachieved, without question. This group ranks 16th in the Majors in runs scored and hasn’t hit for nearly as much power as it’s capable of. But still, Bassitt has been one of the most outspoken supporters of his teammates this season for a reason.

“We have the guys in the room,” Bassitt said. “A lot of guys [elsewhere] have false confidence because they want to think they have guys who can get hot and carry teams, but they just don’t have the guys. We have four or five guys who can easily do that. As long as we keep pitching and keep playing defense the way we do, the hitting is going to come.”

Bassitt knows how it works in October, too. He has been to the postseason with the A’s and the Mets and believes so fully — you can feel it buzzing off him — that this team can do something special.

“If you don’t have pitching, you don’t have a chance. If you don’t play defense, you don’t have a chance. We have both,” Bassitt said. “Get the right hitters hot at the right time and that’s the run. It’s literally a three- or four-week stretch of which hitters can carry who.”

That’s long overdue for a lineup with this much talent. And if this day comes, the entire pitching staff will be relieved to see the offense grab a handle and help carry this thing.


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