Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah proved one thing in Toronto’s 4-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners in Game 1 of the Wild Card on Friday: he never stops battling.
Before taking the mound for the biggest start of his young Major League career, Alek Manoah tried to reassure Toronto Blue Jays fans that he wasn’t feeling any pressure. “Pressure is what you put in your tires,” he said. He had a rousing crowd of 47,000 cheering him on Friday afternoon at the Rogers Centre for Game 1 of the American League Wild Card series. But it wouldn’t take long before the Seattle Mariners deflated all their hopes.
Manoah got two quick strikes on leadoff hitter Julio Rodriguez before a fastball came too far inside and struck the Mariners’ 21-year-old burgeoning superstar on the padding of his batting glove. He had Cal Raleigh down 1-2 before spiking a changeup in the dirt, overthrowing a fastball too high, then leaving a sinker in the middle of the plate that Raleigh took into the bullpen in right field for a two-run home run.
The Blue Jays were trailing 3-0 before the fans who battled the late-afternoon traffic in Toronto were even settled in their seats. The crowd that erupted when Manoah was introduced during pre-game ceremonies and who cheered every strike at the start of the game grew silent.
Manoah had given up three runs before getting two outs after allowing just four earned runs in 41 innings across six September starts. He hadn’t allowed more than two runs since Aug. 16; it was the first time he had allowed three runs in an inning since July 4. He was coming off the best calendar month any Blue Jays pitcher had ever enjoyed.
But he wasn’t rattled by his shocking start. Manoah showed the poise of a veteran as he settled into his postseason debut, giving up only two hits over his next 5.1 innings. He retired nine in a row before hitting Rodriguez a second time as the Mariners tacked on another run on a fielder’s choice in the fifth; those two pitches to Rodriguez, both coming with the bases empty and two strikes, as well as the fastball to Raleigh, are the ones Manoah will look back on as pitches that got away from him.
“Just had to tell myself execute pitches. It was a pretty lengthy at-bat with Cal, ended up not executing a front-hip sinker. Just continued to tell myself, just continue to execute,” he said following Toronto’s 4-0 loss. “They beat me on my mistakes and I felt like I was able to start executing after that.”
Whether it was the jitters that come with stepping on the mound for the first time in the postseason or the adrenaline from the crowd, Manoah came out with energy. Too much energy. He averaged 93.3 mph on his sinker this season but topped 95 mph five times in the first inning. He threw 16 pitches at least 94.5 mph in the game; 13 of them came in the first inning. His four hardest-thrown four-seamers were all in the first inning.
Even without his best stuff, Manoah kept competing
If the Blue Jays take anything away from Manoah’s start, it’s that he isn’t fazed by a little adversity. He had to be perfect to keep up with Seattle’s flame-throwing right-hander Luis Castillo, who tossed 7.1 shutout innings while hitting triple digits with his fastball. Manoah had every excuse to get frustrated after his first inning, to just chalk it up to a bad day. But he never stopped battling.
“Settled in great after the first inning. I don’t know if he was a little bit fired up. Had some velo and just a couple bad pitches,” manager John Schneider said. “I think he did a really good job. The other run was kind of a weak ground ball. He did what he’s been doing all year.”
The Blue Jays now face the unenviable task of winning the next two in a row or having their season come to a premature end. Kevin Gausman will start Game 2 on Saturday against Robbie Ray, who makes his return to Toronto after his Cy Young-winning season a year ago.
Manoah will be a spectator for the rest of the Wild Card series, but he showed the Blue Jays just what they need to do: keep battling even when things aren’t going your way.
“Went out there and grinded as much as I can. Today it wasn’t good enough but we got Gaus going tomorrow then (Ross Stripling) after that,” Manoah said. “All hands on deck for Game 3 so hopefully it’s not the last time.”
If Manoah gets one more start this postseason, it will mean the Blue Jays came back to knock off the Mariners. If he doesn’t, then it will mark a disappointing end to what was a promising season, but that one that showed Manoah has all the qualities of a staff ace.