The Toronto Blue Jays have once again been left wondering what could have been, this time on the heels of a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to the Rays in walkoff fashion. This game truly did feel winnable all the way up until the end, but some questionable bullpen management by John Schneider once again resulted in the Jays' downfall.
Entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the Blue Jays had a 6-5 lead and were more than happy to turn the ball over to All-Star closer Jordan Romano. Surprisingly, that move that felt like such a "sure thing" is actually why the Jays fell apart. Yandy Díaz promptly led off the inning with a double down the right field line before being lifted for pinch runner Raimel Tapia. Harold Ramírez followed that up with a single before rookie infielder Curtis Mead gave Tampa their third consecutive hit, this time driving home a run.
Isaac Paredes went down on strikes before young rookie Junior Caminero grounded into a double play that was eventually overturned, resulting in just one out instead of two. Throughout all of this, Romano had been conistently looking down at his right hand, presumably thanks to a cracked fingernail he sustained in last night's game. The Sportsnet broadcast showed that he had been nursing this during his warmups too, but still he remained in the game. It was obvious that Romano, who had just pitched last night and doesn't always do well pitching in multiple games or for multiple innings in a single outing, was not feeling like himself.
Yet, Schneider left him in. With outfielder Josh Lowe, who happens to hit left-handed and struggles mightily against southpaw pitching, the best move was to lift Romano in favor of Tim Mayza. Mayza was warming up, but Schneider never made the move. Instead? Lowe promptly hit the first pitch he saw down the left field line for a walkoff single. In frustrating fashion, Schneider seems to have singlehandedly gave a Blue Jays win away once again. This is beginning to turn into a pattern.
In these late-September games, every single win is a "must win" for the Blue Jays. Now is not the time to burn out your top relievers in such a tight, late-game scenario. With Erik Swanson and Mayza available, one of them should have been brought in to relieve Romano once it became apparent that he was not going to get it done.
A common theme throughout the 2023 campaign has been Schneider's confusing in-game actions. From leaving Alejandro Kirk out there to run the bases in a late-game scenario to very questionable bullpen management, you name it. This latest mistake lost the Jays a win at a time where they are just barely holding on to the second AL Wild Card spot.
Aside from Romano's ninth inning implosion, the Blue Jays played some solid baseball today. While the offense was quiet at first, the bats very much came to life, beginning in the sixth inning in which they scored four runs. A complete meltdown by the Rays' top bullpen arms allowed the Jays to come all the way back and to eventually take a 6-5 lead. Hyun Jin Ryu looked so-so, allowing five runs on seven hits, including three home runs, but Trevor Richards, Chad Green, Génesis Cabrera and Yimi García all combined to put together a great bullpen performance before Romano blew it in the ninth.
Blue Jays fans have every right to be frustrated after this one. Jordan Romano was clearly not himself and could easily be seen checking out a cracked fingernail he was nursing. It was up to John Schneider to remove him from the game at the first sign of trouble, but he did not, and the Jays paid the price for it.