TORONTO — Bo Bichette doesn't necessarily see himself as a home run hitter. But in Wednesday's bottom of the eighth that's exactly what he was trying to do.
The Toronto Blue Jays shortstop had already hit a solo homer in the third, but with the game against the New York Yankees tied 5-5, the pressure mounting with every pitch, and an entire season on the line, Bichette faced perhaps the most intense moment of his young MLB career.
Instead of giving into the overwhelming pressure, the 23-year-old embraced it.
"Yeah, I was trying to hit a home run there, actually," Bichette said after the game. "I was just locked in on a sinker, I got it and I was trying to do that to it. So, it just worked out."
Bichette's laser to right-centre field off Yankees reliever Clay Holmes gave the Blue Jays a 6-5 win and the jolt of momentum they needed to stay in the mix for an American League Wild Card spot — especially after a heartbreaking loss to New York on Tuesday.
That's not an easy spot to be at any given time in the season. Right now, with the intensity increasing with every pitch and a paper-thin margin for error, Bichette's performance was a testament to the resolve and confidence that resides in the Blue Jays dugout.
"This is what we dream of doing," said Bichette. "I wouldn’t be playing baseball if it wasn’t for moments like this. This is why I work hard, why I do what I do. I think that can be said for a lot of us in here. So, just embracing it. This is an unbelievable opportunity we have."
He pumped his fists and celebrated loudly, stepping out of the dugout afterward and giving the roaring Rogers Centre crowd a tip of the cap.
"These are the biggest games of my life so far," said Bichette. "Hopefully, obviously a lot more to come, but yeah, I would say it's up there."
“Every game matters, so you put a swing on the ball that gives us the run, then of course, show some emotion," said Marcus Semien of Bichette's reaction. "He’s swinging the bat so well right now. ... His average is creeping up there, his power is there, his doubles and his stolen bases and his defence. He’s been huge for us."
Bichette's late-game heroics were one piece of an overall unforgettable night at Rogers Centre.
It started on the mound, where Blue Jays starter José Berríos carried a perfect game into the fifth inning, opening the contest with a three-up, three-down, three-strikeout first inning and retiring the first 14 Yankees he faced. Berríos worked his sinker and curveball to strike out seven batters and induce a handful of groundouts, mixing in a four-seam fastball that kept the Yankees guessing all the way until he was replaced by Tim Mayza to start the seventh.
"I'm just trying to have fun, first of all," Berríos said after his outing. "Believe in our plan, just go out there and just be myself."
In the bottom half of the first, Semien hit his 44th home run of the season, a two-run shot that gave the Blue Jays the lead and etched his name in MLB history. He now holds the record for most home runs by a second baseman in a single MLB season, a mark that had stood since 1973.
"I work hard on my craft every day," said Semien of the emotion he felt with the accomplishment. "I love what I do. I love the process."
Wednesday's game also saw Bichette and Semien both reach the 100-RBI mark on the season, joining Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernández to give the Jays four 100-plus run producers in a single season for the first time ever.
George Springer cashed in another run in the third and the Blue Jays saw themselves in the driver's seat with an early 4-0 lead against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. Berríos got into some trouble with two out in the fifth, allowing two runs to score before finally retiring the side. Guerrero Jr. promptly drove in an insurance run with a double — breaking an 0-for-20 slump in the process — and things looked like they were going to be simple for once.
But it took just one half of an inning for things to unravel.
In an uncharacteristic outing, Mayza allowed a pair of runs on two hits over 0.2 frames in relief, including a hanging slider to .186-hitter Kyle Higashioka, who cranked a two-run single to tie it up for New York. Adam Cimber quickly got the final out after that, but by then Berríos had already been stripped of adding to his win column after another phenomenal start.
"We’re playing a hot team, so I wasn’t surprised when they tied the game," said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. "They’re on fire."
But it's not easy to intimidate this Blue Jays team — not even with over 29,000 fans in the middle of the closest playoff chase in recent memory.
“It’s almost tougher to play as a home opponent sometimes, because the crowd, the oohs and aahs during the ups and downs of the game, you just feel them more at home," said Semien. "But it’s also extremely exciting when you do something well and the fans are going crazy. Both teams have a lot to play for right now and it seems like every single pitch counts and that’s how it felt tonight.”
The Blue Jays remain one game back of a Wild Card spot in the American League after the Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. New York, on the other hand, is still in control of its own fate as it holds onto the first Wild Card spot.
Leading or trailing, nothing will be given from now until the end.
"That’s why we love this sport, this game," said Berríos. "I always believe in our team, our group. We believe that we can do all those good things out there."
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