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Exceptional Berrios carries Blue Jays to win but offence remains quiet – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — It wasn’t all that long ago that the Blue Jays were putting together nine-run innings. Just a few weeks back, on Aug. 6, they scored nine in the fifth inning against the visiting Boston Red Sox — and while no one would have described that outburst as usual, it hardly seemed out of character for a team with so much offensive ability.

Now, those days seem distant. Gone is the high-flying offence that would score in bunches. Instead, the offence has all but disappeared thanks to injuries, underperformance and some truly awful numbers with runners in scoring position. These days, they’re more likely to score six over the course of an entire series as they did against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park this weekend.

It hasn’t been good. At the same time, the Blue Jays have pitched so well that they were still able to emerge with their first series win since they beat up on those Red Sox earlier in the month. Jose Berrios pitched seven dominant innings Sunday, rebounding from some recent struggles to deliver a 2-1 win over Detroit and nudge the Blue Jays’ fading playoff hopes ahead.

“We’re winning because of pitching and defence and that’s great,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Nail biters every day. It’s good that we’re winning when we’re not hitting because you know we’re better than what we’re doing right now at the plate. That’s coming. I know I keep saying that and it hasn’t come, but it will come and when it comes it’s going to be a lot of fun for this team.”

On a hot and humid day in Detroit, Berrios was exceptional. He overcame a 26-minute rain delay on his way to 11 strikeouts while allowing just one unearned run on six hits. This is exactly the kind of outing the Blue Jays had in mind when they acquired him ahead of the July 30 deadline, and it was a welcome contrast to the 12 earned runs the 27-year-old had allowed over his previous three starts and 12.1 innings.

Afterwards, Berrios said a mechanical adjustment helped him rebound. Instead of bringing his arms all the way over his head while winding up, he simply raised them from his belt to his chest before delivering.

“Because coming upstairs and then going forward I sometimes don’t feel like myself and sometimes I miss my release point,” Berrios explained. “Being simple, from my belt and coming a little bit up I feel more myself and tried to stay in line to home plate.”

“He was really good. He was on the whole time,” Montoyo added. “It’s not that easy to make an adjustment like that. You’ve got to give all the credit to the pitcher for making the adjustment and of course the pitching coach, Pete Walker, for doing it.”

Yet even with the win, the Blue Jays remain 6.0 games out of the second wild card spot with a 68-61 record. Their playoff odds — 5.3 per cent entering play Sunday, according to FanGraphs — will go up, but not by enough to scare the teams ahead of them all that much.

Offensively, the Blue Jays continued to underperform, squandering a bases-loaded, none-out opportunity in the seventh to create another stressful finish for Walker and Montoyo. Thankfully, Adam Cimber pitched well and Tim Mayza recorded his first career save on a day Jordan Romano was unavailable.

All the offence the Blue Jays got came from two solo home runs: a Bo Bichette opposite-field shot in the first inning followed by Kevin Smith’s first career home run three innings later. Smith, who was robbed of a near-home run, had 19 home runs in the minor leagues before earning his first ever call-up to the majors earlier this month.

While he was hitting those home runs at triple-A, he and his teammates would sometimes wonder whether the Blue Jays’ celebratory home run jacket would be their size. As it turns out, the fit wasn’t bad.

“Once I put it on I realized it was a little bit too big for me,” Smith joked afterwards. “Everyone was telling me I had to wear it until the inning was over.”

Before the game the Blue Jays activated Jarrod Dyson, who debuted as a pinch-runner before taking over defensively in centre field — a position he’s expected to play with some frequency as George Springer will likely be limited to designated hitter duty when he first returns from the injured list. Meanwhile, Santiago Espinal was placed on the injured list with a right hip flexor strain, meaning Smith and Breyvic Valera are the third base options for the time being.

From here, the Blue Jays head back home to Toronto where they’ll host the lowly Orioles and then the struggling Athletics. But regardless of who they’re facing, the Blue Jays have a lot of ground to make up, and overcoming this deficit won’t be possible unless their slumping offence can finally give an impressive pitching staff some support.

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Blue Jays beat Twins; stay two back in AL wild-card race – TSN

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Teoscar Hernández, Marcus Semien and George Springer homered, and the Toronto Blue Jays held their position in the playoff chase by beating the Minnesota Twins 6-1 Saturday night.

Robbie Ray (13-6) scattered three hits in six innings as the Blue Jays ended a three-game slide.

Toronto stayed two games behind Boston and New York in the AL wild-card race with seven games remaining.

Semien hit his 43rd home run in the sixth for a 3-1 lead. That tied him with Dave Johnson of Atlanta in 1973 for the most home runs in a season by a second baseman.

Springer snapped an 0-for-16 skid with a two-run shot in the seventh. It was his 18th of the season and first since Sept. 11.

Ray, who leads the AL with a 2.68 ERA and tops the majors with 244 strikeouts, gave up one run and fanned six.

Minnesota scored on a sacrifice fly in the first and had runners on in four of the next five innings. Ray escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth, ending his outing by getting Miguel Sanó to foul out and Nick Gordon to line out. The Twins were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

Hernández homered and Santiago Espinal scored on a double by Randal Grichuk, coupled with an error by right fielder Brent Rooker, for a 2-1 lead in the second.

Out since Sept. 14 with a left abdominal strain, Minnesota starter John Gant (5-10) came off the 10-day injured list and allowed two runs — one earned — in three innings.

MINNESOTA’S MORNEAU

Former 1B Justin Morneau was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame.

The native of New Westminster, British Columbia, hit .278 in 11 years with the club. Morneau ranks second on the Twins all-time list in games played at first base (1,124), third in home runs (221), sixth in RBI (860), and eighth in hits (1,318) and walks (501). The American League MVP in 2006 also was a four-time All-Star. He finished his 14-year career with stints in Pittsburgh, Colorado and with the White Sox, and was inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020. He remains with the Twins as a special assistant to baseball operations and part-time analyst on the team’s television broadcasts.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Joakim Soria was placed on the COVID-related injured list and LHP Kirby Snead was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo. … Manager Charlie Montoyo said OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. might not return to the lineup until Tuesday. Gurriel’s hand was stepped on by a teammate during an outfield play Thursday and he received stitches in his middle finger.

Twins: To make room for Gant, RHP Joe Ryan was placed on the family medical emergency/bereavement list.

UP NEXT

Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (7-2, 3.36) and Twins RHP Griffin Jax (3-4, 6.75) are Sunday afternoon’s scheduled starters. Manoah has allowed just two earned runs and six hits over 14 innings across his past two starts.

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Canadiens @ Maple Leafs recap: Most certainly a pre-season game – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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After what felt like an eternity, the Montreal Canadiens were back on the ice for a game. The team they faced was the club they embarrassed in the first round of the 2021 NHL playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sure, Toronto blew a 3-1 series lead in the post-season, but it’s a new (pre-)season now and the Canadiens are a much different club.

Of course, this is also the first game of the pre-season, so it’s not like we were seeing the final product for Montreal or Toronto. However, this game was a chance to see the return of the Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caufield line. It also saw Alexander Romanov playing alongside Jeff Petry, in addition to the debuts of Mathieu Perreault and Cedric Paquette for the Habs after signing in the off-season.

Toronto came out with the early chances, including William Nylander dangling around Gianni Fairbrother, but Cayden Primeau stood tall to deny the chance in tight before the Canadiens drew the game’s first power play.

The man advantage was far from finely tuned, but the top line created a few looks as Toffoli and Caufield worked into the inner slot against the Leafs’ penalty kill. A few errant passes kept the Habs from establishing any sort of real zone time. Toronto continued to amp up the pressure at even strength, but some heady defensive work from Brandon Baddock helped to defuse the Toronto attack.

A Rich Clune hit from behind on Lukas Vejdemo sent Montreal to another power play and Vejdemo to the Habs’ locker room. Dominique Ducharme opted to just roll his lines as the man advantage took effect, but there were no goals to find.

As the play once again returned to five-on-five, Toronto’s top line got a favourable matchup against Montreal’s third pair and took full advantage. Arber Xhekaj drifted off his assignment behind Xavier Ouellet, leaving a swath of open ice for Nylander to feed a pass to a pinching Jake Muzzin. The veteran defender had all day to uncork a laser shot past Cayden Primeau and give the Leafs the lead.

Muzzin nearly added another goal late in the period as he drew out Primeau from his net, but overhandled the puck before firing a weak wrist shot right into Primeau’s pads.

Montreal’s best look came off a big rebound from Michael Hutchinson that Mathieu Perreault swatted back on net. The period ended with Toronto still leading, and the game clearly being the first in a long time for both sides.

The second period start was far from what the Canadiens wanted as Paquette was called for a hook in the offensive zone. On the ensuing power play, it took the Leafs 10 seconds to score on a John Tavares tip in front of the net to double the Leafs’ lead.

Kurtis Gabriel brought the temperature of the game to a mild simmer as he drilled Brandon Baddock with his head down in the offensive zone. Baddock didn’t take kindly to the hit, springing up and tossing Gabriel to the ice along with his gloves, and for his trouble was given an extra stay in the penalty box.

The Habs were able to fend off the power play, but it wasn’t long before a J.-C. Beaudin slash sent them right back to the penalty kill. Primeau did well to fend off a strong Toronto attack, but by the time the kill was over the shot advantage had grown to 19-5 for Toronto.

Montreal made a switch in net at the game’s midpoint, giving Michael McNiven some well-earned game time. McNiven was tested immediately as Toronto nearly bounced a shot off the end boards and then the back of McNiven’s pads, but the netminder was able to flop back and stop the puck.

Not long after that, Michael Bunting broke in alone, but McNiven tracked him well and denied the forward with a nice pad stop. The Habs somehow managed to find themselves in a three-on-zero situation shortly thereafter. Cole Caufield fired his shot, but wide of the net.

With that miss the Canadiens went to the second intermission trailing by three and looking to find a few positives in the final 20 minutes.

The start to the third was much better than the previous 40 minutes. Toffoli fed a perfect cross-zone feed to Caufield, but new goalie Ian Scott was able to get across and blocker the puck out of play.

Montreal as a whole was much stronger as it peppered Scott with chances, but the young goalie stood tall on all of them. Then, with was later revealed to be a groin injury, Scott left the game, with Hutchinson once again popping up in the net.

At the other end, McNiven put together a highlight reel of great saves. Josh Ho-Sang was able to sneak behind the defence on a breakaway, but McNiven met his challenge with a shoulder save to keep Toronto’s lead at three.

Then it was Jake Muzzin finding space in front of the net again, but McNiven got his blocker on that for another outstanding stop on the Leafs’ veteran blue-liner. Unfortunately for McNiven, he also ended up with the biggest blooper of the night when he came out to play the puck, but set it up on a tee for Gabriel. The Leafs’ tough guy had no issue launching it into the open cage to put the game well out of reach late in the third period.

Montreal was able to get themselves on the board late in the game thanks to Toffoli. Romanov fired a pass from his own zone that Suzuki bumped along to Toffoli. The Habs’ leading goal-scorer from last year buried it past Michael Hutchinson to break the shutout bid.

That was the only goal the Canadiens ended up scoring, as Toronto saw the game out in Montreal’s zone. The Leafs also “won” the post-game shootout for the fans as Ilya Mikheyev bested McNiven in the fourth round, while Mathieu Perreault could not solve Hutchinson at the other end.

The Habs have their annual Red vs. White scrimmage today at 3:00 PM EDT, and their next actual preseason game is a rematch against Toronto on Monday evening.

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Lewis Hamilton wins 100th GP, becoming first F1 driver to hit century mark – Sportsnet.ca

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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton became the first Formula One driver to win 100 races with victory in the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday to retake the championship lead from Max Verstappen.

Hamilton dropped to seventh place when he was boxed in at the first corner but fought back and passed Lando Norris for the win when the McLaren driver stayed out on slick tires in late rain and slid off the track.

“It’s taken a long time to get to 100 and at times, I wasn’t sure it would come,” Hamilton said. It was Hamilton’s fifth win of the season and his first since the British Grand Prix in July.

Hamilton turned Verstappen’s five-point championship lead into a two-point lead of his own as the Dutch driver finished second after a dramatic drive from last on the grid. Carlos Sainz was third for Ferrari.

Verstappen started last after a penalty for an engine change in his Red Bull but sliced through the field and had Hamilton in sight by the halfway stage. Hamilton’s Mercedes worked better on the hard tires in the second half of the race and Verstappen’s charge seemed to have stalled when he was overtaken by the Alpine of Fernando Alonso and stuck in seventh.

But then the rain came and Verstappen switched to intermediate tires early, allowing him to claim an unexpected podium finish and limit the damage to his hopes of a first title.

“We didn’t lose so many points today, so that’s really, really good,” Verstappen told his team over the radio.

Norris trailed in seventh after his gamble to stay on dry tires against the advice of his team failed. If not for the rain, Hamilton said, “it would have been tough to get past Lando. He had great pace.” Norris had been aiming to give McLaren back-to-back wins after Daniel Ricciardo took victory at the last race in Italy when Hamilton and Verstappen collided.

Hamilton has now won the Russian Grand Prix on five of eight occasions, and his victory Sunday continues a clean sweep of victories in Russia for Mercedes cars.

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