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Gausman’s gem, Guerrero’s homer go wasted as Blue Jays fall to Phillies – Sportsnet.ca

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PHILADELPHIA — With a three-run lead and six outs to go, the Blue Jays were positioned well entering the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday night.

Tim Mayza had just struck out Bryce Harper with the bases loaded to escape a seventh-inning jam and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had responded with a no-doubt, three-run homer. With their best relievers rested and two innings to go, the Blue Jays were in a good spot.

But Yimi Garcia immediately allowed three runs and Matt Vierling would later walk off Adam Cimber with his fifth hit of the night as the Phillies beat the Blue Jays 4-3 in a 10-inning game that took four hours and eight minutes to complete. A strong start from Kevin Gausman went to waste and a wild series at Citizens Bank Park ended in disappointment for the Blue Jays.

“Just a tough night,” interim Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “You always feel good with a three-run lead and the back-end of our bullpen. It didn’t work out tonight.”

Granted, the Blue Jays’ bullpen has been better over the last couple of months, with closer Jordan Romano in particular offering remarkable consistency. But he has now blown two straight saves dating back to Sunday’s series finale against Baltimore. And while Cimber entered with a ghost runner already on second, he was unable to escape.

Anthony Bass, meanwhile, did not pitch at all, but Schneider said the right-hander was available. The Blue Jays simply preferred other relievers to Bass, who last pitched Friday against the Orioles. If nothing else, the timing of this bullpen slump is coming at an inopportune moment, given the importance of the games ahead.

“We rely on those guys a lot,” Gausman said. “It’s going to happen. It’s baseball. This time of year, you don’t want to think about it too much … flush it and move on.”

Earlier, Guerrero Jr. looked to have given the Blue Jays all the offence they’d need. With runners on the corners and none out in the top of the eighth inning of a scoreless game, Guerrero Jr. crushed a 99 m.p.h. pitch from Seranthony Dominguez 429 feet into the left field seats for his 30th homer of the season.

Those power numbers are perhaps easier to overlook than they should be. By hitting 48 homers last year, Guerrero Jr. showed he’s capable of more. This year, that potential hasn’t been fulfilled.

At the same time, he entered play Wednesday with a 134 OPS+, which means he’s 34 per cent better than league average at the plate when taking into account era and ballpark. Among the hitters with a lifetime OPS+ of 134: Mookie Betts, Prince Fielder and Fred McGriff. This performance doesn’t match what Guerrero Jr. accomplished last year, but it still puts him among the game’s top offensive players.

As Schneider said: “Big at-bat for Vladdy.”

Meanwhile, Gausman allowed just five singles while walking two and striking out eight against a tough Phillies lineup. His stuff was lively, with a fastball that topped out at 98.4 m.p.h. and a splitter that generated 11 swings and misses. Plus, he worked smoothly with Alejandro Kirk, who returned to his position behind the plate after left hip soreness led to an eight-day break from catching.

Thanks to a Rays loss, the Blue Jays stayed even with Tampa Bay, but the Yankees swept the Pirates, meaning the Blue Jays fall to 6.5 games back in the AL East. At this point every Yankees win pushes the division title further out of reach and increases the likelihood of a three-game wild-card series.

“Everybody’s checking the scoreboard and paying attention,” third baseman Matt Chapman said Wednesday afternoon. “For us, every single game is a must-win … That’s the mentality right now is win every day.”

Of course it doesn’t help when the Yankees pull off unlikely comebacks the way they did Tuesday, when Aaron Judge hit home run No. 60 and Giancarlo Stanton followed up with a walk-off grand slam.

“We’re paying attention,” Chapman said. “Watching what Aaron Judge is doing day-in and day-out is impressive. He’s a great player. He’s fun to watch. Unfortunately he’s driving that team that’s ahead of us right now … that’s how tough this division is.”

Meanwhile, two players experienced left-side issues Wednesday. Santiago Espinal exited the game with left-side discomfort, while Gausman stretched his left arm in an attempt to corral a second-inning feed from Guerrero Jr., only to overstretch his glove side. Afterwards, he said he felt fine physically despite the awkward play.

From here, the challenge only intensifies as the Blue Jays head to St. Petersburg, Fla., for four games against the Tampa Bay Rays, the team chasing the Blue Jays in the wild-card race. Since Tampa Bay holds an 8-7 advantage in the season series, the Blue Jays will need to win at least three of four against the Rays to secure the tiebreaker advantage should the teams finish the season with identical records.

And while there’s a case to be made that finishing third and locking in a first-round matchup against the AL Central winners, that’s not how Chapman views it. The Blue Jays are 43-32 at Rogers Centre this year, and there’s more comfort at home, too. Even if the Blue Jays are now overwhelmingly likely to reach the playoffs, they care about how they get there.

“Regardless of where we end up we want to host,” Chapman said. “We want to play in front of our home fans. We know how well we play at home and how fun it is to have our fans behind us. I’ve played on the road in the playoffs before and it’s tough. It’s always nice to have the home crowd, so we really want that.”

Ideally, the Blue Jays would make sure these four games at the Trop are their last.

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Frankie Lasagna misses Aaron Judge's 61st home run ball | CTV News – CTV News Toronto

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Blue Jays fan Frankie Lasagna grabbed a baseball glove from his garage before heading down to Rogers Centre for Wednesday’s game against the New York Yankees.

With Aaron Judge on the verge of baseball history, Lasagna wanted to be prepared just in case the Yankees slugger hit his 61st homer of the season.

“I would never ever bring a glove other than this situation,” Lasagna said. “I needed a bigger one.”

The 37-year-old Toronto restaurant owner came agonizingly close to catching the historic ball when Judge went deep in the seventh inning.

Lasagna stretched over the railing but the ball hit the wall just a few feet below and bounced into the Toronto bullpen. A Yankees security official later came by to collect it.

The blast tied Judge with Roger Maris, who set the American League’s single-season home run record in 1961.

Lasagna bought his ticket in the front row of the 100 level thinking it would improve his odds of catching the ball if Judge went deep.

“In the front row I felt like you’ve got the best chance,” he said. “Lo and behold, I was just a few feet away.”

Lasagna said the anticipation built during every Judge at-bat.

“It’s like you’re in the game, you’re fielding and getting ready for the pitch,” he said. “When he hit the ball, it was like ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ I think I hit my buddy in his neck (as I stretched out). I almost got it.”

Lasagna could only look down into the bullpen as the ball – which could have been worth big bucks to a collector – bounced a couple times before it was picked up.

“The disbelief comes over you and just the shock and the amazement,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I almost had it.”’

One fan seated near Lasagna, still clearly frustrated at just missing the ball, declined to be interviewed.

Lasagna, sporting a baby blue Vladimir Guerrero Jr., jersey, said he would have kept the ball if he had caught it.

“I would have held on to it for as long as I could (to) negotiate,” he said. “Maybe get Judge to try to come to the restaurant.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

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Jets veterans respond after Bowness openly challenges them in two key areas – Sportsnet.ca

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WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele didn’t attempt to stickhandle around the pointed question, nor did he get bent out of shape over a comment from head coach Rick Bowness sent in the general direction of him and his linemates, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor.

The Winnipeg Jets centre casually explained his position on the matter, confessed he is among the players who needs to pay attention to his shift length and later delivered a sound byte that should answer any lingering questions about his frame of mind going into what could be a defining season for both Scheifele and this core group.

“I’m definitely a guy that extends a little bit,” said Scheifele. “Being a higher-end player, being in the top-six, I think it comes with the territory. But it’s something that we all have to work on. The older guys, the veterans, have to lead in that sense. That’s something all of us have to take pride in.”

Sure, it’s still early in training camp and this group is very much in the getting-to-know-the-new-bench-boss stages, so it’s natural that some eyebrows were raised when Bowness openly challenged his veterans to lead the way and clean up two critical areas that caught his attention in Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators: shift length and turnovers.

Scheifele (65 seconds), Connor (65 seconds) and Ehlers (63 seconds) were the only three members of the Jets to average more than one minute per shift (though that included time on the power play which skewed the numbers slightly).

After gushing with praise about Bowness in multiple interviews since he was hired, plenty of folks on social media were wondering how Scheifele was going to respond to the first open show of criticism that was sent his way.

If you thought Scheifele was going to show frustration or threaten to take his puck and go home (figuratively speaking), you were sorely mistaken.

“Well, I don’t think he’s sending a message through you guys,” said Scheifele. “(Bowness) has been an awesome communicator. I think that’s something that we all really respect from him, is everything comes from him, everything comes from his mouth. He’s talking to us each and every day about everything he wants to see and wants to change and what he wants to focus on each and every day, and that’s a huge positive.

“He’s really up front and honest, tells you what’s on his mind. He wants you to tell him what’s on your mind, as well. That’s something I really appreciate and something that’s going to be very different, for sure. But something I think everyone likes. And like I said, it’s all a process. We’re all getting to know each other, each other’s tendencies and it’s been a good start.”

It’s natural to wonder if a mostly fresh set of eyes with the reconfigured coaching staff could be a benefit for Scheifele and company.

Folks from outside the organization like Bowness, associate coach Scott Arniel and assistant coach Brad Lauer have been watching Scheifele from afar for years and may have some different thoughts about things that might help take his game to another level.

Scheifele isn’t in the business of only wanting to be told what things he’s great at — he’s already got a great awareness of his strengths — he’s open to constructive criticism as well.

That’s an important part of trying to improve.

“I think that’s what coaching is. I believe that’s the definition. That’s what coaches are supposed to do,” said Scheifele. “They want to help you with your game, and that’s what’s really exciting for us players, is you have a new set of eyes giving you their thoughts on your game and what you can improve on and what they see and what you see.

“We all want to feel that they’re helping us and giving us the best chance to succeed. And it’s been a great start to training camp with that so far, and we’re all excited to keep that going.”

This was another example of genuine enthusiasm from Scheifele, who is in position to be a driving force this season.

Members of the media and fans alike have been programmed to believe that the modern player might not appreciate their faults discussed in a public forum, so criticism — even if constructive — isn’t frequently offered in the question-and-answer setting.

But in his first training camps with the 2.0 version of the Jets, Bowness has already shown that he’s going to operate in a way he feels comfortable.

In short, honesty is the best policy.

This isn’t about airing out players publicly or sending a message through the media.

Sure, it might work in an isolated situation, but that old-school approach is well past its best-before date as a way to try and provide a spark for a struggling player.

“I don’t do that. The players will always hear it from me first. They’re not going to read anything they haven’t heard, so there’s no surprises,” said Bowness. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. The players have heard it first. We talk about those things. If you’re watching the game, some of those things should be pretty evident to you. What am I supposed to do, pretend it’s not happening? I’m going to tell you what I see happening.

“The players will hear it first, but I’m not going to pretend it’s not going on. The most important thing is it’ll be addressed with the players first. If you’re watching the games you’ll come to your own conclusions. Some nights you’ll disagree with me. That’s fine, too.”

For Bowness, this is about establishing a new baseline — one that each and every player will be held to — and promoting good habits.

The coaching staff will be tasked with holding those players accountable, but the players will also be doing plenty of self-policing on that front as well.

“(Bowness) said it the first day. On bad teams, no one leads. Good teams, the coaches lead. Great teams, the players lead,” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt. “You have to have guys that drive the bus in the room and set the standard for each other. You telling me what the standard is might be different from what we talk about the standard is, versus what you guys talk about the standard is.

“So if you have everybody that believes in the same one, especially from the players’ side, then you’re going to have a lot of success.”

Sharpening up the shift length was a message that was clearly received.

“You don’t win by taking 50-plus-second shifts. You go back and look at the best playoff teams and you’re buzzin’ for 40, 42,” said Jets winger Mason Appleton. “If you get caught out there for a minute, odds are you weren’t working as hard as you could for the full minute, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the ice still. So I think that’s something that needs to continue to get better.

“Not pointing fingers. I think there’s times when I’m stuck on the ice too long, too. That’s a committee thing, and it’s just a mindset of going out there for 40 seconds and I’m going to work as hard as I can, and when the time’s right, I’m getting off the ice.”

It’s one thing to show support for a new coach before the puck has dropped on opening night of the regular season and another to do it over a longer length of time.

How this group responds to adversity when it arrives during the regular season will ultimately determine whether Bowness’ approach is successful.

What was easy to decipher on Wednesday afternoon is that Scheifele wants to be coached and to be pushed and that’s something that will bring a smile to the face of Bowness.

For a team that is going to require a full commitment and buy-in to implement the more aggressive style Bowness wants the Jets to play, having Scheifele on board is essential.

When members of the leadership group are fully invested, it’s nearly impossible for the rest of the team not to follow suit.

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Rasmus Sandin wise to end stalemate and rush to Maple Leafs camp – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — This was never about money only.

Opportunity and ice time were always intertwined in Rasmus Sandin’s prolonged contractual stalemate with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which mercifully ended Thursday morning with a two-year, $2.8-million bridge deal, signed eight days after training camp’s opening.

“This morning, Rasmus Sandin and (agent) Lewis Gross reached out to us and informed us that after watching our game last night and seeing more injuries accrued by our defence, that they wanted to get this locked in today so Rasmus could get over to Toronto and help his teammates,” GM Kyle Dubas said in a statement. “We appreciate Rasmus and his camp taking that step today to get this contract done and allow him the time to ready for the final preseason games.

“As stated throughout this process, Rasmus is a key member of the present and future of (our) team, and we are excited today that he is en route to Toronto to ready for Opening Night in Montreal.”

The subtext here: Sandin blinked first.

And that’s OK.

The defenceman accepted a bridge contract similar to one tabled months ago, for the same term and total dollars as friend and fellow RFA Timothy Liljegren. He won’t miss a paycheque.

The deal is fair market value for both sides. No one “won” the dispute, and if there is any loss it may be Sandin’s fitness needing to play catchup — but let’s see how he looks on the ice before ruling.

If Dubas made any concession in the deal, it’s that the final season of Sandin’s agreement carries a salary of $1.6 million, meaning he’ll receive a richer qualifying offer as an RFA upon the conclusion of the 2023-24 season.

Ultimately, flying Sandin from Sweden to Toronto — he’ll make the journey Friday — is in the best interest of all involved.

From the club’s perspective, NHL-calibre defencemen were getting scarce fast. Veteran Jake Muzzin (back) has yet to participate in a full team practice. Liljegren (hernia) is still a minimum of five weeks away from seeing action.

And next-men-up Jordie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) both suffered significant injuries in Wednesday’s pre-season action, further clearing a path for Sandin to seize not only a regular role but make a case for the top four.

Continuing to sit at home and ask for money the cap-strapped organization doesn’t have to give (without making a trade) would have hardly served the 22-year-old well.

With only 88 NHL games on his resume, the 2018 first-round pick needs to see action for his own sake.

“It goes without saying,” coach Sheldon Keefe said this week, that there are prime shifts just waiting for Sandin as soon as he signs.

Once Sandin is up to speed, it will relieve pressure on the Leafs to rush Muzzin or Liljegren back from recovery.

More important, a strong showing by the confident left shot could set him up for the payday and security he really desires by 2024.

The lone Maple Leafs defenceman signed beyond that summer is Morgan Rielly.

That means a top-four role — and top-four salary — is dangling like a carrot in the distance. The onus falls on Sandin to go out and snatch it.

With Sandin’s business tidied up, the Maple Leafs currently stand $2.9 million over the salary ceiling, per CapFriendly.com.

To become cap compliant — and sign PTO Zach Aston-Reese as hoped — Dubas must shed salary via LTIR and/or the waiver wire prior to Opening Night.

Provided Muzzin’s recovery from back pain goes smoothly, the Maple Leafs’ blue line should look something like this when their season opens on Oct. 12 at Bell Centre:

Morgan Rielly – T.J. Brodie

Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl

Rasmus Sandin – Mark Giordano

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