Bo Bichette got mad, and then he got even. In the sixth inning of the opener of a fascinating five-game series between the Jays and Rays in Toronto, the standout shortstop experienced a terrifying ambush from a Javy Guerra pitch in the upper 90s. Bichette thankfully seemed OK as he took first base on the HBP, but he was clearly infuriated.
And rightfully so! Bichette has been on an incredible hot streak as the Blue Jays have picked up steam. Coming into this match-up on Monday, as Toronto had won 10 of its last 13, the 24-year-old was hitting a blistering .436 with a .927 slugging percentage helped along by six home runs. This was not a guy who wanted the bat taken out of his hands, especially with a 2-1 deficit and a runner in scoring position. And Bichette obviously wouldn't react well to the even greater threat of an IL trip halting all his momentum.
The Jays couldn't convert the opportunity in that inning, hit Francisco Mejía seemingly as payback at the start of the seventh, and then kept it a one-run game until Bichette came up again in the eighth, with Jason Adam on the mound. The journeyman pitcher, though he may still be best known for choosing his version of Jesus over the gays when Tampa held a Pride Night earlier this year, has been one of the Rays' most effective weapons out of the pen so far this season, with an ERA of 1.54 and a K/9 close to 11. But after working a 1-2 count full with a runner on second and two outs, Bichette got his pitch—a slider that hung just long enough in the lower part of the zone for the kid to turn on and crush way out beyond the left-center wall. The Toronto fans went nuts, and after Jordan Romano mowed 'em down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, the Jays passed the Rays to move into second place in the AL East, and into a tie with the Mariners for the top wild card slot.
As cool as Bichette's blast and eventual curtain call was, the most striking image from this dinger was Randy Arozarena's reaction after failing in an idealistic attempt to bring the ball back. That stare! That disappointment! This is what the Jays, and Bichette in particular, have been doing to their opponents in this final stretch.
If I wanted to be cynical, I could say that this homer doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of the season. With the Orioles fading, and the AL Central not mounting any kind of challenge in the wild card, it already seems clear which teams from the East will be playing in the postseason: the Yankees, Rays, and Jays. Though these two teams still have a bunch of games left against each other, it's likely that it'll all just be for positioning, with neither side able to completely spoil the other's dreams.
But the emotion in Toronto on Monday begs to differ. That home run, and the subsequent contrast in moods of both sides, was as emphatic a demonstration of superiority as you'll ever see in regular-season baseball, and for now it's the Jays who own both the tangible and psychological edge on their rivals. The Rays are in the playoffs either way, but that feels like cold consolation when Bo Bichette wrecks your shit this dramatically.