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Houston Astros pitcher Ronel Blanco, mid-pitch, against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 1, 2024.
Logan Riely/Getty Images|

Houston Astros pitcher Ronel Blanco, not successfully recording a base hit against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The visiting Blue Jays trailed the Houston Astros 10-0 on Monday night when Toronto's Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to that point the team's third baseman, stepped to the pitcher's mound for the bottom of the eighth. This would be 29-year-old Kiner-Falefa's mere fifth career appearance as a pitcher, but he has already written himself into hurling history: A little less than a year ago, in his pitching ("pitching") debut with the New York Yankees, he threw the slowest pitch ever recorded for that storied franchise, a 38-mile-per-hour eephus that peaked like 10 feet in the air and came down directly behind the hitter, Minnesota's José Miranda.

That the outcome of Monday night's game was all but officially settled by the time Kiner-Falefa took the mound didn't diminish the importance of his job; this perhaps is why the Blue Jays gave it to a player of historic significance. Toronto had already used three pitchers on the night; Kiner-Falefa's vital duty would be to stopper the drain while the team still had some fresh bullpen arms to send out for Tuesday's middle installment of this three-game April series. If he could usher the Jays—who'd allowed seven extra-base hits on the night, including a galling five home runs—through their last defensive half-inning of the night with some dignity, who knows? Could it be what would spark the Jays to World Series glory? That's perhaps not not not not un-effectively impossible.

To lead off the half-inning, Kiner-Falefa faced Houston's shortstop Jeremy Peña, who'd already homered, driven in three runs, and reached base twice on the night. Reader, I ask you: Would you pitch aggressively to a hitter this red hot? With your team's (and indeed city's) very self-respect on the line? The defensible answers here are No and I'm a big-time doofus. Isiah Kiner-Falefa is no doofus! He started Peña with a 64-mph, uh, something or other, up and away for ball one. Smartly. On 1-0, he went up and out of the zone again, this time dialing up the heat to 65 mph. Was he setting up a devastating breaking ball for a ground-ball out? Perhaps! The 2-0 cruised in low at a cool 62 mph and either broke downward below the strike zone or simply ran out of kinetic energy before it got to the plate. This was all savvy and good.

A 3-0 count is when a fool—an oaf, a contemptible clod!—would have grooved a fastball, counting on Peña to take any 3-0 pitch with a 10-run lead. Trusting, that is to say, the generosity of The Enemy. Kiner-Falefa, on a mission to restore his team's competitive spirit, had a duty to model a more fanatical, uncompromising approach, by throwing ball four. Not for a man of pride are your insulting charity strikes, vile Houston scum! Take a walk, jerk!

This brought Houston center fielder Jake Meyers to the plate. To be honest I do not know what Kiner-Falefa's first pitch to Meyers might have been, because the broadcast was still showing a replay of some ancient Jeff Kent home run at the time, and only came back to the present just as Meyers popped it toward shallow center. According to the on-screen graphic, whatever this pitch was, it traveled straight down the center of the strike zone at 66 mph (presumably with a breathtakingly vicious break). In any case it made an absolute damn fool of Meyers, who could do nothing but deliver a sorry can of corn to Toronto's second baseman, Davis Schneider, for the first out.

Up next: Mauricio Dubón, hitting for José Altuve. Kiner-Falefa started him out with a 67-mph Isiahkinerfalefaball up and away, a signature pitch quickly building a reputation as one of the sport's least hittable and closest to a highway speed limit. Dubón, hopelessly flummoxed, leaned out and awkwardly popped into right field, once again well within the range of Schneider tracking out from second base. Oh ho HO, anyone watching might have thought at this point. Seems as though the fabled worm has in fact turned! Which of these teams was supposed to be the one with the 10-run eighth-inning lead, I ask you? The ones flailing like hopeless clowns and booping dinky little balloon-balls to infielders? Or the ones coolly swaggering around behind an unhittable hurler now on an 81-pitches-per-27-outs pace?

You can see why Houston manager Joe Espada panicked at this point, yanking Yordan Álvarez (0-for-3 on the night) for some bozo named Grae Kessinger with a whopping 45 big-league plate appearances to his name. The Astros needed a jolt. They needed a restoration of their confidence. The game may no longer have been on the line—but the season suddenly was. They needed, quite frankly, an Isiah Kiner-Falefa of their own.

Kessinger's mandate, in a situation like this, would be to, at the very least, stand in there cool and calm, lay off the junk, work deep into the count, and make Kiner-Falefa give him a pitch to hit. For the fellas nursing their ego-wounds in the dugout, if nothing else: to set an example, to show them that such a thing is possible, even against a pitcher like Greg Maddux or Isiah Kiner-Falefa (the only members of this class).

Unfortunately Kiner-Falefa's stuff is simply too good for that. He started Kessinger out with a 67-mph, ah, changeup (?) over the inside part of the plate, and the hapless, overwhelmed batsman, drawn to it as a fish to a worm on a hook, couldn't lay off, becoming the third straight Astro to put a first pitch in play. A soft bloop to the left of second base, a running scoop by Jays shortstop Ernie Clement, a throw on the move to a stretching Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first ... and more history: Isiah Kiner-Falefa had no-hit the Houston Astros for half of the eighth inning, on seven pitches.

Wisely conserving their newfound thermonuclear self-assurance for Tuesday, the Blue Jays went scoreless in the top of the ninth, despite George Springer drawing a two-out walk. Springer reached base twice in the game, both times via walk; the other Blue Jays reached base no times. Ronel Blanco pitched nine innings for the Astros, who improved their record to 1-4 on the season. At what cost, I ask you.

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