Bo Bichette returned to the Blue Jays lineup on Saturday night at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
He didn’t do anything particularly special at the plate — going 1-for-5 with an RBI single — and bobbled a ground ball that could have been an inning-ending double play in the seventh.
But the star shortstop provided a much-needed intangible — a presence none of baseball’s many metrics is capable of detailing and that only a player of his ilk can provide — as the Jays held on to edge the Reds 4-3 and even up the three-game weekend series at a win apiece.
Bichette brings that ‘it’ factor to a game, something no one else on the Blue Jays is capable of replicating, especially at a time when so many bats have gone cold.
It was Bichette’s first game since July 31 when he injured his right knee while rounding first base against the Orioles. After two rehab games in Buffalo for the triple-A Bisons earlier this week, Bichette rejoined his MLB teammates in Cincinnati.
The Jays went 8-8 with out him and suddenly find themselves out of the third and final AL wild-card berth, a half-game behind the surging Seattle Mariners.
“I think we need to be fearless,’’ Bichette told reporters prior to Saturday’s game. “I don’t think any team accomplishes anything special not being fearless.”
Bichette is the team’s best hitter, hands down, and one of baseball’s premier plate performers.
Back batting out of the No. 2 slot in the order, he was in the middle of a three-run outburst in the fourth as the Jays took a 3-0 lead, scoring their first runs of the series after being blanked 1-0 on Friday.
With two out, Daulton Varsho ended the Jays’ scoreless streak when he stroked a two-out RBI single up the middle. Whit Merrifield slapped a single into right field to score Toronto’s second run and Bichette joined the hit parade by sending an RBI single into centre field.
The Jays, however, turned careless in the bottom half as the Reds tied the game.
Undeterred, Toronto regained the lead in the fifth when Davis Schneider broke out of his post-Fenway funk with a no-doubt homer, his third of the season and only his second hit since he took the baseball world by storm when he was called up in Boston.
The Jays started Chris Bassitt, who began the game by pitching like a Cy Young Award candidate. He retired the first nine Reds he faced, five of them by strikeouts.
His dominant streak ended when T.J. Friedl led off the fourth with a homer to right — the first hard-hit ball of Bassitt.
A Matt McLain walk was followed by a triple by speedy Elly De La Cruz, who scored the tying run on the same play when right-fielder Cavan Biggio overthrew the cutoff man.
Bassitt was pulled after six innings and the bullpen brought it home, but not without some nervous moments.
Trevor Richards and Tim Mayza loaded the bases on the seventh but the latter struck out Friedl swinging to keep it a 4-3 game. Friday’s walk-off culprit Jordan Hicks then brought the heat in a 1-2-3 eighth inning, setting the stage for Jordan Romano.
In the ninth, Romano faced Joey Votto to lead things off, promptly walking the fellow Canadian on four pitches.
A single and a double steal put Reds at second and third with one out, but Romano shut the door on a strikeout and a game-ending groundout.
George Springer, who was nicely regaining his groove at the plate following a horrific 0-for-35 hitless streak, missed his second game in a row with a jammed left ankle sustained Wednesday night against the Phillies in Toronto when he stepped awkwardly on first base on a fielder’s choice.
Springer is officially listed as day to day, but he was available for pinch-hit duties.
DEJONG IS GONE
Even the most diehard Blue Jays fan must have wondered why Paul DeJong was acquired in the first place in the hours leading up to baseball’s trade deadline.
DeJong’s acquisition seemed like a reach then and it certainly looks bad now after the Jays designated the veteran infielder for assignment to make room for Bichette.
In 13 games with the Blue Jays, DeJong hit an abysmal .068, knocked in one run and produced zero extra-base hits, while striking out a total of 18 times.