The final score, 9-5 in the Toronto Blue Jays’ favor, was built by Guerrero, the Nationals’ struggling bats and one hiccup on defense. Max Scherzer finished with seven runs on his line. Guerrero put five of them there with his first two homers — a grand slam in the third and a solo rope in the fifth. The two others, both unearned, came when Josh Harrison botched a pop fly in the fourth and the Blue Jays made him, Scherzer and the Nationals (8-12) pay with a deficit that didn’t close. Guerrero then widened it with a two-run blast off Kyle Finnegan in the seventh.
TD Ballpark, the Blue Jays’ temporary home because of Canada’s coronavirus regulations, gave some Nationals fans a rare view of their team. They packed the rows behind Washington’s dugout. They dotted the one and only level of blue seats in the spring training stadium. At times, such as when Trea Turner, Yadiel Hernandez and Ryan Zimmerman homered, the intimate look was a gift, as if they could reach out and touch a game that unfolded in high definition. But at others, when runners were stranded, when Josh Bell kept slumping, when Guerrero surged or when Harrison’s error helped the Blue Jays (11-11) slip away, perhaps it was a bit too close.
“I feel like a lot of us haven’t played up to our potential,” Turner said. “From one through nine, starting pitching, bullpen — everybody. I feel like we’ve definitely played well at times, but it’s about being consistent.”
Scherzer had not allowed a run for 19 innings — 17 coming in, then the first and second Tuesday — before his command slipped in the third. Alejandro Kirk and Cavan Biggio slapped back-to-back singles with one out. Next Scherzer battled with Bo Bichette and walked him on an up-and-in curve. And that’s when Guerrero, the Blue Jays’ 22-year-old slugger, dug in with the bases juiced.
Guerrero’s dad, Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr., took Scherzer deep in 2010 and 2011. Now it was his son’s turn. In their first matchup of the game, Guerrero grounded a low slider into a first-inning double play. In the third, behind 2-1, Scherzer tried another in-the-zone slider. And by clearing the fence, another fence, then a row of palm trees, the ball landed somewhere around the basketball hoops of an elementary school playground, an estimated 415 feet from the batter’s box.
Scherzer circled the mound and asked the umpire for a new ball. Guerrero circled the bases and smiled while crossing home plate. His dad never hit three homers in one game, and Guerrero became the youngest player since at least 1901 to finish with three homers and seven RBI.
“I didn’t pitch well tonight — that’s obvious,” said Scherzer, who threw 86 pitches in five innings. “I was really inconsistent with my glove-side stuff, where sometimes I’d be executing a fastball and slider arm-side, and the next time I’d leave it glove-side. To me, that’s what I got to fix, I got to clean up and dial it in.”
With a single swing, Guerrero unwound the early work by Turner and Hernandez. Turner, missing no time after he exited Sunday’s loss with a left forearm contusion, pulled solo shots in the first and third off Trent Thornton, the first of seven relievers to appear in a bullpen game for Toronto. Hernandez, making his third straight start in right field, made it back-to-back in the third with an opposite-field homer to left.
Often, a quick three-run lead is enough for Scherzer. On Tuesday, though, the offense was asked for more and more. The deficit stretched to three runs not long after Harrison couldn’t make that routine play in the fourth. He seemed to settle under it before, having misjudged, he scrambled into right, lunged backward, then had the ball nick his glove and trickle past Hernandez. Joe Panik scored from second. Kirk, who had lifted the high pop, lumbered to third and was soon brought home by a sacrifice fly.
So the Nationals couldn’t keep pace with Guerrero or their own mistakes. Zimmerman tried with a two-run, opposite-field homer in the seventh, giving him three on 11 hits in 43 plate appearances. Yet otherwise, in what felt like a replay of recent games, Victor Robles grounded into a double play with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth; Bell, now 5 for 46 on the year, struck out looking with two on and one out in the fifth; and Kyle Schwarber, who has swung between lost and almost there, struck out twice and ended the fifth-inning threat with a liner to left.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Josh Bell,” said Manager Dave Martinez, who tabbed Bell as the player Washington most needs to improve. “It’s early. He’s only got, I think, 40 at-bats or so. Once it clicks, we’ll get him going, he gets on a roll. I’ve seen this guy carry his team for a month or two.”
“Things are really close,” Bell added. “So all it takes is one hit and then the floodgates can open up.”
Bell went hitless (again) in four more chances. The Nationals left six on base and could only tax the Blue Jays with home runs. That made it easy to view them as bystanders in Guerrero’s laser show. That just wasn’t the whole deal.
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