TORONTO — Struggling with injuries after a gruelling 17 games in 17 days, the Toronto Blue Jays needed their hitters at the bottom of the batting order to step up.
Varsho had a three-run homer and a two-run single to lead the Blue Jays past the Chicago Cubs 11-4 on Sunday as Toronto avoided a three-game sweep. Varsho’s five RBIs were a career high as he filled in for the injured Kevin Kiermaier in centre field.
“I thought it was awesome. I mean, Santi, Cav, all the guys who have sat on the bench this year, for them to be able to get playing time and produce and do a lot of things that always helps,” said Varsho. “They create so much energy.
“It’s just fun when everybody can contribute to this team and help us win.”
Leadoff man Whit Merrifield went 4 for 6 with an RBI double, two runs, and a stolen base as Toronto (66-54) snapped a three-game losing skid.
Espinal, moved over to third 90 minutes before the game to fill in for a hurting Matt Chapman, also had an RBI single. Biggio, who has seen more playing time with all-star shortstop Bo Bichette on the injured list, went 2 for 4 and scored twice as Toronto’s second baseman.
“A three-run homer’s huge, a good approach, patient, kind of grinded them out and got big hits when we needed them,” said manager John Schneider. “It’s everything we’ve been talking about for a while is what we did today.”
Hyun-Jin Ryu (1-1) allowed two runs — both unearned — on two hits over five innings, striking out three and walking two. Relievers Genesis Cabrera, Jay Jackson, Erik Swanson and Nate Pearson closed it out.
It was the burly South Korean left-hander’s first win in 444 days after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2022. He was in line for a win in Toronto’s 3-1 victory at Cleveland on Aug. 7, but he was pulled from that game in the fourth inning after being hit on the right knee by a line drive.
“I know the velocity is not quite back where he wants it yet but he’s still able to pitch,” said Cubs manager David Ross. “That change-up is pretty devastating.
“When you give him a bit of a lead, he’s a tough one to put up big runs against.”
Canadian Jameson Taillon (7-7) gave up eight runs on eight hits and two walks over three innings with two strikeouts. Hayden Wesneski, Drew Smyly, Daniel Palencia and Caleb Killian came out of the Cubs’ bullpen.
Swanson got the Cubs on the board in the first inning, doubling into the left-field corner with two outs to score Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ. Both runs were unearned as Happ reached base on an error by Toronto first baseman Brandon Belt.
Varsho replied for the Blue Jays in the second, launching a 2-1 pitch from Taillon off the second-field deck and down into the visitor’s bullpen. Varsho’s moon shot came off a 94.6 m.p.h. four-seam fastball, travelling 391 feet with a 35 degree launch angle and an exit velocity of 106.2 m.p.h.
His 14th home run of the season also scored Cavan Biggio and Danny Jansen.
“We needed a mistake on their part to get those first two,” said Ross. “Ryu kind of cruised once he got the lead.”
Toronto poured it on as they worked through their entire lineup in the inning. Guerrero singled to left field to score White Merrifield from second. In the next at bat, Springer singled to right to plate Belt for a 5-2 lead.
Guerrero drove in another run in the fourth, with his base hit to left field bringing home Merrifield as the Blue Jays led off that inning with three consecutive singles.
Varsho cashed in two more runs from that rally, singling to centre field to score Belt and Guerrero for an 8-2 Toronto advantage.
Wisdom cut that lead in half in the seventh inning with a two-run homer to dead centre. His 20th of the year also scored Swanson to make it 8-4.
Toronto stacked up more runs on the Cubs in the eighth inning.
Espinal’s sharply hit single to left field drove in Biggio. DeJong followed that up with a hit to right that plated Varsho and moved Espinal to third. Merrifield’s double then scored Espinal for a towering seven-run lead.
CHAPMAN OUT — Blue Jays all-star third baseman Matt Chapman was scratched from the lineup less than 90 minutes before game time with an inflammation on the middle finger of his right hand. Espinal was moved from short to third in the lineup with Paul DeJong stepping in at shortstop.
ON DECK — Toronto has Monday off before hosting the Philadelphia Phillies in a quick interleague series Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Cubs return to Chicago to host the White Sox on Tuesday in a crosstown rivalry game at Wrigley Field.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press