TORONTO — The stakes are higher in September, but George Springer loves rising to the occasion.
Springer drove in four runs on three hits, including two home runs, to power the Toronto Blue Jays past the Kansas City Royals 5-1 on Saturday. It was a key win for Toronto as it tries to hold on to a wild-card berth.
"What's there not to like? I mean, this is what you play for," said Springer. "This is just a fun time to play. I know that sounds cliché, but this is why you play the game, for moments like this, to be in a playoff race, to be in the hunt."
Cavan Biggio added an RBI single as the Blue Jays (79-63) opened a critical 10-game homestand with back-to-back wins.
Toronto had a two-game lead over the Texas Rangers for the third and final American League wild-card berth after the win. The Rangers hosted the Oakland Athletics on Saturday night.
The Blue Jays host Texas in a four-game series starting Monday, followed by a three-game set at Rogers Centre against the Boston Red Sox.
"This is just a fun time to play, you know? We're obviously right in the middle of it," said Springer. "You have to enjoy the moment. You have to slow down and just breathe and have fun."
Kevin Gausman (11-8) was superb for Toronto, striking out 10 and giving up one run on just two hits over eight innings. Jordan Hicks pitched the ninth.
Manager John Schneider said that having Gausman almost pitch a complete game is helpful for the Blue Jays bullpen in the stretch run.
"You get Hicks out there but he'll probably have the day off tomorrow and get ready for Texas and then everyone else is ready to roll," said Schneider. "Just another reason why I think Kevin is one of the best pitchers in the game.
"He has outings like that and he saves the bullpen."
Edward Olivares belted his 10th home run of the season for lowly Kansas City (44-99).
James McArthur pitched the first two innings of the game before giving way to 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke (1-15), who gave up four runs on six hits and a walk, while striking out four over 3 2/3 innings. Angel Zerpa and Steven Cruz came on in relief.
Springer opened the scoring in the fourth, putting a 78.9 m.p.h. slider from Greinke just over the left-field wall, with one fan diving onto the ball as it bounced around under the seats.
Olivares replied for Kansas City in the next inning, launching an 83.3 m.p.h. slider from Gausman to deep left field. It travelled 431 feet, bouncing off the neon Budweiser sign hanging on the ballpark's middle deck and down into the 100 level.
Springer struck again in the fifth with a base hit up the middle to drive in Alejandro Kirk and Daulton Varsho. Kirk led off the inning with a walk and was moved to third when Varsho doubled to right. Springer's two RBIs gave Toronto a 3-1 lead.
The 41,443 fans at Rogers Centre roared their approval in the sixth when Biggio doubled to right. As the ball bounced in the outfield, burly Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. rounded second, third, and charged home, sliding under a tag from Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez for another run.
Springer's second homer of the day came with two outs in the seventh. He launched an 88.2 m.p.h. slider from Zerpa 382 feet and into the visitor's bullpen. It was his 19th home run of the season and his first multihomer game of the year.
Gausman finished the eighth inning of his quality start with three consecutive strikeouts, adding to his American League-leading total of 224.
"To be honest, I'd rather us win the last 20 games than be in Cy Young Award consideration," said Gausman of being in contention for the AL's best pitcher honour. "But, you know, it's cool. Obviously, there's more starts to go.
"I'm focused on winning games. That's really all I'm worried about."
NO BO — All-star shortstop Bo Bichette was held out of Toronto's lineup on Saturday, a day after he returned from the 10-day injured list. Schneider said that Bichette felt no discomfort after Toronto's 5-4 win Friday, but the team wanted to ease him back into playing every day after he strained his right quadriceps.
ON DECK — José Berríos (9-10) will take the mound as Toronto closes out its series against Kansas City on Sunday. Cole Ragans (6-4) is the scheduled starter for the Royals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press