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Hidden in Romano’s blown save is how far he’s come for the Blue Jays


It was back in April, long before Jordan Romano had been named to the All-Star team or twice been named American League closer of the month, that Brad Lidge joined us on Blair & Barker to talk closers – something you get to do when you’ve had 225 career saves, including a 41-for-41 season, and spent much of your career with the nickname ‘Lights Out.’

These were the early days of 2022 Romano. We were just getting used to the light show that greeted his entry into the game at the Rogers Centre. Lidge jokingly noted that “a laser show” is the ultimate sign of the teams belief in you as a closer. Four months later, Lidge was back and raving about Romano’s ability to work multiple innings.

“A lot of guys can’t get into a game, sit down, then get back up again because they have that super-coursing adrenaline,” Lidge said. “It’s about going in, getting the job done, and once they’ve sat down there’s no way they can get the adrenaline going again.

“To me, Romano never looks like he’s super-hyped. He’s not like Edwin Diaz, pumping his fist like crazy. He isn’t just a guy who rides his adrenaline and that’s good because if you want to (go more than three outs) you need your best for as long as you can possibly maintain it.”

Romano’s implosion on Sunday reminded me of how just how far he’s come as a closer: The fact that he allowed more runs in 21 pitches to the Baltimore Orioles than he had in his previous 28 outings at home this season, covering 107 opponent plate appearances. That the three runs allowed were the most he’d given up since Aaron Judge clubbed a three-run, walk-off home run off Romano on May 10 (48 Judge homers ago).

So his fifth blown save and first since Aug. 7 (he won anyhow, that day), is no big deal, even if it prevented the dagger from being thrust into the Orioles’ post-season hopes and made the dream of catching the New York Yankees seem farther removed.

His slider was flat, says his manager. Works for me. Let’s move on.

I will admit that it took me longer to get to that point with Romano than it should have. Shoot, I practically apologized to general manager Ross Atkins last week for not getting into the whole “depth is power,” thing when it came to the Blue Jays bullpen, which has been doing its sum-is-greater-than-its-parts schtick for a while.

I usually prefer my power in the consistent 100-101 range but, well, there we go. As Atkins explained: spin, the shape of the pitch when it crosses home plate, trackability — those are elements of a good fastball, beyond velocity. It’s what makes Yimi Garcia so effective, even when you might not necessarily feel that way when it seems as if every reliever the Blue Jays face is throwing a bazillion miles per hour.

Romano has made seven appearances of an inning or more in 2022, five of them coming after John Schneider was installed as interim manager following the firing of Charlie Montoyo. Four of those came in the month of August, even after the acquisition of Anthony Bass added more depth to the ranks of late-inning relievers.

Romano hasn’t been called on to get four outs this month, but he knows all bets are off as the days get shorter and the games become more meaningful.

“Closing games for one inning is tough enough mentally, but I think the more comfortable you become in that situation – not that you’re ever 100 per cent comfortable – the more you want to push yourself,” Romano said, last week.

“Now all of a sudden you’re more comfortable getting four, five outs and you kind of look for those spots. Especially if you’ve been down for a couple of days.”

Romano acknowledges that Schneider is “more aggressive” than Montoyo was when it comes to using him. He stopped short of saying he feels more comfortable pressing his case to go more than one inning with Schneider than he did with Montoyo, suggesting it’s more a matter of mutual confidence than openness.

“Going to them and making my case is something I’m a little more comfortable with now,” Romano said.

“I think they know that I care too much about this team to push myself when I’m not ready to go. Look: I’ll always want the ball. I pitched more than an inning a couple of times last season, too. But we have good communication. We talk before the game and when they ask: ‘Hey, what do you think? Four or five today?’ I know I need to be honest.”

There are some things I’ll be watching in these final 15 games:

How does the Jose Berrios/Ross Stripling thing work itself out? … How will the possibility of home-field advantage in the wild card influence the rotation going into that final series in Baltimore?

Can Teoscar Hernandez find some kind of finishing kick? … Are Vladdy and Bo in the process of re-establishing their tag-team act, and can George Springer keep doing something in the clutch with just one arm?

Romano … well, I’m still getting comfortable with the whole reliance on the slider thing, especially as a first pitch in the ninth. But that’s been the case all year with this bullpen in general: just steady enough to keep that cynical voice in your head focused on something else.

HIT AND RUN

• Never mind breaking Roger Maris’ single-season AL home run record, which Aaron Judge will surely do after ending the weekend just two shy at 59. (Who knows? He might even do it in Toronto next week when the Yankees and Blue Jays open a three-game series at the Rogers Centre.)

No, what’s got my attention is Judge’s bid for the Triple Crown. He has a real shot at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Miguel Cabrera in 2012, just a few percentage points off the AL lead in batting average.

If Judge can somehow get the lead in average this week, if teams walk him more down the stretch – and if he breaks Maris’ record and gets to sit some games should the Yankees sew up the AL East title – that’s going to help his cause.

At any rate, the AL most valuable player debate is effectively over, no? I’m with Guerrero Jr. on this: if Judge loses to Shohei Ohtani’s ability to put up numbers in a pressure-free environment, it will be larceny …

• More Judge: his 59 homers in 146 games are ahead of Sammy Sosa’s total in as many games in 1998 and tied for Sosa’s total after 146 games in 1999. If you’re interested, Mark McGwire had 62 through 146 games in 1998 and Barry Bonds had 63 in 146 games en route to his MLB-record 73 homers in 2001 and, yeah, I think I’ll just leave it at that …

• Still pining for Frankie Montas, Blue Jays fans? His lack of reliability due to shoulder issues – yet another MRI beckons – suggests there’s a real chance he is left off the Yankees post-season roster and is a reminder of something Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos sees as gospel: there’s no point in trading for a guy who can’t hit the ground running.

Montas totalled nine innings in the month before the Yankees traded for him, apparently excited by the five whole innings of velocity they saw in his final start for the Oakland Athletics before the trade was made. They would have been better off hanging on to Jordan Montgomery …

• Any time is a good time to name-drop Montreal Expos, right? In the Divisional Era (post-1969) only the former Expos battery of Steve Rogers and Gary Carter (270 games) is close to the 325 games the St. Louis Cardinals Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina have started.

Carter, incidentally, had 34 go-ahead runs batted in in Rogers’ starts, tied with what Molina has done in Wainwright’s starts and Bill Freehan’s total in Mickey Lolich’s starts. Lance Parrish’s 34 go-ahead RBI in games started by Dan Petry is the standard. A little esoteric stuff from the Cardinals P.R. Dept.

• Braves rookie Spencer Strider has reached 200 career strikeouts in 130 innings, faster than any other pitcher in baseball history. Considering the Braves’ rich tradition of pitching, it’s notable that the only other Braves rookies to hit 200 strikeouts were Bill Stemmyer (239 in 1886) and Kid Nichols (222 in 1890.)

Of course, it took Stemmyer 348 2/3 innings to do so. Nichols needed 424. Different times: almost like comparing Judge to Bonds, Sosa and McGwire …

• The Mariners have to be favourites for the top wild-card spot given the patsies they play down the stretch, but my guess is Monday’s visit to a hand specialist to check third baseman Eugenio Suarez’s finger will be viewed anxiously.

Suarez went on the 10-day injured list with a fractured right index finger Saturday and he’s the Mariners leader in homers (31) as well as their most durable player, appearing in 142 games until the injury. For now it means that Longueuil. Que., native Abraham Toro and his .185 average will take over at third …

THE END-GAME

Crickets. That’s what you hear from folks who thought the adoption of the designated hitter by National League teams was some kind of affront to the legacy of the game. Only a luddite would want to see pitchers hitting again … and I’m pretty certain Cardinals fans are enjoying a season out of Albert Pujols that they wouldn’t be getting without the DH.

Seriously: it’s embarrassing how much angst there was over the decision and how long it took the Majors to get there. My guess is when Bonds’ career homer mark falls it will be by a player spending his waning years as a DH.

In the meantime, if it helps write more final chapters such as the one being authored by Pujols, naysayers will end up looking back and wondering what the hell they were thinking …

Jeff Blair hosts Blair & Barker from 10-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan and Sportsnet 360.

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