TORONTO — Moments after an emotional Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bounced his walk-off single through the left side of the infield, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger pounded his chest.
"This is our house," Guerrero yelled after his teammate George Springer touched home with the winning run for a wild 6-5 victory against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.
It was the Blue Jays (42-32) second win in a row to begin their three-game set against the rival Red Sox (42-33) and pushed Toronto past Boston in the battle for the first wild-card spot in the American League.
But before the Blue Jays could overcome a 5-4 deficit in the ninth inning before 27,140 in their "house," the Rogers Centre, second baseman Santiago Espinal and catcher Alejandro Kirk delivered to provide a spark.
Espinal made a leaping catch off a Christian Arroyo line drive and doubled off Christian Vazquez at second base. The outstanding defensive play snuffed out a Red Sox rally in the eighth inning.
Kirk had the night off. At least, he thought he did. But Major League Baseball's best hitting catcher with a .325 average was called upon to pinch-hit and lead off the ninth inning.
He slammed a single to left field. Guerrero, who was to hit fourth in the inning, had already told Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo that if he was going to go up, the game was over.
"You know Charlie, he gets nervous," Guerrero said through an interpreter when asked for his manager's reaction. "'Well,' he said. 'I trust you guys if you say so.'"
The single was Guerrero's second career walk-off hit and second in two weeks.
"When I saw (Kirk) was going to pinch-hit and then he got a base hit, I knew right there and then we were going to win," Guerrero said.
Kirk leads his position in the AL voting for next month's all-star game at Dodger Stadium with 1,857,670 votes. New York Yankees catcher Jose Trevino in a distant second at 695,932.
The Blue Jays are in a busy part of their schedule and two games into an eight-game seven-day stint at home. Still, is it difficult for Montoyo to leave Kirk on the bench for rookie Gabriel Moreno.
"We have so many games in a row you're going to see guys get nights off," Montoyo said. "We have to do it.
"The good thing about our team is we have three good catchers when Danny Jansen gets back (from a fractured pinky finger). I'm lucky."
The Blue Jays jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a pair of doubles from Teoscar Hernandez and Matt Chapman.
They led 4-2 after starter Ross Stripling put forth another solid five-inning effort, allowing only two runs on five hits.
He was in the clubhouse, enjoying his 11th consecutive appearance of yielding two or fewer runs when the Red Sox tied the game in the seventh on a Rob Refsnyder two-run homer to straightaway centre-field.
They then went ahead in the eighth thanks to a Vazquez single to left to score shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
But Stripling had faith in his teammates in the ninth inning after Jordan Romano (2-1) held off the Red Sox in the top of the ninth.
"We couldn't have been in a better spot in our lineup, especially with Kirk as our super weapon," Stripling said.
After his leadoff single, Boston reliever Tyler Danish (2-1) walked George Springer, Bichette then singled to tie the game, and Guerrero delivered.
The Blue Jays could sign 39-year-old right-handed reliever Sergio Romo as early as Wednesday. He auditioned for a spot in Toronto's reliever corps with a bullpen session on Tuesday and was scheduled to undergo a physical on Tuesday evening.
The three-time World Series champion with the San Francisco Giants became a free agent after he was released by the Seattle Mariners last week.
Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah (9-2, 2.05) is slated to start Wednesday's finale against Canadian Nick Pivetta (8-5, 3.25). The 29-year-old Pivetta hails from Victoria.
Toronto opens a four-day, five-game Canada Day Weekend series at home against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022
Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press