Perhaps the worst thing about the car-crash ending to the Blue Jays season? The team’s players could see it coming, almost as if it happened in slow motion.
In a week where he was nominated as an American League Cy Young Award finalist, Jays starter Kevin Gausman outlined what it was like to be in the Toronto dugout in Minnesota when teammate Jose Berrios was given the hook after pitching three-plus terrific shutout innings against the Twins.
Speaking to the Foul Territory podcast on Thursday, Gausman said the spectacular loss took away from what he believed was otherwise a strong Jays season. And despite the shock factor of living it in the moment, the move was clearly telegraphed by management and the coaching staff prior to the game.
“Yeah, we were all kind of shocked,” Gausman told hosts A.J. Pierzynski, Erik Kratz and Scott Braun. “At the same time, we also knew going into that series (Yusei) Kikuchi was going to pitch at some point. (Jays management) wanted to get him into that game because he was left handed and he’s really done well against Minnesota.
“We all kind of knew (it was going to happen.) But at the same time, that’s kind of the problem with the game right now.”
Gausman understands that baseball always lends itself to second-guessing, especially when it comes to high-profile decisions. But the pain of a playoff exit is only heightened when attached to a call that explodes into controversy.
“You’re always going to be questioned about the moves you make that don’t work out, especially in the last game of the season,” Gausman said. “It was unfortunate, because that took away from how close our team was and the overall season we had.”
With time to reflect on the flashpoint of that swift exit to the Twins as the Jays lost both games in the best-of-three AL wild-card series, Gausman laments the lingering fallout.
“It just kind of sucked that the narrative was what it was,” Gausman said. “It was just so negative. And it just sucks as a player because there was so much positive (about the season overall.) And for one day and one decision to be talked about for months — and it will be talked about in spring training — it’s probably going to be the first question we’re asked.”
Almost always forthright in his thoughts on his team and his own game, Gausman is wearing the annoyance of a second consecutive season in which things ended with a playoff thud.
“What’s been the most frustrating the last two years is if you look at our roster top to bottom, talent-wise we compare with any team on the big leagues,” Gausman said. “It’s tough to watch. The biggest thing is it’s frustrating because you know the talent is there, but you just have to put it together.
“(But) we still have a pretty young group. I think the more heartbreak you have in baseball helps you out in the long run. Hopefully we can make a run at it the next couple of years and it will make it that much sweeter.”
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Gausman, who acknowledged he’s got no shot of winning the Cy Young over Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, also shared his thoughts on the troubled and abbreviated season of fellow Toronto starter, Alek Manoah.
The problems, Gausman said, were apparent at the start of spring training when Manoah was behind from the get-go and never caught up.
“To be honest, I think he went through some things in spring,” Gausman said. “He got off to a late start physically (due to a shoulder issue.) I think he came in and tried to push it a little early and he never got to a good spot with his arm and his mechanics and you could tell that.”
Gausman believes the heavy workload Manoah handles in his first full season played a role in his physical struggles.
“When you are a 24- or 25-year-old guy, you don’t know the effect it’s going to take on your body,” Gausman said of Manoah, who was a 2022 Cy Young finalist after a breakthrough campaign in which he logged 196.2 innings while posting a 2.24 ERA. “I think he came in and tried to push it a little early and never got to a good spot with his arm and his mechanics and you could tell that.”
As a veteran who has seen his share of ups and downs, Gausman has offered counsel to his younger teammate.
“Mostly, I tell him this game is not easy. Everybody is going to to through ups and downs. I’m a prime example of that.”