Schneider’s big swing gives Blue Jays positive momentum

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HOUSTON — With two outs in the ninth inning and a second consecutive shutout starting to look like an inevitability for the sputtering Toronto Blue Jays offence, Josh Hader hung a slider and Davis Schneider hit it 423 feet.

With that swing, a 1-0 deficit transformed into a 2-1 lead and the Blue Jays were on their way to a much-needed win.

Does this erase questions about the Toronto offence? Well no, that’ll take more than one swing. But for the Blue Jays, it’s a welcome contrast after being no-hit Monday. On the day offensive coordinator Don Mattingly shaved his beard, the 3-3 Blue Jays got something of a fresh start. Now, they can breathe a little easier.

After managing next to nothing against left-hander Framber Valdez, the Blue Jays looked to be in trouble when the Astros turned the game over to Ryan Pressly and Josh Hader. But thanks to Schneider’s big swing, the Blue Jays were able to build some positive momentum heading into Wednesday’s series finale.

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All night, Valdez was at his best, generating ground ball after ground ball thanks to his trademark sinker on his way to 7.2 innings of shutout baseball. The lone Blue Jays position player to do much damage against Valdez Tuesday was Justin Turner, who doubled in each of his first two at-bats before hitting a single to centre his third time up.

It’s been a productive first week for Turner, who’s batting .350 in the early going, but the same cannot be said for the other off-season addition to the Blue Jays’ lineup as Isiah Kiner-Falefa has just four singles to his name.

Elsewhere on the infield, Bo Bichette returned to the lineup after missing two games with spasms on the left side of his neck.

“It feels better,” Bichette told Sportsnet before the game. “I couldn’t see the pitcher before. It’s still tight, but it’s good enough.”

The 26-year-old didn’t feel the need to take ground balls before declaring himself ready, but looked to be at ease throughout the game in support of a strong outing by Jose Berrios.

“Right now, probably not (a problem), but before I probably wouldn’t have been able to pick up the first baseman (visually),” Bichette said.

As for Berrios, his stuff wasn’t quite as lively as it was in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, but he still held Houston’s formidable offence to one run — a Jose Altuve solo shot — on six hits while striking out a pair. He left a pair of runners on in the bottom of the seventh, but Yimi Garcia entered to retire the first three hitters he faced, erasing the threat.

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Defensively, the Blue Jays played well in support of Berrios with George Springer featuring prominently on the day he reached 10 years of MLB service time while facing the team that drafted him. Astros outfielder Chas McCormick hit a line drive to right-centre field to lead off the third only to watch Springer cut it off and throw him out trying to reach second.

Later, Alejandro Kirk picked Jose Altuve off third base to end the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Blue Jays’ dugout erupted with cheers.

In hindsight, those little moments contributed to the win by keeping the score close, but make no mistake, it was Schneider’s swing against Hader that made this win possible for the Blue Jays.

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