Hyun Jin Ryu worth every penny for playoff-bound Blue Jays

Hyun Jin Ryu leads the Blue Jays into the playoffs in the first year of his $80 million contract

A Major League club doesn’t hand a starting pitcher an $80 million contract to pitch in just any game. They sign him to pitch in situations like the Toronto Blue Jays faced on Thursday, playing the powerful New York Yankees lineup and with the club’s first postseason berth in four years at stake.

So, naturally, the Blue Jays handed the ball to left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu, the former All-Star whom they brought to Toronto for four years. And Ryu responded by showing he was well worth the money.

Ryu shut out the Yankees over seven innings at Sahlen Field, allowing five hits and striking out four as the Blue Jays won the game 4-1 to clinch a spot in the postseason. Ryu was the first Blue Jays starter to pitch into the seventh since last Aug. 22, a span of 90 straight games and 399 days, a Major League record.

He joined his fellow teammates on the field in Buffalo to celebrate after closer Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end the game, each player donning a shirt that read ‘Respect Toronto’ as they posed for a team photo.

His first season in a Blue Jays uniform comes to an end with a record of 5-2. The Blue Jays went 9-3 in games Ryu started this season, 21-24 when he didn’t. He allowed one or fewer runs in eight of his 12 starts, tied with the Padres Dinelson Lamet and Trevor Bauer of the Reds for most in the Majors; the rest of the Blue Jays rotation had eight such games combined. His 2.69 ERA is the lowest for a Blue Jays starting pitcher who played a full year since Roger Clemens in his Cy Young Award-winning season in 1998.

Ryu will likely get the ball in Game 1 when the Blue Jays open the postseason next week, probably against the AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays. The Blue Jays can spend the last three games of the regular season preparing their rotation and lineup to confront a daunting task, one they shouldn’t even have had the chance to try.

They didn’t play a single game in their home ballpark in 2020. The Blue Jays lineup is the youngest in the league with an average age of 25.9. Bo Bichette missed 28 games due to injury; Teoscar Hernandez, the team leader with 16 home runs, missed 10. Their starting catcher on Thursday, Alejandro Kirk, hadn’t played a professional game above Single-A before two weeks ago.

But, somehow, manager Charlie Montoyo managed to get this team into the postseason, despite all the long odds and obstacles put in their way. Montoyo can thank his $80 million ace, who took a risk leaving the World Series-contending Los Angeles Dodgers to sign with the Blue Jays knowing they were still young and inexperienced. It will now be up to Ryu to lead them further into the playoffs than anyone outside their clubhouses thinks possible.

Next: Trevor Bauer proves pitchers can go on 3 days rest

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