Davis Schneider’s calm approach powered Blue Jays to ninth-inning comeback over Josh Hader, Astros

The Toronto Blue Jays were on the verge of losing a second consecutive game to the Houston Astros Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park. They were nearly shut out again, which would’ve stretched their scoreless drought to 20 innings dating back to Sunday’s finale against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But everything changed once Davis Schneider, last year’s rookie sensation, stepped to the plate with two outs in the top half of the ninth inning.

One night after being no-hit by Astros right-hander Ronel Blanco, the Blue Jays offence was stymied by left-handed starter Framber Valdez, who twirled 7.2 scoreless innings on Tuesday despite allowing six hits and plenty of hard contact — most of which resulted in loud groundouts.

But thanks to José Berríos — who battled across six innings without pinpoint command — and a lights-out bullpen, this team trailed by just one run heading into the ninth. That set the stage for the one known to many as “Babe” Schneider.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led off the inning with a 109.4-m.p.h. single off Astros closer Josh Hader but was later neutralized after Bo Bichette grounded into a double play, bringing Toronto down to its final out. Justin Turner kept their hopes alive with a crucial five-pitch walk, putting the tying run on base as Schneider entered the batter’s box.

The 25-year-old went head-to-head against one of baseball’s most dominating pitchers, hoping to provide another heroic moment, as he did several times in 2023. After fouling off a low-and-inside sinker, he demolished a hanging slider for a go-ahead two-run blast to put his team ahead 2-1, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the bottom half.

Schneider’s second home run of the season, the 10th of his career, travelled 423 feet and came off his barrel at 108.8 m.p.h. — a no-doubter to left centre that would’ve gone out in all 30 major league ballparks.

It was the first home run hit off Hader, who was making his fourth appearance in 2024. For context, the 29-year-old lefty only surrendered three round-trippers last season and wasn’t tagged for his first until May 7. Even more impressive is this was the first time anyone had taken his slider deep since 2022.

However, none of that fazed Schneider as he prepared to face Hader. He kept things simple, waited for his pitch and didn’t miss it when it arrived.

“That was my first time ever facing Josh Hader,” Schneider told reporters post-game, including MLB.com’s Jeremy Rakes. “He has a great track record as a really good closer. It’s one of those things where you have to try to keep calm. If you try to overdo things, that’s when bad things are going to happen. I’m glad I that I calmed my nerves a little bit.”

Rising to the occasion isn’t new for the 2017 28th-round selection. These late-game heroics were on full display during a sensational 35-game stint with Toronto to round out last season, which began with a memorable home run at Fenway Park in his first at-bat as a big leaguer last August.

Schneider is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses as a hitter. He may only have 38 games of major league experience under his belt, but he knows pitchers will attack him with high fastballs to expose the hole in his swing path. That’s where his mind was in the box against Hader. But instead of seeing something up, he was gifted with a juicy middle-middle breaking ball.

“He threw that slider,” Schneider said of his matchup versus Hader. “It was one that spun there and didn’t break. It kind of reminded me of the one that I hit off [Aroldis] Chapman last year. It was one of those sliders that I saw up and away and it came down in the middle.”

Right-handers posted a .075 AVG and .100 SLG while whiffing over 50 per cent of the time against Hader’s slider a season ago. So, hunting for a fastball was probably the right idea. But adjusting from one to the other isn’t easy, especially when facing a deceptive left-hander who hides the ball almost to the moment of release.

“I thought he got it,” manager John Schneider said of Davis. “Just exactly what you want out of him. Great plan. He sat on the slider. [Hader]’s got a tough heater. Awesome at-bat. First of all, [it was great for Turner] to get on base to get to Schneid. It was just a great swing on a pitch he could handle.”

The Berlin, New Jersey, native was a spark plug for Toronto’s offence over the final two months of the 2023 campaign, supplying a .276/.404/.603 slash line with a 176 wRC+ in 35 games after crushing a team-high 21 home runs with Triple-A Buffalo prior to his arrival. He earned a 13.0 offensive WAR in that span, paving the way for his 2.0 fWAR.

He has the potential to be an X-factor for this club in 2024. And that belief is a key reason why many of his teammates — including Berríos — were confident he’d deliver another memorable moment with the game on the line Tuesday night.

“When I saw Turner walk, and I saw Schneider come (to the plate), I said ‘Schneid can do something special,’” Berríos said to The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath. “And he did. He got a hanging breaking ball and did what he can do with those middle-down or down-and-in pitches. He kills those pitches and tonight was the night he got that pitch and crushed it.”

The Blue Jays will look to win this three-game set versus the Astros in Wednesday’s finale, where Chris Bassitt will attempt to rebound from an unsatisfying debut at Tropicana Field in his second start of 2024.

But with right-hander Cristian Javier starting for Houston, odds are Schneider won’t be in the starting lineup one day after leading his team to its third victory of the year, serving as yet another reminder of baseball’s sometimes cruel environment.


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Title: Davis Schneider’s calm approach powered Blue Jays to ninth-inning comeback over Josh Hader, Astros
Author: Thomas Hall

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