Toronto Blue Jays star pitcher Alek Manoah isn’t feeling the pressure of the current moment.
“It’s another game,” Manoah, 24, said in a pre-game media availability on Thursday, one day ahead of the Blue Jays’ 2022 playoff opener. “This is what we work for. We’ve been doing it our whole lives.”
Of course, it’s not just another game: it’s the biggest of his life to date, as he’s taking the mound at the Rogers Centre in Game 1 of Toronto’s best-of-three Wild Card series against the Seattle Mariners.
It’s the first playoff game in Toronto since 2016, with the Jays looking to win their first World Series since 1993.
But is there any pressure? Well, that’s for vehicles, according to Manoah.
“My high school coach used to say, pressure is something for your tires,” Manoah joked when asked if he’d ever felt pressure while pitching. “This is just baseball. It’s a game, you’ve got to go out there and have some fun.”
In what’s just his second MLB season, Manoah was 16-7 with an earned run average (ERA) of 2.24 and 180 strikeouts in 31 appearances this season. He finished sixth in the MLB with a WAR of 5.9, while his ERA placed him fourth in all of baseball.
In simpler terms, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game, making his first All-Star game appearance this past summer.
“I know how to play baseball more than I know how to do anything else in this world,” he added.
Manoah estimated about 25 family members and close friends are traveling to Toronto to see him play tomorrow.
On Thursday morning, it was a FaceTime chat with his mom, Susana Lluch, with the two discussing his rapid rise to MLB success just three years after being drafted in 2019.
“This is everything he’s worked for and dreamt of as a kid,” Lluch told Daily Hive back in July.
But despite his strong 2021 where he went 7-2 as a rookie with a 3.22 ERA, Manoah wasn’t necessarily always tabbed as the Jays’ ace.
Heading into the year, Kevin Gausman, who finished sixth in National League Cy Young voting in 2021 while a member of the San Francisco Giants, would’ve been the likely choice to start Toronto’s first playoff game. There are also those who believed in a bounce-back season for Hyun-Jin Ryu before he suffered a season-ending injury back in June.
But while Gausman still had a strong first season in Toronto, his 3.90 over the second half made one thing clear: at least right now, Manoah is the Jays’ best pitcher. And on any given day, he could easily be picked as the very best in the world.
Coming off a slight finger injury earlier this week, Gausman is possibly slated to take the mound in Game 2. But while Jays manager John Schneider isn’t revealing any of his secrets yet, he’s clearly full of confidence with tomorrow’s starter.
“It feels like [Manoah] was ready for this moment since the moment he first signed,” Schneider said of his young pitcher. “You really can’t say enough about the season that he’s had, and the month of September that he’s had. He lives for moments like this and embraces everything that comes with it.”
First pitch of Game 1 between the Jays and Mariners is set for tomorrow at 1:07 pm PT/ 2:07 pm MT/ 4:07 pm ET. No pressure, kid.