BALTIMORE – The baseball season is too long and the 162-game grind too relentless for a single victory to offer a struggling team any sort of meaningful panacea, but wins like the one the Toronto Blue Jays pulled off Wednesday afternoon can certainly offer rallying points, and ease troubled minds.
Certainly they left Camden Yards in a better headspace than they might have if not for a riveting 6-5, 11-inning triumph over the Baltimore Orioles, during which they hit four home runs, blew a three-run lead, saw their manager get ejected, got a game-saving out at the plate and a drew bases-loaded walk to decide things.
Drama, thy name is Blue Jays.
“It might have been a little too much excitement, put it that way,” said manager John Gibbons, and it’s hard to disagree.
Heading into a four-game series in New York against the Yankees, the Blue Jays have yet to find their footing in any sort of lasting way, and while it’s still early, that refrain is getting old quickly.
Losing Wednesday’s game after taking a 5-2 lead into the seventh would have been like taking a dagger in the shoulder, especially with a difficult series looming. Recovering to win in the fashion they did helps, although it by no means cures all.
“We keep on saying how much a win can do for us, and this and that — we’ve got to clean up our game,” said J.P. Arencibia, who was in the middle of all the action. “There’ve been some defensive miscues, the pitching threw great this series and we didn’t back them up with a ton of runs except for today. “Sometimes you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to fix some things,’ and get that done.”
From an offensive perspective, the way the winning run scored offers something to build upon.
Arencibia started things with a bloop single, Munenori Kawasaki slashed a base hit to left, Brett Lawrie was hit by a pitch and Maicer Izturis walked on four pitches against dominant closer Jim Johnson.
“I was looking for a pitch to guide the ball to the middle,” said Izturis. “He threw a lot of high fastballs and I just wanted to stay patient at the plate.”
While it won’t light up the highlight reels, the rally resulted from exactly the type of grinding at-bats the Blue Jays need more of. They’re a much better team than they’ve shown, but haven’t delivered on their promise to this point.
“The biggest thing is to go out and have fun,” said Arencibia. “When you play this game with pressure — you watch the teams that win, they’re out there playing with nothing to lose. … “When things aren’t going your way, it’s not as comfortable. When you play with nothing to lose and you go out not worried about what the outcome might be but what you can control, that’s when you come out on top. Everyone knows what we have in this clubhouse, it’s just about cleaning it up and having fun. It’s going to roll.”
Sooner much better than later.
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (9-13) won for just the third time in their past nine contests, and came out on top in extra innings for the first time in three tries. The Orioles (12-9) lost for just the second time eight outings and had their club-record 17-game win streak in extra innings come to an end.
Mark Buehrle starts for Toronto on Thursday against Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankees took two of three in Toronto over the weekend. “I’ve got to believe they’ll approach us the same way until we do make an adjustment,” Gibbons said before the game. “The key is you’ve got to adjust, that’s what baseball is, it’s a game of adjustments constantly.”
ON THE MONEY: The Blue Jays would be headed to New York licking their wounds if not for Rajai Davis’ great throw to nail Manny Machado at the plate to end the 10th inning.
With two out on two on – thanks in part to a fly ball lost in the sky by Jose Bautista – J.J. Hardy singled to left and Davis fielded it on one hop and fired a strike to Arencibia, who had plenty of time to catch the ball and deliver the tag.
“I was going to have to get just completely run over to let that run go by,” said Arencibia.
Davis’ throw charged up the dugout, and was the type of defensive play the Blue Jays have lacked.
“Absolutely, and the two-out rally (in the 11th) was icing on the cake,” said Davis. “It’s nice to go out there and make a nice play and then win the game after that.”
Closer Casey Janssen made sure to not give the Orioles any life in the bottom of the 11th, with some help from a nice sliding catch by Emilio Bonifacio on Ryan Flaherty’s blooper.
“The resiliency and not giving up,” Janssen said of what he liked. “It’s not always going to be perfect for 162 games, but as long as we’re competing and giving it all we have every night, more times than not we’re going to be on the right side of the game.
“We’re only as strong as each other. We need everybody to compete and play well.”
HEAVE HO: The Blue Jays’ frustrations boiled over in the ninth, when Brett Lawrie was called out on strikes to end the top half of the frame and intensely argued the point with home plate umpire Mike DiMuro, although he remained under control.
Manager John Gibbons popped out of the dugout immediately to pick things up in place of his player and earned his first ejection, having already chirped at DiMuro from the dugout when a 2-2 pitch to Nate McClouth from Brandon Morrow was called a ball in the fifth.
“I thought there were some borderline calls throughout the game,” explained Gibbons. “It’s tough recognizing the in and out when you’re on the side like that, but I thought there might have been a couple of close calls. Basically I went out there to keep (Lawrie) from getting thrown out, and I asked the guy where was that pitch, and then he chucked me. You can’t argue balls and strikes, I’m not so sure I was doing that.
“Yeah, there’s definitely frustration involved in all of that, but it’s not necessarily what it was.”
Emilio Bonifacio nearly got himself tossed after called third strike in the 10th, when the Blue Jays wasted Maicer Izturis’s leadoff single.
Gibbons didn’t argue for long before his ejection, leading to some critiques from his players.
“He must of said the magic words pretty quick,” quipped Casey Janssen. “I don’t know if it rallied us or not, but it’s always nice for a manager to one way or another show that he’s trying his best. We’ll give Gibby a bit of a hard time over it.”
GIVING IT UP: The dramatic end came after the Blue Jays had taken control by battering emergency starter Josh Stinson for four home runs over 5.2 innings in support of a strong Brandon Morrow. Things fell apart while leading 5-2 in the seventh, as Nolan Reimold worked a one-out walk, Ryan Flaherty doubled and the floodgates opened.
Aaron Loup took over and after Taylor Teagarden flew out, McClouth singled to make it a one-run game and Machado, after fighting back to 3-2 from being down 0-2, tripled to knot things up.
“It snowballed on us,” said manager John Gibbons. “It would have been a tough game to lose.”
AIRING IT OUT: J.P. Arencibia’s two-run shot in the second put the Blue Jays ahead 2-1, Rajai Davis’ solo blast made it 3-1 in the third, Edwin Encarnacion went deep in the fourth while Jose Bautista blasted one to open the sixth, opening up a 5-2 edge.
It was their most home runs since hitting five in a 10-8 win over Cleveland on April 4, and thanks to Izturis’s walk, they improved to 6-0 when scoring five or more runs.
TRANSACTION TRACKER: Orioles starter Josh Stinson was claimed off waivers from Oakland on April 4 and promptly optioned to triple-A Norfolk. Needing an extra starter after a weekend double-header, he was recalled Wednesday with Alex Burnett sent down.
Burnett was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays from Minnesota on March 29 and optioned to triple-A Buffalo, then designated for assignment when Casper Wells was claimed off waivers April 10, claimed by Baltimore on April 12 and optioned to triple-A Norfolk, recalled Monday and then sent down again.
Stinson was optioned to Norfolk after the game.
THE ARMS: Morrow pitched far better than his line would suggest and probably deserved a better fate after allowing four runs, three earned, on three hits and three walks in 6.1 innings. He struck out four.
“I thought I was just all right,” said Morrow. “I threw well for the most part but walks always come back to bite you.”
The performance was in stark contrast to his last outing, when he said he struggled to get loose early in the contest, was clobbered for five runs and two homers by the Yankees in 5.1 innings of work, struggling to find his velocity until late in the game.
This time he hit 94 m.p.h. in the first inning, sat 92-93 throughout the game, and had his slider biting, a sign he was booth loose and effective.
“Better this week,” said Morrow. “I did a little more pre-game warmup and felt looser in the first than I did last week.”
HANDY RELIEF WORK: Darren Oliver, Esmil Rogers (1-1) and Casey Janssen provided four shutout innings of relief to help the Blue Jays nail this one down, and the bullpen’s work of late deserves plenty of credit.
Rogers appeared in his team-leading 11th game, Oliver and Aaron Loup each in their 10th, while Janssen was in his seventh. Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil have also been in 10 games, a heavy workload with the Blue Jays in the midst of 21 straight games.
“Especially for Delabar, Cecil and Rogers, it’s a credit to them and their off-season arm maintenance that they’re able to have those rubber arms and throw every day,” said Janssen. “Without that I don’t know where we’d be if those guys got sore more often than they do.
“Our starters are going to get hot, they’re going to be the guys we know they can be, and then the bullpen can kind of pitch to their roles a little bit more than just who’s the fresh guy.”