ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Playing on after a teammate suffers a frightening injury is a difficult task, but the Toronto Blue Jays managed to not only cope with some difficult circumstances, they rallied their way to a third straight win after J.A. Happ was struck in the head by a line drive.
Maicer Izturis capped the comeback from an early three-run deficit with a solo shot in the ninth inning, sealing a 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
Melky Cabrera cashed in a Brett Lawrie single later in the ninth to provide some insurance for the Blue Jays, who escaped a seven-run hole while winning the series opener on a ninth-inning home run by J.P. Arencibia on Monday.
“I was in shock,” Izturis said of Happ in comments interpreted by third base coach Luis Rivera. “You’re not human if you don’t feel for him … everyone was praying for him at the time.”
Added Jose Bautista: “It seemed like for a couple of innings there right after it happened we couldn’t get our focus on the game. Everybody was focused on him and the play and he was hurt badly. But it started to turn, the bullpen gave us a chance, held them in check after falling behind early, and again, key hits, that’s where it’s at.
“We’ve managed to get our fair share in the last three games and we hope that continues.”
The Blue Jays were understandably sluggish in this one after Happ was stretchered off the field during the second inning when Desmond Jennings’ smash off the side of the lefty’s head left players and fans alike ashen-faced.
Roberto Hernandez, the former Fausto Carmona, kept the Blue Jays in check for his six innings, allowing only Adam Lind’s solo shot in the second, but the Rays bullpen was dreadful once again as they lost for the 13th time when leading a game, a major-league high.
Lefty Jake McGee came on to face southpaws Lind and Colby Rasmus in the seventh, but they doubled and homered to make it a 4-3 game, and the Blue Jays tied things in the eighth when Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista hit back-to-back doubles to open the frame against Kyle Farnsworth.
They failed to score despite runners on the corners with no outs in that frame, but jumped on Joel Peralta in the ninth, with Izturis ripping his third of the season before Cabrera collected his third hit of the night.
“I’m not a home run hitter, but I was aggressive going into that at-bat,” said Izturis. “I needed to be aggressive with the guy and I was lucky I got a fastball, I put a good swing on it. I feel like sometimes when I’m aggressive and I put a good swing on it the ball jumps off my bat and that’s what happened.”
Casey Janssen closed things out in the ninth for his ninth save.
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays improved to 13-21 with their first three-game win streak of the season, and by taking the first two games of their four-game set here, ended a run of 17 straight road series losses to Tampa Bay. The Rays (14-18) lost for the fifth time in seven games before a crowd of 10,273 at Tropicana Field.
THE BATS: Adam Lind had only four extra base hits all season before collecting two Tuesday, one of them coming off a left-hander in just his second at-bat of the season versus a southpaw.
The Blue Jays hit six doubles as well as two homers, and the two-baggers are an element of offence they had been missing during their slow start.
Melky Cabrera had two of them and seems to be among the Blue Jays to struggle early finally coming to life.
Maicer Izturis has three home runs this year after hitting just two for the Angels last year.
“We are a really good club, everybody is playing more relaxed now, and you’re seeing the results,” he said. “We have way too good a club to play the way we have played at the beginning.”
THE ARMS: The Blue Jays needed four relievers to pick up for J.A. Happ, none of them allowing a run.
Brad Lincoln worked 2.1 frames and allowed an inherited runner to score but nothing else, Aaron Loup went 2.1 scoreless, winning pitcher Steve Delabar (3-1) threw two shutout frames and Casey Janssen closed things out and remains flawless.
“You’ve got to come and limit the damage right there,” said Lincoln. “That first inning was probably the most difficult to get through and try to get focused again.”
SOCCER STYLE: Several Blue Jays were left in an awkward spot after J.A. Happ was injured and they had to tend to the play before tending to their teammate.
Asked if he wishes umpires were instructed to call the play dead so treatment can commence sooner, Jose Bautista replied: “You do, but maybe it’s going to have unwritten code between us players like they do in soccer, when somebody’s hurt they kick the ball off the field. I don’t think there are any rules that need to be changed because it becomes a judgment, when is someone hurt so bad that you need to call play off. If you put that in the umpire’s hands, it’s just more for them to worry about and it can become chaos. It just has to be one of those baseball plays where maybe you get to first and take a knee, or kind of call the play dead on your own, we’d have to figure that out. I don’t think any rules need change.”
CLOSE PLAY: The Blue Jays may have had a call go their way in the second when Jose Molina hit a weak chopper up the first base line that Edwin Encarnacion shovelled home to J.P. Arencibia, who tagged Sean Rodriguez for an out after no call was made on the initial slide.
Rodriguez felt his fingers swiped the tip of the plate but home plate umpire Marty Foster felt he hovered over the dish, which is why no call was made as Arencibia swiped at and missed the runner. Arencibia noticed and promptly tagged Rodriguez.
Rays manager Joe Maddon came out to argue and was ejected after swiping at the plate with his hand the way Rodriguez did.
TOSSED TOO: Edwin Encarnacion earned his third career ejection and first since 2008 for arguing with home plate umpire Marty Foster after a strike out in the ninth inning.
Encarnacion went down swinging so he must have been upset over one of the two strike calls earlier in the at-bat that left him down 1-2. He had a mixed bag kind of day, going 1-for-4 with a single, walk and three strikeouts.
His ejection led the Blue Jays to move Adam Lind from the DH slot to first base for the bottom of the ninth.
NEEDS MORE SINK: One of the issues that’s dogged Mark Buehrle of late is his inability to get the ball down, and one of the reasons for that has been the movement on some of his pitches.
“He’s run into some trouble where his balls are cutting back over the middle of the plate instead of sinking away with his changeup and his fastball,” said manager John Gibbons. “You get a little cut instead of that fade, that’s primarily where he’s been hurt.”
Whether the issue is with his mechanics or his release point is uncertain.
“Something happens with the way the ball comes out of his hand,” said Gibbons. “But he’s been doing it for 12 years, he’s pretty good at making adjustments.”
As for who catches Buehrle in his next start, Gibbons said Henry Blanco “did a nice job with it” but was non-committal about repeating their pairing.