TORONTO, Ont. — The Toronto Blue Jays came home energized after a rainout in The Bronx, and they and the Tampa Bay Rays combined for an entertaining afternoon of baseball before a holiday Monday of almost 30,000 at Rogers Centre.
Here are three things that stood out to me about the homestand-opening win over Tampa Bay:
BIG HIT, BIG SPOT
There have been many, many times this season when the Blue Jays have been dying for a big hit in a big spot and it hasn’t come, but on a beautiful Victoria Day afternoon, Edwin Encarnacion rewrote that story.
Encarnacion came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with two out and the bases loaded in a tie ballgame against a shaky pitcher and got the job done in rather emphatic fashion. He took a strike from a wild Josh Lueke, then hammered the next pitch off the left-field wall. Encarnacion hit the ball so hard that Sam Fuld couldn’t corral the carom, and three runs scored easily.
It was only the Blue Jays’ second hit this season with the bases loaded and their first since April 10, a span of 36 games.
WALKS WILL KILL YOU
R.A. Dickey was cruising along, enjoying a two-run lead with two out and nobody on in the third inning when he issued a four-pitch walk to Matt Joyce. That opened the door for the Rays to tie things up, as Ben Zobrist followed by bouncing a single to left and Evan Longoria then hit a fly ball to right field on which Jose Bautista got a bad break. The ball landed on the warning track (Bautista likely wouldn’t have been able to catch it even with a good jump) for a two-run double and the game was tied.
The walk to Joyce was a big part of the Rays’ game-tying rally, but walks were an even bigger part of the Blue Jays’ game-winning rally.
With the score still tied in the bottom of the seventh, the Blue Jays took the lead thanks to that big swing by Encarnacion, but that was their only hit of the inning. Lueke had a lot of trouble with the strike zone, walking three of the first five batters he faced (and one of the other two, Henry Blanco, bunted) to bring Encarnacion to the plate with the sacks juiced.
Rays pitchers issued five unintentional walks to the Blue Jays in the game, and four of them scored.
WORKING THE PITCHER (AND THE BASERUNNER!)
Adam Lind had a spectacular plate appearance in the bottom of the first inning with one out and runners on the corners. Lind, who has an OPS over 1.000 in his terrific month of May, worked a full count against Rays rookie starter Jake Odorizzi and then fouled off six straight pitches until he found one he liked and drove it to left field for a sacrifice fly to give the Blue Jays the early lead.
It was a great job of hitting by Lind, and the only one who didn’t appreciate it was Encarnacion, who happened to be the runner on first base.
With Lind not a big strikeout guy, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons wanted to stay out of a double play had Lind hit the ball on the ground, so he had Encarnacion running on each of the seven 3-2 pitches that Lind faced, sprinting for second only to have Lind foul the pitch off half a dozen times.
Encarnacion was on fumes by the time Lind hit the sac fly, but he had to race back to first base because the Rays had a shot at doubling him up. Yunel Escobar’s wild relay throw went into the Rays dugout, though, which meant that Edwin was granted free passage to third base. As he had every right to do, he took his sweet time walking those 180 feet, which no doubt left him with enough energy in reserve to be the hero in the seventh.