ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It was an incredible night at The Trop, as the Blue Jays came all the way back from seven runs down to rally for a win over the Rays, in a place that’s been a House of Horrors for them for pretty much ever.
J.P. Arencibia was the hero — maybe John Gibbons should keep him out of the starting lineup more often, get that blood boiling. The Blue Jays were down to their last strike when Arencibia shot a Fernando Rodney arrow into the seats in left for the game-winning home run.
Sunday’s win in Seattle sure looked like the turning point of what’s been an awful season so far and Monday’s win didn’t do anything to disprove that hypothesis.
Here are three things that stood out to me about the huge come-from-behind victory:
The Blue Jays’ comeback was helped along by their former teammate, Yunel Escobar. Now the Rays’ shortstop, Escobar wasn’t in the starting line-up because of a bruise on his left hand, suffered when he was hit by a pitch in Colorado on Saturday, but he came in defensively for Sean Rodriguez in the sixth inning and made quite an impact on the game.
First, Escobar let Arencibia’s hot shot to his left leading off the eighth inning completely eat him up. The ball appeared to go right through Escobar’s glove and Arencibia was credited with a single. After a strikeout and a walk, Melky Cabrera hit a textbook double play ball to Escobar, an easy turn that would have ended the inning with the Rays still holding a two-run lead, but Yunel booted it, everyone was safe, and Jose Bautista followed with a sacrifice fly to get the Blue Jays back within one.
In the ninth, Adam Lind led off with a walk and pinch-runner Emilio Bonifacio stole second. Escobar was there, but not only was he not able to short-hop Jose Molina’s poor throw, he wasn’t even able to keep it in front of him, and Bonifacio scampered all the way to third.
Arencibia made that all moot, of course, with the game-winning homer, but it was swell that Escobar was able to help out his old buddies nonetheless.
ONE UGLY INNING
Mark Buehrle pitched five innings of three-hit shutout for the Blue Jays. The problem is, his outing was six innings long.
Buehrle was strong for his first two innings of work and sensational over his final three, but he was just awful in the third.
That third inning started with each of the first six hitters Buehrle faced reaching base. A soft line single was followed by a four-pitch walk, then Kelly Johnson hit a fly ball to deep centrefield that Rasmus settled under on the warning track, but he had to turn and play it off the wall for an RBI single. It appeared as though the ball changed direction mid-flight, which would certainly cause one to believe that it hit one of the catwalks hanging over the playing surface here at Tropicana Field. If it did, it would have been a three-run homer, but the umpires checked the replay and found no evidence that it did.
It didn’t turn out to matter, as after Ryan Roberts’ swinging bunt that refused to go foul along the first-base line loaded the bases, Evan Longoria put a Buehrle offering in the seats for his third career Grand Slam. James Loney followed with a double, then Buehrle struck out Sean Rodriguez for, finally, the first out of the inning. Luke Scott followed with a two-run homer to cap the ugliness.
Just like Brandon Morrow did Sunday, Buehrle was brilliant following his blow-up, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced after the Scott homer, giving his team a chance to pull off the huge comeback.
NO WAY, JOSE
With the Blue Jays having cut the Rays’ lead to two runs, Jose Bautista led off the seventh inning with a single up the middle and smartly went all the way to third on Edwin Encarnacion’s base hit up the middle that followed. Encarnacion then stole second, giving the Jays runners at second and third with nobody out.
The Rays kept their infield back, willing to trade a run for an out, but they didn’t have to.
Adam Lind scorched a ball to second base that almost knocked Ryan Roberts over as he fielded it. Thinking he had a chance to score a run, Bautista took off for the plate and was thrown out by a good 10 feet.
I’m not sure if Bautista thought Roberts was more staggered by the grounder than he was, if he thought that with the infield back the Rays wouldn’t be throwing home no matter what, or if he was just really bound and determined to get the Blue Jays back within a run after they’d been down by seven. Whatever he was thinking, though, he should have thought differently.
With Bautista an easy out at the plate, the once-promising inning went a-glimmering as lefty-killing right-handed reliever Joel Peralta came on to strike out Colby Rasmus and get Maicer Izturis to fly to centre.
At the time, it looked like the Blue Jays had run out of chances, but Bautista got an opportunity to make up for it the next inning, and he drove a sacrifice fly to get the Jays back within one and help set the stage for Arencibia’s heroics.