SARASOTA, Fla. — It was one of those rare games in which a team’s first and final batter hits a home run, and all sorts of craziness ensued between Nolan Reimold’s lead-off solo shot against Mark Buehrle and Ryan Flaherty’s three-run walk-off blast, served up by Neil Wagner, that sent the Toronto Blue Jays back to their buses on a four-game spring winless streak.
There were two Blue Jay errors in the third inning that resulted in four unearned runs being scored. There was a comeback from a five-run deficit that saw the Jays claw back to take a one-run lead on a clutch two-out, two-run double by Jim Negrych — a lead that lasted less than 10 minutes, as the Orioles greeted Evan Crawford with a pair of doubles around a walk to move back on top. Another clutch hit — a two-out RBI double by Lars Anderson — tied it up in the top of the eighth.
The craziest moment of the game came in the top of the ninth when Ryan Goins drew a walk with a runner on second and one out. That runner, minor-league call-up Kenny Wilson, appeared to forget that there was no one on first, and took off for third in a light jog, as though he was forced to go there by the walk. Orioles catcher Luis Exposito saw Wilson trapped between bases and fired towards third to get him — the operative word there being “towards.” Exposito’s throw was nowhere near anyone, sailing into left field and allowing a still-perplexed Wilson to race home with the tying run.
The Blue Jays appeared as though they were going to close it out when, with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Flaherty took Wagner’s 3-2 fastball down the right-field line, through the fronds of a palm tree situated directly behind the 339 sign. This with a hard wind blowing out to left-centre.
So Orioles Magic (Trademark 2012) seems to have been held over — they have faced the Blue Jays three times and have twice won by one run, tying the other game. They’re 5-0 in games decided by two runs or fewer so far this spring.
Wagner had been making a name for himself in the early part of the spring, with four scoreless, dominant outings in which he flashed a big 97 m.p.h. heater, but the bloom came off that rose as he hit the lead-off man with an 0-2 pitch and after a strikeout gave up a ground single and a deep drive that Wilson ran down at the warning track in centre before Flaherty took him deep.
The impression he’d made before this outing won’t just disappear, though, and he’ll most assuredly get some more chances to open up some eyes again, but his chances to surprise everyone and make the team have gone from slim to really slim.
The chances of Aaron Loup making the team seem to be awfully strong, though, as John Gibbons seemed to hint before the game that Loup may have been the mystery guy who has a job, leading to his earlier “(only) one spot open” comment. Gibbons didn’t put forth that Loup had a secure spot, nobody says things like that about people with options at this point in the spring, but in his pre-game scrum with the media, he said: “I’m not saying he’s a lock, but we like him a lot.”
If Loup is the guy to go north with Casey Janssen (assuming he’s ready to go, and the signs in that direction are trending positive at the moment), Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, Steve Delabar and Esmil Rogers, that leaves just the one spot open. Brett Cecil, Jeremy Jeffress and Brad Lincoln would be the main combatants for that job, and Lincoln is the only one of the three with options remaining. The assumption is that Dustin McGowan will start the season on the disabled list, no matter how well he progresses over the next few weeks.
The Blue Jays are being extra-cautious with their walking wounded, and Brett Lawrie has been added to that list. Lawrie was forced to pull out of the World Baseball Classic after suffering a ribcage strain while trying to field a ground ball in Wednesday night’s warmup game between Team Canada and Cincinnati. Lawrie’s injury isn’t seen as serious — Alex Anthopoulos referred to the strain as “very mild” — and conservative estimates see him missing two or three weeks. Even if he does miss the whole three weeks, that would have Lawrie back on the field by March 28, with three exhibition games remaining before opening day.
Of course, we had also been told that Colby Rasmus, out since Feb. 27, would miss only a couple of days with a sore right (non-throwing) shoulder. He was scheduled to play this past Tuesday against the Orioles; that was pushed back to Thursday against the Orioles, and it’s now been pushed back to Saturday. We have been assured that Rasmus is fine now and will certainly play in the Blue Jays’ home games both Saturday and Sunday, that he could have played Friday afternoon against the Braves but they wanted to spare him the two-hour bus ride.
Santos is being reined in as well. Originally, he was only going to skip one outing, scheduled for Thursday’s game at Sarasota, and would be back in harness Saturday against the Tigers. Discretion being the better part of valour, that sortie has been scratched as well, despite the fact that the MRI on Santos’s sore right triceps muscle came back clean. Gibbons said Santos may next pitch on Tuesday, March 12, but the Blue Jays are in Fort Myers that day so there’s little chance of that happening.
The three-game “road trip” (they do go home after every game) wraps up Friday afternoon as the Blue Jays head over to The Happiest Place On Earth for a Disney date with a split-squad of Braves. Josh Johnson will make his first start of the spring — he’s followed R.A. Dickey in both his previous outings — and he’ll face Atlanta righty Kris Medlen. Dirk Hayhurst and I will have the call for you on www.sportsnet590.ca starting at 1:00 p.m. ET, so be sure to join us!