TORONTO – The timeliness of the thorough smackdown the Toronto Blue Jays dropped on the Cleveland Indians on Sunday afternoon can’t be emphasized enough. Manager John Gibbons really needed a long outing as much as a good one from J.A. Happ, what with Marco Estrada’s next start in doubt and a bullpen so thinned out that R.A. Dickey was on call if needed. Further, a slim lead would have been hard to nurse home with Jason Grilli, who’d pitched in three of the past four games, and Roberto Osuna, who’d thrown in four of the past five, both down. So margin for error was almost a necessity.
Happ and the offence both delivered in a big way in a 17-1 pounding, as the Blue Jays recovered to split a four-game series with the Indians, who arrived at Rogers Centre as baseball’s hottest club and leave having used catcher Chris Gimenez for a couple of innings in the finale. Both teams started the day still dealing with the repercussions of Friday’s riveting 19-inning game, but Sunday will go a long way in helping the Blue Jays recover.
“I feel like I did my job, more than anything,” said Happ, who at 11-3 has the most wins by a Blue Jays pitcher before the all-star break since Roy Halladay won 11 in 2008. “These guys have been playing a lot of innings, we’ve gone quite a few games without a day off and then the 19-inning game. These guys are tired but they’re showing up and playing defence and obviously with plenty of energy, which is great to see. I feel good about doing my part, but everybody else did theirs today, too.”
The cruise-control contest was particularly pivotal given that the Blue Jays are in a stretch of 17 straight games, with a week of contests coming up against the Kansas City Royals, in what’s sure to be an emotional rematch of last year’s ALCS, and the Detroit Tigers before the all-star break. Starting that week on empty wouldn’t have been good, and triple-A Buffalo is depleted at the moment, too.
“In a crucial game we needed a good outing. We’re pretty banged up, we didn’t have a whole lot in the bullpen. Without him doing that the game might have ended up 35-30 or something,” said Gibbons. “We should be fine (for the Royals). We still have some guys who are taxed but today’s game really allowed us to get back on track. We feel pretty good.”
Happ stabilized things by allowing just a run on five hits with a season-high 11 strikeouts, one short of his career best, before a crowd of 45,962. He worked around a Jason Kipnis double in the first and then didn’t allow another hit until the fifth.
In the meantime, the offence worked over Corey Kluber for five runs over 3.1 innings before lowering the boom on reliever Tom Gorzelanny, who was charged with seven of the eight runs in the sixth inning that pushed this one out of reach en route to a new season-high in runs for the Blue Jays.
“Real good,” Troy Tulowitzki, 3-for-5 with a three-run homer and four RBIs on his bobblehead day, said of his team’s recovery over the weekend. “If you’re looking at it from about the seventh inning on (Saturday), you think, ‘OK, if we lose three here, that’s tough, then you’re going against Kluber, possibly get swept, that’s probably going through some people’s minds, and we respond like we did, finish the series 2-2, and obviously have some big games coming before the break.”
Russell Martin hit a three-run homer in the first off Kluber that got the ball rolling and finished with three hits, two walks and five RBIs. Josh Donaldson reached base in all six plate appearances and scored four times. Tulowitzki hit a three-run homer in the sixth that made it a laugher, Edwin Encarnacion had two hits and three RBIs while Justin Smoak added a two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth that pushed the total to 17, the Blue Jays’ highest total since a 17-11 win versus Tampa Bay on Aug. 7, 2010.
“It helps the team a lot with the offence we had today,” Encarnacion, suspended one game earlier in the day by Major League Baseball for contact with umpire Vic Carapazza but playing while he appeals, said through interpreter Josue Peley. “But thanks to Happ it’s going to help the bullpen a lot, they needed a breather since the last week was kind of difficult for them.”
The bucket of runs helped ease the pressure off Happ, who was dominant from start to finish by dotting his fastball to set up his breaking ball. In some ways his biggest challenge was staying loose between innings but he quipped, “I’ll take that problem, if you want to call it a problem.”
Even better, he worked rapidly and regularly got his fielders back into the dugout quickly, something they surely appreciated given the past week’s physical toll.
“Definitely, I think that helped,” said Happ. “And the pitch count allowed me to get in and through that seventh. That’s where having the command helps a lot on a day like today when you need to get pretty deep in the game.”
Once he was done, the big lead provided Drew Storen and Aaron Loup with some of the lowest-leverage work they’ll get this season. The Indians, meanwhile, ran through their available relievers and were forced to use Gimenez for the final two innings, the way the Blue Jays went to Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney in the 18th and 19th innings Friday.
The looming problem is that the Blue Jays will be missing Encarnacion for at least one game sometime soon, as the chances of Major League Baseball overturning his suspension are basically nil. Contact with an umpire, even the light inadvertent bump Encarnacion laid into Carapazza after his absurd first-inning ejection, is a major no-no.
“I was waiting for it, I knew something was going to happen, because I possibly bumped into him,” Encarnacion said, adding later, “they know I’m not that type of person. They’re the ones who are going to decide about that.”
More likely, he and the Blue Jays will pick a date this week to drop the appeal and serve the one game. Now that the pitching staff, and the roster in general, is back on more stable footing, that absence could end up a scheduled rest day for the slugger as much as a punishment.