TORONTO — Edwin Encarnacion slammed a three-run homer in the 11th inning to lift the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night in a drama-filled American League wild-card game.
Devon Travis singled with one out off Ubaldo Jimenez, a starter who was Baltimore’s seventh pitcher on the night, and moved to third on Josh Donaldson’s single. Then Encarnacion went to work, depositing the ball over the left-field fence.
The Jays dugout emptied, sending a jubilant mass of Toronto players onto the field. The capacity crowd chanted “Eddie, Eddie.”
“Can’t say enough,” said centre-fielder Kevin Pillar of Encarnacion. “We had the right guy up at the right time. He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does. This guy should be in the MVP conversation.”
Toronto now faces Texas, the top seed in the American League, on Thursday afternoon in Arlington to open the five-game AL Division Series.
“We look forward to that,” said Pillar on the Blue Jays rivalry with the Rangers. “I think whatever happened is in the past, it’s all about winning now.”
Both bullpens put on a show, putting up one zero after another. Then, in extra innings, the managers turned to starters with Francisco Liriano and Jimenez.
By then, the sellout crowd of 49,934 was living and dying with every called strike and ball.
Tied 2-2, the Jays sent in closer Roberto Osuna for the ninth. He needed 14 pitches to end it, striking out Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters as the decibel level grew.
Toronto had a glorious chance to end it in its half of the ninth.
Donaldson doubled off Brad Brach down the left field line to open the inning. Encarnacion was intentionally walked, bringing up Jose Bautista who struck out. Darren O’Day needed just one pitch to induce Russell Martin to hit into the Jays’ third double play of the night.
Osuna got one out in the 10th then left quickly with an apparent injury, bringing out Liriano who got the two remaining outs.
Bautista had a solo homer in the second inning for Toronto, which got six strong innings from starter Marcus Stroman and some great defence from Pillar, Troy Tulowitzki and Donaldson before a loud, passionate crowd under the stars at the Rogers Centre.
Stroman retired the first nine hitters he faced but stumbled in the fourth when Trumbo, who led the majors with 47 home runs this season, hit a two-run shot to left.
Stroman was good but so was Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who only allowed Bautista to reach base until he ran into trouble in the fifth. Michael Saunders hit a swerving ground-rule double to left with one out and Pillar then doubled to right field on a play Michael Bourn looked to have but missed at the last second after a long run.
That left men on second and third, with Saunders coming home on Ezequiel Carrera’s short single to centre. Tillman gave way to Mychal Givens, who got Travis to hit into a double play.
There was a nasty moment in the seventh when Baltimore left fielder Hyun Soo Kim was almost hit by a beer can thrown from the stands he made a catch near the fence.
The wild-card race went down to the last day of the regular season with Toronto having to throw ace Aaron Sanchez into action Sunday in Boston. He did his job but as a result the Jays, who went 13-16 in an up-and-down September, were denied their top pitcher in the one-game wild-card showdown.
The atmosphere was electric on a 17-degree Celsius October night.
“Let’s go â†•BlueJays! Canadians are behind you,” tweeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
For a city caught up in Jays fever, it was more than a playoff game. A loss and it was possibly the end of an era with Bautista and fellow star slugger Edwin Encarnacion facing free agency.
There was a pre-game buzz with the 50/50 draw prize ticking past $50,000 some 25 minutes before first pitch. The crowd was in good voice early, roaring when Stroman jogged out to the bullpen for his warmup pitches.
The Orioles were greeted by boos as they lined up before the game for introductions. Fans, waving giveaway rally towels, roared on the Jays when they came out. Seconds later, a “Let’s Go Blue Jays” chant started. It got even louder as Adam Jones stepped up to the plate to open the game.
Stroman and Tillman signalled a tight game with 1-2-3 12-pitch first innings. But after Stroman did it again in the second, Bautista opened the second by depositing a 3-1 pitch over the left-field fence. It was his fifth post-season homer, second only to Joe Carter (6) in Toronto history. Seventeen of Bautista’s 23 home runs this season have put the Jays ahead.
Baltimore didn’t get a runner on base until Jones singled to right to open the fourth. With Jones running on a full count, the Orioles avoided a double play as Kim grounded out to first. Pillar then made a highlight-reel diving catch after a long run to dispatch Manny Machado.
The crowd was silenced when Trumbo, the next batter, slammed a two-run shot to left.
Tillman retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced with Bautista’s homer the only blemish. He walked Bautista in the fourth ending a run of eight straight outs but quickly ended the inning,
In the fifth, Tulowitzki dove acrobatically to get a Jonathan Scoop screamer at shortstop.
Tillman went 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits in a 74-pitch outing that included 44 strikes
Stroman gave up two runs on four hits with no walks and six strikeouts in his six innings. He threw 81 pitches, of which 53 were strikes.
Donaldson drew cheers for vacuuming up a hard hit Wieters ball to third to open the seventh inning. After Brett Cecil issued a walk, Joe Biagini — who was pitching in Class-A ball last season — cleaned up.
Jason Grilli pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.
Toronto has history with Texas.
Last year, Bautista’s dramatic three-run homer — complete with bat flip — lifted the Jays past the Rangers in Game 5 of the AL Division Series before a riled-up capacity crowd of 49,742 at the Rogers Centre.
Toronto went on to lose to the Kansas City Royals in six games in the AL Championship Series.
The bad blood between the Jays and Rangers bubbled to the top in May when Texas second baseman Rougned Odor punched Bautista in the face after objecting to the Toronto outfielder’s slide. That sparked a bench-clearing melee at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Odor was subsequently suspended for eight games while Bautista got a one-game ban. In all, 14 players and staff members were disciplined.
Tuesday marked the 20th time the Baltimore and Toronto had met this season with the Jays holding 10-9 edge coming into the game. Both clubs finished with the same 89-73 record in the regular season.