Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ keeps piling up strikeouts in win vs. Red Sox

Curtis Granderson hit a home run in the bottom of the 10th inning and the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Boston Red Sox.

TORONTO – Curtis Granderson’s walk-off homer Tuesday represented his biggest hit yet with the Toronto Blue Jays and made up for a rare Roberto Osuna blown save.

It also provided the 20,070 fans in attendance with something to cheer for on an emotional day at the ballpark. Before the game the Blue Jays honoured those who died in Monday’s tragic Toronto attack with a moment of silence, video tribute and #TORONTOSTRONG sign in centre field. The club also welcomed six of the first responders who were at the scene soon after a man drove a van through a crowd of people, killing 10 and injuring 14 more.

Before the 4-3 win, Granderson heard some perspective that resonated with him. As the game unfolded, he kept the advice in mind.

“Continue to keep going and don’t live in fear, don’t stop things because of this incident,” Granderson said. “Having a game like today and having a lot of fans come out and continue to support, and knowing that we had a good game against the Red Sox was big, not only for the city, but for the country, for these fans.”

J.A. Happ delivered a shutdown performance, holding Boston to just one run on four hits over seven impressive innings as the Blue Jays improved to 14-8.

“The city’s hurting right now,” Happ said. “We had some first responders here today and I hope they enjoyed the game. If they stayed until the end, I think they did. It was a meaningful win for us on several levels.”

Facing a lineup this talented, the Blue Jays would have taken seven innings of one-run ball from Happ regardless of how he got there, but the left-hander didn’t need any lucky bounces Tuesday (in fact Happ helped pick up Aledmys Diaz, who dropped a catchable pop-up in the fourth inning). He struck out 10 Red Sox without walking a single hitter, touching 95 m.p.h. with his fastball while generating 14 swinging strikes.

“He was really good tonight,” manager John Gibbons said. “He’s on a nice little roll.”

Indeed, Happ’s performance Tuesday lines up with a season-long trend that’s seen him induce more swings and misses than ever. Hitters are whiffing on 14.3 per cent of the pitches he throws — easily a career high and well above the 10.2 per cent whiff rate averaged by MLB starters. So does Happ have any idea why he’s generating more swings and misses?

“No,” Happ said. “I wouldn’t tell you if I did, though.”

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Regardless, Happ’s strikeouts are now on the rise. He has 40 of them, compared to just seven walks, for an average of 12.86 per nine innings. Granted, it’s early and this kind of whiff rate would be tough to sustain for six months, but the Blue Jays will take Chris Sale-level strikeouts while they can get them.

Two innings after Happ’s exit, the Blue Jays surrendered their lead. Osuna blew a save for the first time this season, allowing his first two runs of 2018 on four hits while throwing 31 pitches, one of which was clocked at 98.1 m.p.h. With two outs and one run in, Osuna walked catcher Christian Vazquez then allowed a Brock Holt RBI single to tie the game.

Third base coach Carlos Febles sent Eduardo Nunez home to try to take the lead, but the decision proved overly aggressive as an accurate throw from Granderson nabbed Nunez at home. Afterwards, Gibbons expressed full confidence in Osuna despite the rough outing.

“That’s why they call it the big leagues,” Gibbons said.

One inning later, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel mirrored Osuna, allowing his first run of the year on the Granderson walk-off shot, a no-doubt homer that bounced off the facing of the third deck. Make no mistake, though, standing in against Kimbrel wasn’t fun.

“His ball rides a little (and) his curveball is a neutralizer to keep you off the fastball,” Granderson said. “I obviously don’t want to continue to have to face him.”

Offensively, the Blue Jays did most of their damage in the third inning. Kevin Pillar opened the scoring with an RBI fielder’s choice and three batters later Granderson provided a two-run single. Otherwise, the Blue Jays offence was quiet against Red Sox starter Rick Porcello.

Even so, it added up for a win in the first of 19 matchups against the Red Sox. And bigger picture, Toronto’s sports teams are attempting to provide some form of solace for a city recovering from tragedy.

“Hopefully that cheers some people up,” Gibbons said. “It definitely cheered us up in (the clubhouse). It’s a tough day for Toronto, the last couple of days. Really, all over Canada. You can’t explain why those things happen, but the Leafs’ win (a playoff elimination game against the Bruins Monday), that was a big night.

“This game tonight wasn’t quite the same magnitude, but maybe the Raptors will win (Wednesday) and that can at least ease some of the pain maybe.”

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