TORONTO – David Price was in the house. Mark Lowe and Ben Revere were en route. These are your 2015 Toronto Blue Jays, living in the moment, playoffs or bust.
An eventful non-waiver trade deadline behind them, a revamped group headed into the final two months of the season with an exhilarating 7-6, 11-inning victory over the Kansas City Royals on Friday night, first spoiling the debut of Johnny Cueto before Josh Donaldson delivered the decisive blow.
The 53-51 Blue Jays rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 6-3 against the American League’s best team to win for the third time in four games on their 10-game homestand.
"With the trades and everything that happened this week, what it gave us I think is more confidence in ourselves," said Donaldson. "Alex (Anthopoulos, the GM) believes in this team, the city believes in this team, and we believe in this team. When you add extra pieces like he did, it’s starting to really come together."
Troy Tulowitzki ripped a one-out single off Franklin Morales to start the rally, advanced to second on a balk and then scored as Donaldson ripped a ball over the head of Alcides Escobar at short.
The appropriate bedlam ensued on the field, Donaldson pointing to a crowd of 29,389 that stood and screamed throughout his at-bat.
"Any kind of walk-off hit is exciting," he explained. "You want to be able to share that with the fans, with your teammates. You don’t get to do it very often and when you do, it’s one of those things you want to be able to remember and you want the fans to be able to remember it, too."
The walk-off hit was Donaldson’s third this season.
"He’s definitely one of the guys you want up there," said manager John Gibbons. "He’s a power guy, but he’s also a complete hitter, he’s not a guy who goes up there and swings for the fences all the time, he’ll play the situation, take his hit up the middle or take it to right field, we’ve seen him do that, and ge’s got enough power to hit the longball to right, especially in this park.
"What separates him is he still thinks base hits at the right time. He’ll turn it loose and go for the downs like that, but he plays the situations great."
Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil and Liam Hendriks each threw a perfect inning of relief from the eighth through the 11th to set the stage for the winning rally, as the Blue Jays out-bullpenned a Royals relief corps considered the best in baseball.
"They were great," Gibbons said of his relievers.
The Blue Jays scored three times in the seventh against Ryan Madson to knot things up, getting one run on a Lorenzo Cain error on Tulowitzki’s single that let Ryan Goins score, another on a double by Donaldson and the equalizer on Justin Smoak’s double play with the bases loaded.
With the go-ahead run at third and two outs, Kelvin Herrera got Russell Martin on a weak 6-3 to short on a 100 mph heater and then in the eighth, he stranded Ezequiel Carrerra at third by getting Tulowitzki on a soft popper to short.
Drew Hutchison buried the Blue Jays in an early 3-0 hole on a two-out RBI double by Kendrys Morales and a two-run single by Ben Zobrist, with Morales beaten to home by a throw from Jose Bautista but deftly evading the tag from Martin.
Cueto, acquired by the Royals last week for three left-handed pitching prospects, didn’t allow a hit until Carrera’s infield single in the third, upheld by replay, eventually led to Donaldson’s two-run double.
Kevin Pillar’s RBI single in the fourth tied things 3-3 and it stayed there until the sixth, when Hutchison surrendered a leadoff single to Cain, and Eric Hosmer followed with a squib off Aaron Loup that Donaldson threw away, allowing Cain to score.
A Morales sac fly against Bo Schultz made it 5-3 while an RBI single from Alcides Escobar in the seventh opened up the 6-3 edge.
Hutchison, looking to bounce back from a four-inning, six-run outing last weekend in Seattle, worked five innings plus a batter, and allowed four runs, three earned, on seven hits and a walk.
Cueto, with his constantly changing deliveries, allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over six innings.
"That’s a weapon," Gibbons said of Cueto’s deliveries, "plus he comes at you with some power, it’s not like he’s flipping it in there. It’s not an easy at-bat. Little things like that, the whole idea is throwing off hitters’ timing, and if you have a leg kick, it can cause you some problems.
"But I thought we battled him good. Down 3-0 we got the big double from Donaldson to keep it close, we ended up tying it, and then we got to the bullpen a little bit, Madsen who’d been rock solid, that’s key. It was a real good ballgame, two good teams going at it. The good guys won."