Josh Donaldson belted bookend solo homers – one in the first and one in the ninth – and in between had a pair of singles, scored a pair of runs and even stole a base! Donaldson and Jose Bautista, who had a three-hit night, paced the Toronto Blue Jays offence in what was a rare-this-season easy win. More significant than the bats, though, was the guy on the mound.
Here’s what stood out to me about the Blue Jays’ 7-2 win in Minnesota:
Marco Estrada had one of the best starts of his big-league career, thoroughly dominating a hard-hitting Twins hard-hitting lineup over eight innings.
Estrada retired the first 12 batters he faced before allowing a leadoff home run by Eddie Rosario in the fifth inning, by which time the Blue Jays had given him a three-run lead.
Eduardo Escobar took Estrada deep to lead off the eighth, and in between Estrada allowed all of one single.
He walked just one and, at his weak-contact-inducing best, got Twins hitters to pop up foul six times. In total, the Twins put 15 balls in play off Estrada Saturday night that had a hit probability of five per cent or less, according to Statcast data. That’s not a typo.
The Twins have been one of baseball’s hottest-hitting teams since the all-star break, and Estrada had them eating out of his hand all night – only allowing four base runners over eight innings.
It was the third straight start in which Estrada has given up two runs or fewer, he’s now allowed no more than three earned runs in five of his last six starts and nine of his last 11.
FOUR STRAIGHT SAFETIES
The Blue Jays opened up the fourth inning with four consecutive hits, something they hadn’t done to start an inning all season.
In fact, getting four hits in a row has been extremely difficult for the Jays this year, which would be expected, I guess, for the team that sits last in the American League in batting average and runs scored.
Donaldson opened the inning with a single to left field and Justin Smoak followed with a double to deep left-centre that drove him in. Bautista was next, and his ground ball got through the left side for a single that sent Smoak to third.
Kendrys Morales was the only one of the four who got lucky to get a knock – the switch-hitter hit a ground ball up the middle that was flagged down by Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco on the dead run. Polanco tried to flip the ball back to second, but his backhand toss pulled Brian Dozier off the bag and everyone was safe. If Polanco makes a good throw, it’s likely a double-play with Morales running. He didn’t, so it was the fourth straight hit to start the inning for the Blue Jays, an infield single on which Smoak scored.
It was only the eighth time all season that the Blue Jays have recorded at least four consecutive hits. The last time was in the ninth inning of a 10-4 win in Boston on Sept. 4. They’ve put together five straight hits only once, in a six-run first inning in Texas back on June 21.
The Blue Jays almost did it again in the eighth inning Saturday night, again to start the frame, but the Twins intentionally walked Smoak after back-to-back singles by Ezequiel Carrera and Donaldson. Back-to-back singles by Bautista and Morales followed the free pass.
Of the previous seven instances of at least four straight hits for the Blue Jays this year, six came with two out and the other with one.
THE HANDSHAKES ARE OVER THERE
Rookie Matt Dermody was in unchartered territory on Saturday night, getting the final three outs of a win, and he forgot what he was supposed to do.
Dermody had been the Blue Jays’ final pitcher of a game twice before, once in a loss and the other time in a game that Steve Pearce walked off with one of those grand slams, so he had yet to be actually on the mound to get the last out of a game.
Traditionally, when the game ends, the pitcher and catcher will walk toward each other and shake hands or hug or dab or knock on a pretend door, then turn around and celebrate the victory with their teammates coming in from behind the mound.
Dermody got Byron Buxton to fly out to deep right field to end the game, and turned to walk back to the Blue Jays dugout, while Russell Martin was walking out to the mound to congratulate him on finishing the game.
The rookie got all the way to the warning track in front of the Jays’ dugout when Marcus Stroman intercepted him and gently pointed him towards the pitchers’ mound, where all the celebrating was going on.
NO-NO FOR GO-GO
Ryan Goins came into the game in the top of the eighth, pinch-hitting for Darwin Barney with the bases loaded and reliever Michael Tonkin on the mound.
In this most unusual of seasons for the sublime Blue Jays sublime middle infielder, Goins had been magic with the bases loaded, going 9-for-12 in such situations with 15 runs batted in. Goins was hitting .750 with the bases loaded this year, and just .209 in all other situations.
The Blue Jays club record for most hits with the bases loaded in a single season is 10, held by Carlos Delgado, and Goins faced Tonkin with an opportunity to both tie the club record and put the game on ice, with the Jays holding a 6-1 lead.
It was not to be, though. Tonkin flipped in a get-me-over slider down the middle to start the at-bat ahead, then threw Goins three straight tough sliders down and away and Goins chased two of them, striking out to drop his average with the bases loaded all the way down to .692.
ROUGH TIME FOR RICHARD
Richard Urena, 21, hit the big leagues in a big way, doubling in his first at-bat, walking off the Orioles with a single a couple of weeks later and notching a bunch of hits in-between, including his first major-league home run.
After that walk-off hit on Sept. 12, Urena was hitting .324/.395/.471 to begin his big-league career, but since then he’s found out just how tough the major leagues can be.
Urena had led off seven games in a row, but he found himself batting ninth on Saturday night, owing to his recent struggles. The switch-hitter came into the game riding a personal 0-for-11, and he extended it to 0-for-14 with his third straight hitless night.
The book seems to have gotten out that Urena can handle the fastball pretty well, so opposing pitchers have started to challenge him with breaking stuff and he has yet to respond. As part of his 0-for-3 Saturday, Urena struck out looking on a curveball and swinging on a slider.
In fact, he’s struck out nine times over the current 0-for-14 run.