TORONTO — By now the Toronto Blue Jays are used to seeing Ryan Goins pull off highlight reel defensive plays like the running catch he made in foul territory Tuesday. Hitting hasn’t exactly been the forte of a player who batted .188 with a .479 OPS last year.
But the 27-year-old infielder showed signs of breaking out at the plate in August, and continued his offensive surge with a walk-off two-run home run in the 10th inning as the Blue Jays beat the Cleveland Indians 5-3 to maintain their 1.5 game lead in the AL East.
Too bad Goins doesn’t remember much of the home run trot.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I blacked out, so I don’t even know what happened, honestly,” Goins said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, something I’ll remember.”
Goins is sure of this much: he has never hit a game-ending home run before and wasn’t expecting to record his first Tuesday.
“I’ll tell you what’s not on my mind is a walk-off homer,” he said.
The home run follows an unexpectedly impressive August in which Goins batted .314 with an .885 OPS, two home runs and 16 walks. He holds the bat on his shoulders now, but says his approach is mostly unchanged.
“Nothing with my swing, nothing with the way I hit the ball, nothing with pitch selection, it’s all just happened,” he said.
Considering Goins’ history of struggling at the plate, the Blue Jays had little reason to expect any real offence when Devon Travis hit the disabled list for the second time this season and created an opening at second base. Instead, Goins has done nothing but hit.
“I don’t think anybody said he was a bad hitter, (but) he was struggling a little bit at this level,” manager John Gibbons acknowledged.
Not these days. Goins now has five home runs and a respectable .675 OPS on the season.
The walk-off win was made possible because Roberto Osuna blew his first save since becoming the team’s closer. Edwin Encarnacion’s hitting streak ended at 26 games as the Blue Jays improved to 75-57 in front of 41,356 at Rogers Centre.
Osuna gave up Yan Gomes’ second home run of the night to allow the Indians to tie the game in the ninth inning and set up Goins’ blast. It’s a rare blemish for a 20-year-old who has dominated all season long. In 58.2 innings, Osuna has allowed just 39 hits while striking out 66.
“He’s not going to be perfect,” Gibbons said. “He’s been on a nice little roll. Something like that’s not going to hurt him.”
Before Goins’ home run provided the game’s defining moment, another unexpected contributor stepped up. A few weeks into a season that began with lofty expectations, Dalton Pompey acknowledged he was “playing somewhat scared.” Four and a half months later a whole lot has changed.
Pompey’s no longer expected to be the starting centre fielder on a contending team. He remains an important long-term piece, but for now he’s just one of five September call-ups. If he can produce in a part-time role for now, the Blue Jays will be thrilled.
So far, so good. Pinch-running for Justin Smoak in a 2-2 game, Pompey stole second base, stole third base and scored on a Kevin Pillar sacrifice fly.
“That’s one of the reasons he came up here. He’s real good on the bases,” Gibbons said. “He’s got a real good first step, which for a young guy like that in a lot of ways is rare.”
The run gave the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead and earned Pompey a thunderous ovation from the fans of the team he grew up cheering for. The 22-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native said before and after Tuesday’s game that he feels more comfortable than ever having now seen some successes and failures at the MLB level.
“I felt good all day today. I took BP, ran some bases and I just felt into the game the whole game,” Pompey said. “It’s an awesome atmosphere — something I haven’t experienced before.”
Marco Estrada’s success continued, as he pitched seven innings, allowing just two runs while lowering his ERA to 3.16 despite having a change-up he described as below-average. Like Goins and Pompey, Estrada’s easy to overlook on a team with more than its share of stars.
“That’s what makes a good team great,” Estrada said. “We’ve had a lot of games — not just today — where the back end of the lineup comes through for us … it’s a tough team to pitch to, because you really have no rest.”
Even so, Indians starter Cody Anderson held the Blue Jays in check for six innings, allowing just two runs on three hits. That’s an impressive performance considering the Blue Jays lineup has now scored 725 runs, exceeding their total from the entire 2014 season, when they ranked fifth among all MLB teams.
And thanks to Goins’ surprising power the Blue Jays scored when it mattered most.