ATLANTA – Baseball is just completely incomprehensible. Seriously, try to wrap your mind around how the Toronto Blue Jays can go from terrific baseball in winning five straight and 11 of 15 to a raging sewage inferno in three straight losses to the Atlanta Braves before responding with their biggest offensive night of the season despite missing six – six – regulars from the lineup.
Oh, don’t forget that Darrell Ceciliani homered on an 83-m.p.h. change-up that went 424 feet to right at 109.2 m.p.h. off the bat while possibly suffering a partial subluxation in his left shoulder that is expected to land him on the disabled list. Also, catcher Luke Maile, with just two line drives in 39 big-league plate appearances prior to Thursday night, and pitcher Marcus Stroman, to the opposite field, became perhaps the unlikeliest duo to hit back-to-back homers in franchise history.
So yeah, there was plenty to unpack from the Blue Jays’ 9-0 romp Thursday in the finale of what became a highly charged two-and-two interleague series after a Bautista bat flip a night earlier caused the dugouts to clear a second time.
Also in the backdrop to the game was Kevin Pillar’s two-game suspension for hurling a gay slur at reliever Jason Motte, while the Braves revealed star slugger Freddie Freeman was expected to miss 10 weeks with a broken wrist caused by an Aaron Loup pitch.
Even for a Blue Jays team that’s made “never a dull moment” its trademark, that’s a lot of stuff.
“It was a rough day but I was talking to a few people earlier, Stro’s got a way of doing something when we need something desperately. He comes through,” said manager John Gibbons. “We gave him a nice lead, they did us a favour hitting Bautista. The one thing about Jose, too, and I’ve never seen anybody like it, when he gets drilled or they throw behind him, he always comes back to burn somebody.”
The Braves addressed their lingering ill-will toward Bautista immediately (Texas Rangers, take note), as Teheran missed the right-fielder with a 94.8-m.p.h. fastball that wasn’t in quite enough before getting him on the leg with 95.6 m.p.h. the next pitch.
“I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” said Bautista. “I did feel like the first one was a signal and I feel like they did what they felt they had to do. It is what it is. We came to win the ballgame, and that’s what we did.”
Bautista didn’t say a thing on either pitch and took first without issue as home-plate umpire Paul Emmel issued warnings to both dugouts. The extra-curricular activities ceased there but the Blue Jays proceeded to knock around Teheran as Kendrys Morales followed with a single before Ceciliani brought Bautista home with a double. Chris Coghlan then made it 3-0 with a two-run double.
“We’re not in a position to be picking fights,” Bautista said of his calm reaction. “We’ve got a lot of people that are hurt and hoping to get back, we haven’t been playing up to our capabilities and we’d rather make the news by winning games, not be getting into fights. That’s what I was thinking about.”
In the third, Bautista opened the inning with a laser-beam double off the left-field wall and scored on Morales’ base hit.
Then Ceciliani went deep but the Blue Jays couldn’t fully savour it, as he cradled his shoulder while circling the bases, adding to the club’s unending run of injuries. He felt some discomfort during his first at-bat before the shoulder popped loose in the second.
“I knew I hit it good, the swing, mechanically, felt good, I just know as I finished my swing, once the ball exited the bat, it locked up on me and was stuck for a little bit,” said Ceciliani. “I was trying to make it feel a little bit better (while running the bases). It was a freak thing, I don’t even know how to explain it. Hopefully it feels better here in a short amount of time and go from there.”
After a 37-minute rain delay, things got even wilder in the fourth when Maile led off the inning with his first homer of the season and Stroman, whose pinch-hit double in the 11th inning April 25 at St. Louis helped set up a 6-5 win, turned on a 91-m.p.h. fastball and slapped it 370 feet over the wall in right.
The only other homer by a Blue Jays pitcher was by Mark Hendrickson on June 21, 2003 at Montreal.
“I don’t know man, to be honest with you,” Stroman replied when asked about his approach at the plate. “I’m just doing everything in my power to be competitive out there, just put the bat on the ball, you know what I mean? Obviously I’m not trying to hit a homer, I just ran into it. Teheran is an unbelievable pitcher, doing everything I can to put the bat on the ball.”
Morales added another RBI single later in the inning – the third of his season-high four hits – and it was basically garbage time from that point forward.
Stroman allowed seven hits with a walk over 5.2 shutout innings of work, giving the Blue Jays the type of lockdown outing they needed after three dismal losses. For a night they gave themselves something to feel good about ahead of a weekend in Baltimore to face the Orioles, another opponent rich with possibilities.