ANAHEIM, Calif. – There are a handful of Toronto Blue Jays players to have reached 100 RBIs faster than Josh Donaldson, but what’s worth considering here is the context around his arrival at the century club for the first time in his career.
Carlos Delgado in 2003 is the only other player in franchise history to hit the milestone first among all big-leaguers the way the all-star third baseman did with six RBIs in Saturday night’s 15-3 pummelling of the Los Angeles Angels.
That underlines the scope of the achievement against his peers, while also cementing his status as one of the game’s elite run producers. Despite MVP-calibre performances the past two years with the Oakland Athletics, Donaldson narrowly missed the magic number with 98 and 94 RBIs.
Getting there this season in his 121st game, No. 123 for the team, is in part a product of the volume of opportunities he gets in the juggernaut Blue Jays lineup, but also his ability to capitalize in those spots, too.
"It means a lot, especially the last couple of years I’ve been right around it and haven’t been able to get there," said Donaldson. "It’s cool to have it done, but without my teammates and the guys who are getting on base, it’s not possible, I’m not hitting 100 homers. Those guys are getting on base and doing their job and I’m able to come through at some times, as well."
Another thing to keep in mind is that Donaldson does much of his damage at pivotal points in games, not in garbage time when the production has little impact. His three-run drive in the third inning against the Angels opened the scoring, and was the 23rd of his 34 home runs to either give the Blue Jays a lead or tie the game.
During the decisive seven-run fourth that opened up a 10-0 edge, his two-run single at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat against reliever Cam Bedrosian really opened the floodgates and made it a 7-0 lead. RBI No. 100 came in the fifth inning, when he lined a double into the left-field corner to bring home Ben Revere. He got the ball as a memento of the moment.
"I feel like I have been doing a better job of staying with my approach and staying within myself (with runners in scoring position)," said Donaldson. "At the same time, you’ve got guys behind me (that make pitchers) more apt to throw pitches in the strike zone, especially early on, because they don’t want to put me on base, as well. Jose Bautista is a proven guy, Edwin Encarnacion is a proven guy, and then you’ve got guys behind them that can hit, it’s tough."
The biggest offensive outburst since they scored 15 at Boston on July 22, 2012 helped the 68-55 Blue Jays move 13 games above .500 for the first time this season, and kept them 4.5 games up on the Rangers (63-59) for the wild card lead, while the Angels (63-60) slipped a half-game back of Texas.
They also remained a half-game back of the New York Yankees for the AL East lead.
Encarnacion added two hits and three RBIs, Bautista had four hits and two RBIs, Chris Colabello’s three hits included a two-run homer, while Ben Revere and Cliff Pennington also knocked in runs.
Marco Estrada benefitted from some strong defence in the early innings, and left with two outs and a man on in the sixth. He allowed three runs on five hits, including solo shots to C.J. Cron and Kaleb Cowart in the fifth inning, to collect his 11th win in a relatively low-stress outing.
"I try not to think about the score, ever, no matter if we’re up 15-whatever, or 1-0," said Estrada. "You’ve just got to keep going, give the team innings."
Chris Colabello made a diving stop on David Murphy’s smash to open the second, Dioner Navarro threw out Erick Aybar trying to steal later in the inning and Donaldson displayed the full dimension of his game by charging Grant Green’s roller and throwing on the run for the final out of the third.
A vocal contingent of Blue Jays fans among the Angel Stadium crowd of 42,578 chanted M-V-P before and after each of his at-bats, an audacious act in Mike Trout’s house. For those who saw this weekend series as a clash between the AL award’s top contenders, it’s been Donaldson in a landslide.
"His consistency and the quality of his at-bats, no matter how they pitch him it seems like he’s always ready to hit what’s coming – it’s impressive," said Bautista. "It’s been unbelievable all year long, but specifically the last two months with runners on base, he’s been even more locked in.
"He’s been outstanding, hopefully he can continue to do that."
Delgado is the Blue Jays player to reach 100 RBIs the fastest, doing it in his 101st game, No. 102 for the team, on July 25, 2003. He ended up establishing a team record with 145 RBIs that year, ending up an undeserving runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in the MVP balloting.
"That was real early," said manager John Gibbons. "A hundred RBIs before you hit the month of September is pretty good."
With only 39 games remaining, Donaldson is unlikely to establish a new club mark for RBIs, but at the pace he’s on, he may very well end up with the MVP award that eluded Delgado.