Solarte’s monster performance earns Blue Jays a split in Cleveland

Yangervis Solarte hit a grand slam in the 11th inning and drove in six runs total as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Cleveland Indians in the first game of a doubleheader.

CLEVELAND – On their own, the numbers for Yangervis Solarte are impressive enough. A club-record eight hits, two of them doubles, two of them homers, one an extra-inning grand slam. Seven RBIs. Four runs scored. A walk, just for fun. Three defensive positions played. That’s about as productive a doubleheader a player can have, and indeed the versatile Toronto Blue Jays infielder fell just one hit short of the record nine total in a twinbill, accomplished nine times, most recently by Angels outfielder/first baseman Lee Thomas on Sept. 5, 1961.

What Solarte has on all of them is that he played the majority of the seven hours 58 minutes at the ballpark Thursday after smashing his face into the dirt on an awkward slide into third base, cutting both the inside and outside of his mouth so badly he bled throughout the first game and was attended to between contests.

That’s a hockey-playoff-tough type of day for Solarte, whose slam in the 11th inning of the first game carried the Blue Jays to a wild 13-11 win, while his solo shot, double and single in the nightcap weren’t enough as Cleveland knocked around Joe Biagini and Luis Santos for nine runs in the fifth inning of a 13-4 romp.

“It really hurt, it was really bad, but I didn’t want to come out of the game and look what happened,” Solarte, who also scraped the bridge of his nose and is to be re-evaluated for stitches in the morning, said through interpreter Josue Peley. “I got a lot of hits and we got a win but the most important thing is that I didn’t want to come out, I didn’t want to let the guys down, so it turned out pretty well for me.”

Josh Donaldson was nearly as productive over the two games, collecting four hits – two doubles and two homers – in his first games back from the disabled list. Solarte and Donaldson became the first Blue Jays teammates to ever go deep in both ends of a doubleheader.

“My pitch recognition is not quite where I want it to be but it’s getting there and I was able to take advantage of a couple of mistakes,” said Donaldson. “Playing an 11-inning game and then turning around and DHing the next one is not ideal, but it is what it is and I felt pretty good throughout the entire time.”

Still, the Blue Jays left Progressive Field in survival mode after Biagini blew up in the fifth, Santos couldn’t handle mop-up duty, every reliever but Aaron Loup pitched, and Steve Pearce landed on the disabled list after re-aggravating the left oblique he tweaked earlier this week.

On top of that, Aledmys Diaz was shaken up in the 10th inning of the first game when applying a tag on Tyler Naquin, who was trying to stretch a single into a double. He did, however, play in the second game and hit a homer, his fifth of the year.

“It was very important for us to win the first one but we definitely exhausted some of our bullpen guys and some of our players,” said Donaldson. “Anytime you have to play a doubleheader, especially under the circumstances we just went through, it’s definitely tough. It’s going to test your club mentally and physically. We have to look to combat that, continue to be professional about what we’re doing and grind it out.”

The necessary roster acrobatics included the activation of Donaldson and the recalls of outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. and Biagini plus the purchase of Santos’s contract, a paternity leave for Justin Smoak (whose wife gave birth to a baby girl Thursday morning), the optioning of Danny Barnes and Gift Ngoepe being optioned and then designated for assignment.

More moves are coming Friday.

Calamity of a different sort nearly befell Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the first game when he stepped out of the dugout and walked to the on-deck circle before leading off the sixth inning. As he did, three hot-dog mascots raced along the track and headed right at him and just before the between-innings promotion went awry, he deftly sidestepped the sprinting franks. The one labelled ketchup won.

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While Gurriel didn’t get bowled over, first-game starter Jaime Garcia sure did, rocked by Cleveland’s bats during a seven-run fourth right after being staked to a 5-0 lead.

The left-hander gave up six runs during the fateful frame, the final three on Francisco Lindor’s go-ahead three-run homer, and manager John Gibbons emerged from the dugout and signalled to the bullpen before the shortstop even crossed the plate.

The Blue Jays trailed 7-5 by the time that fourth inning was done, but they salvaged things in one of their grittiest performances of the year.

Donaldson’s two-run shot in the sixth tied the game 7-7, Gurriel delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the seventh, Kevin Pillar’s RBI double added some insurance in the top of the eighth but Lindor hit his second homer of the day in the bottom half before Jose Ramirez walked and a Michael Brantley grounder eluded Solarte at first allowing the tying run to score.

In the 11th, Solarte mashed his first career grand slam off Tyler Olson for a 13-9 lead, and Edwin Encarnacion delivered a two-run single in bottom half off Roberto Osuna before the closer sealed the deal.

“It felt pretty well knowing it was my first grand slam in the big leagues, it took a long time,” said Solarte. “I was just trying to get the ball in play, get some runs because I knew all the guys were tired and we knew we had a second game.”

That the opener, delayed by rain for one hour 53 minutes, turned into a dogfight after the Blue Jays put up five runs against Carlos Carrasco is on Garcia, who had opportunities to limit the damage.

To be fair, the defence didn’t help him out in the fourth, as a lazy bloop by Encarnacion fell between right-fielder Teoscar Hernandez and Solarte, who at that point was still at second base, while Erik Gonzalez reached on a wild-pitch strikeout just before Lindor rocked an 0-1 two-seamer over the wall in right.

Between that, Garcia left a four-seamer up to Brandon Guyer, who ripped an RBI double to put Cleveland on the board and didn’t bury a sinker to Bradley Zimmer on a two-run single that made it a 5-3 game.

Garcia has now allowed 15 earned runs in his last 13.2 innings over three starts, and the Blue Jays need more innings from their starters in general, not just in the first game of a double-dip.

The frustrating part for him is that he was in control through the first three frames, working around a walk and two singles, striking out three.

He offered little about his performance afterwards.

“We won the game, so that’s good for the team,” said Garcia.

How would he evaluate his day?

“Got to do a better job.”

Specific things to work on for next start?

“Keep us in the ballgame.”

Carrying frustration over recent stretch?

“We won the game. I’ve got to do a better job than that.”

The Blue Jays built a lead by working over Carrasco, with Russell Martin sending a rocket over the wall in right-centre an out after Solarte’s leadoff single in the second. Then in the fourth, Donaldson ripped an RBI double while Solarte added a two-run single that made it a 5-0 game.

Reliever John Axford played a pivotal role in settling things down in the fourth after the damage against Garcia and Barnes, getting Yan Gomes to groundout on the first pitch and retiring six more batters from there.

Biagini didn’t fare much better than Garcia in the second game, rolling through the first two innings, giving up runs in the third and fourth innings before coming undone in a fifth he couldn’t finish giving up a two-run shot to Ramirez and leaving two men on for Santos.

He went walk, walk, double, double, walk, double, sacrifice fly, strikeout and by the time the fifth was over, Cleveland led 11-2 and became the first team since the Oakland Athletics on July 22, 1975 to put up innings of seven-plus runs in both ends of a doubleheader.

That was plenty for Adam Plutko, who allowed three runs on six hits in 7.1 innings in his first big-league start.

“Just get through it,” Gibbons said of his approach in the second game. “When a game goes like that you’re glad you’re on the road, you only have to pitch eight. (Kendrys) Morales was next (up to pitch), so, one hitter away from Morales.”

As it was, the day was eventful enough.


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