Somersaulting Blue Jays pull out all the stops in ‘crazy’ win

The Toronto Blue Jays started Russell Martin at 3rd Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals...no one will remember this game for that as Jays' Chris Coghlan went flying and Marcus Stroman made history in a wild 6-5 extra inning win for Toronto.

ST. LOUIS – Back in the day, Chris Coghlan probably would have simply crushed Yadier Molina on his way to the plate, dropping a shoulder while at full sprint and letting things play out as they may. More common in these times of regulated paths to home plate is an attempt by the baserunner to contort himself around the catcher somehow, some way. But the leap over Molina and ensuing somersault onto the plate to avoid a tag at home Coghlan dropped on the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning Tuesday night?

Cap tip to you, Mr. Coghlan. Nobody thinks of that, let alone pulls it off. That’s some epic-GIF-inspiring base-running.

"It’s like I saw a unicorn," said Marco Estrada.

Still, the Toronto Blue Jays needed a pinch-hit double by Marcus Stroman – that’s not a typo – off Miguel Socolovich in the 11th inning to ensure that unicorn didn’t go to waste. Stroman scored when shortstop Aledmys Diaz threw away a two-out Steve Pearce grounder, the Cardinals’ fourth error of the night, and Ryan Tepera then closed out a hard-fought 6-5 victory, stranding the tying run at second.

The word everyone was throwing around afterwards: Crazy.

"Just a crazy game. A great game. But a crazy game," said manager John Gibbons. "Especially for what we’ve been through in the last couple of weeks, an emotional roller-coaster."

Coghlan’s spectacular run came on a Kevin Pillar triple during a two-run outburst that opened up a 4-2 edge in that seventh, but like so many other Blue Jays leads in recent days, it didn’t make it through the bottom half of the inning. A pinch-hit two-run homer by Jose Martinez off Joe Biagini erased the margin and then after Jose Bautista delivered an RBI single in the ninth inning off old friend Brett Cecil, Dexter Fowler responded in kind off Roberto Osuna.

The Blue Jays improved to 6-14 with a third win in five games, one coming after they didn’t land in St. Louis until 6 a.m. local time after Monday night’s 2-1 loss to the Angels in Anaheim. Estrada flew ahead to be rested and kept the Cardinals on lock down for the most part, and a team that had good reason to feel exhausted grinded out one of its most heartening wins of the season.

"Especially after a long travel day, coming from the West Coast, to get a win in the first game here, I feel like that’s pretty big," said Stroman, who laced a 1-2 changeup down the left-field line. "Hopefully it’s a huge momentum shift for us."

The reaction in the dugout after he scored?

"It was like a little party in there. A lot of emotions going on. A lot of people say I shouldn’t show those emotions, but I’m going to continue to do it no matter what anybody says. Always," he said, a shot at those criticizing him for his post-start celebration in Anaheim on Sunday. "But yeah, it’s my brothers out there, we got a huge win."

Particularly so because the Blue Jays have routinely failed to record shutdown innings in the past few games. On Friday in Anaheim, they scored two in the top of the third only give back three in the bottom half, in the eighth they scored a pair to take a 5-4 lead which didn’t survive the next Angels at-bat and after a three-spot in the 13th, they surrendered a pair before locking down an 8-7 win.

On Saturday, they picked up a run in the first and then gave it right back in the bottom half, while Monday, they went up 1-0 in the fourth but again couldn’t hold the edge.

Coghlan’s run helped provide the second lead the Blue Jays couldn’t hold Tuesday.

At first after a one-out, pinch-hit walk, he broke for second when Pillar drove one to right, paused to make sure it wasn’t caught, took off again when it banged off the wall and turned for home when third-base coach Luis Rivera waved him in. Then, as the ball was relayed in, magic.

"I want to be politically correct, which I usually try to stay away from, but it’s tough, you’ve got all these rules," Coghlan said of his thought process. "It used to be, if the catcher is in the line, you run him over. All that stuff happens, believe it or not, as you’re running. Even though it’s really fast in your mind, it’s happening really slow the last three steps – those are all the thoughts I had – OK, run him over; oh wait, I don’t know; he’s in front of the plate; he’s down; maybe I can jump; OK’s let’s jump – all like that. It’s tough, I could have run him over because he’s right (in the basepath), there’s no other place to go.

"But I was there when Buster (Posey) got knocked up, I was on deck when that happened, you just don’t want to ever see any of that stuff. At the end of the day, I’ve got to score that run some way, somehow, so I was grateful to do it that way, nobody got hurt."

Molina was getting up just as Coghlan leaped and a little bump up helped elevate him over and into a somersault. His left hand swiped the plate as the back of his neck and shoulder landed on the dish and he rolled out of the fall as the Blue Jays dugout exploded.

"That’s the last thing I’d be thinking about," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said, imagining himself in Molina’s spot. "You’re getting ready to catch it, I’d be thinking this guy is going to blow me up because I’m right in the baseline."

Coghlan remembers seeing Bautista with his jaw dropped.

"I was in shock at first because my adrenaline was going so much," he said. "I told (Bautista) afterwards, ‘Man, you got me fired up just seeing your reaction,’ and then all the boys were pumped. Any time you can get the boys fired up it’s worth it."

In jest, Coghlan kept his helmet on, asking Gibbons if he could stay in the game.

"He was like, ‘Man, I’ve never seen that,’" Coghlan recalled. "I said, ‘Man, that’s a compliment, you’ve been in the game about 78 years.’"

The degree of difficulty involved in Coghlan’s run underscores just how tough pushing across runs remains for the Blue Jays, who started catcher Russell Martin at third base as a way to keep his bat in the lineup on what should have been a rest day.

They eked out a pair in the second inning when Bautista followed Ezequiel Carrera’s single with another base hit and the speedy left-fielder came around when Stephen Piscotty’s throw to third hit Carrera and dribbled away. Bautista took third on the play and promptly scored on a Kendrys Morales groundout.

Staked to a 2-1 lead, Estrada couldn’t deliver a needed shutdown inning, allowing consecutive doubles to Piscotty and Jedd Gyorko before a Molina RBI single knotted things up. Estrada proceeded to load the bases with none out but rallied to strike out Randal Grichuk before Kolten Wong hit into a 4-6-3 double play on a cutter, an offering the right-hander is increasingly relying on.

"The cutter wasn’t that great today, it was actually supposed to be away from him and I missed middle up," said Estrada. "It got in on him just enough to roll it over and I’m glad we were able to turn that double play because he’s pretty quick. But we beat him by a hair."

Estrada did some more clever escape work in the sixth when after a Piscotty leadoff double, he struck out Gyorko and Molina on changeups and then froze Matt Adams with a four-seamer. The right-hander finished with nine strikeouts over six strong innings of work, which were almost an afterthought given the drama to come.

"It’s just something that doesn’t happen – you might not see that again. I’m glad I saw it, I’m going to remember it forever, it was awesome," Estrada said of Coghlan’s leap. "I’m just glad it went our way today – we kind of needed it."

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