Only two runs had scored, and Hamels was still one pitch away from keeping the game close. A 2-0 deficit isn’t much for the Texas Rangers’ deep lineup, if only they could get one more out.
Instead Tulowitzki worked a 2-2 count against Hamels before driving a ball deep to right-centre field where it landed beyond Ian Desmond’s reach for a bases-clearing triple. Five more runs would follow as the Toronto Blue Jays took the ALDS opener in Texas, but Tulowitzki’s triple was without a doubt the decisive blow.
“One pitch away from being out of that inning,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister later lamented. With that swing, Tulowitzki provided the Blue Jays with the kind of breathing room they’ve rarely enjoyed in recent weeks.
“It was awesome to see,” said Kevin Pillar who was on deck at the time. “That was the big hit that we needed that put us over the top.”
The triple also extended the inning for Hamels, who threw 42 pitches in the third alone, the most he has needed for any frame in his 11-year MLB career. Soon afterwards, the Blue Jays chased the left-hander from the game and positioned themselves to add insurance runs against a vulnerable Rangers bullpen on their way to a 10-1 win.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays’ bullpen effectively had the day off thanks to the offensive outburst. That’s a bonus on any day, and especially when your closer continues battling shoulder tightness. Manager John Gibbons didn’t say whether Roberto Osuna was available Thursday, but the clear preference was to rest him if at all possible.
That third inning would have unfolded much differently had Desmond found a way to catch Tulowitzki’s triple. As Banister said, “we’ve seen him make that catch.” Regardless, Tulowitzki squared up Hamels, someone he has faced plenty of times dating back to their years in the National League.
“I’ve seen Cole so much. He’s seen me,” Tulowitzki said. “We’re pretty familiar with each other. If he makes his pitch, usually he gets me and if he leaves one out there then I have the ability to barrel it up.”
Tulowitzki isn’t the type to flaunt his success, but the 92-mph fastball he hit wasn’t a pitcher’s pitch.
“We have a lot of respect for Cole,” Tulowitzki said. “He’s a special pitcher. But I think he made a few mistakes and that he’d be the first one to say that. That’s unlike him and I’m sure if we see him again he won’t do that.”
The triple called to mind a three-run homer Tulowitzki hit here at Globe Life Park in last year’s ALDS. With the Blue Jays facing elimination, Tulowitzki connected against Chi Chi Gonzalez in a game started by none other than Marco Estrada. This time, Estrada was the beneficiary, not that the right-hander needed much help on a day he showed ‘little hints of Maddux,’ to borrow the words of catcher Russell Martin.
Tulowitzki also picked up a pair of singles and made a stellar defensive play to rob Desmond of a hit. In the bottom of the fourth inning the Rangers centre-fielder hit a ground ball between third and shortstop. Tulowitzki circled and was able to track the ball it as it passed Josh Donaldson before throwing to first for the out.
Tulowitzki’s biggest contribution was the triple, though. With that swing he set the Blue Jays up to do something they couldn’t do in 2015: take a lead in a playoff series.
“It was a great at-bat,” Pillar said. “He’s one of the best hitters in the league showing up in a big moment.”