Jason Grilli, who is 39 going on 19, leaped off the mound like he had springs in his heels, fist pumping and hollering like he was playing in the little leagues.
It was the top of the eighth inning in Saturday’s intense contest against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre, at that point a scoreless ball-game with playoff ramifications hanging in the balance for both clubs.
Grilli was on in relief for Marcus Stroman, the Toronto starter who was superb in shutting down the New York attack over seven innings of one-hit ball, a tough act to follow to be sure.
But Grilli, as he has almost every time he has taken the mound for Toronto since coming over in a trade from the Atlanta Braves at the end of May, was up to the task.
First Grilli got Aaron Hicks to ground out to third and followed that up by fooling Brian McCann on a called third strike.
Ronald Torreyes then momentarily stalled Grilli’s momentum when he lashed a line drive to right-centre for a triple.
Grilli gathered himself on the mound and zeroed in on Billy Butler, the Yankee pinch hitter.
And with the backing of a capacity gathering at Rogers Centre that was on its feet hollering its support, Grilli zipped a 94 mile-an-hour fastball past Butler for the big strikeout that set off his mini on-field celebration.
“It’s not scripted,” Grilli would say afterwards. “If you can’t get up for these games then I might as well go get a desk job somewhere.”
And when Jose Bautista lashed his 20th home run of the season over the wall in left-field, a two-run shot that proved the winning blow in a 3-0 Toronto victory, Grilli got the win to move to 7-5 on the season.
“Really can’t say enough good things about what Grilli has done since he’s been here,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “A couple games I think he gave up a couple home runs, other than that he’s been lights out. Same with (Joaquin) Benoit.
“Without those two guys we’re not sitting where we are now.”
And where the Blue Jays are sitting after a second straight shutout victory over the Yankees is in possession of the first wild card playoff berth in the AL East by 1.5-games over the Baltimore Orioles.
Baltimore, with a 6-1 win over Arizona, leapfrogged into the second wild card spot over the Detroit Tigers, who were upended 7-4 to Kansas City.
With eight games left in the regular season, that’s not a bad position to be in for a Blue Jays team that finally seems to be warming up at just the right time with contributions coming from up and down the lineup.
Friday night, in Toronto’s 9-0 win, it was Troy Tulowitzki belting two hits that drove in four of the Blue Jays’ runs leading the way.
On Saturday, it was Stroman toeing the line with one of his best outings of his career, with able assistance from Grilli and then Bautista, with another clutch home run, which made the difference.
“There’s (different) guys every night, I think that’s the thing,” Grilli said. “You’re going to have one of these microphones and recorders in somebody else’s face every night.
“That just shows you we’ve got a team that should be feared, should be respected, just like the teams that are in the hunt. We got just as good a team as the people that are fighting for what we’re fighting for.”
As for the performance of Stroman, Gibbons was impressed but still felt it necessary to remove him from the game when he did after the seventh inning.
“I thought he did his job, he was dominating,” Gibbons said. “That’s as good as I’ve seen him.”
Stroman, who enjoyed his first scoreless outing of the season, said he tried to persuade his manager into letting him continue, but his argument fell on deaf ears.
“I was trying,” Stroman said. “I felt really good. I felt I came off that seventh with really good momentum and my stuff felt as strong in the sevenths as it did in the first.
“I love Gibby, I respect him. But yeah, I was trying to bid for the eighth there.”
The loss for the Yankees, their eighth in their last 10 games, pretty much derails their slender playoff hopes, dropping their record to 79-75 on the season.Report Typo/Error
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