It was a delicious moment with Derek Jeter at the plate in what was his final regular-season game at Rogers Centre in the top of the ninth inning with two out and the tying run at third base for the New York Yankees.
A capacity gathering of more than 45,000 were on their feet in anticipation, many chanting the name of the Yankee captain, who will head into retirement after the season has concluded.
And it was hard to tell if the fans were hoping that Jeter would come through, as he has so often in his illustrious career, or if they were rooting for Casey Janssen, the beleaguered Toronto Blue Jays reliever, who was on the mound.
In the end, it was Janssen who prevailed, getting Jeter to line out softly to Toronto second baseman Steve Tolleson for the third out to preserve a tightly fought 4-3 Blue Jays (69-67) victory over the Yankees (70-65) on Sunday afternoon.
“I could see the little fairy-tale story being written, but got that out of my head real quick and knew I had to attack him,” said Janssen, who picked up his 20th save in the process.
And it was like the good old days for the Blue Jays, who were outhit 11-7 in the contest but three of them were home runs, including the 29th of the year off the scorching bat of Jose Bautista, who has now gone long in five consecutive games.
Bautista is the first Blue Jays player to have hit a homer in five consecutive games since Jose Cruz homered in six in a row during the 2001 season.
Before Bautista’s blast in the sixth inning, Melky Cabrera stroked his 16th of the year.
And what looked to be a safe Yankee lead was suddenly down to 3-2.
Edwin Encarnacion tied it with Toronto’s third dinger on the day in the two-run seventh with the winning hit off the bat of Munenori Kawasaki that scored Tolleson, who came in as a pinch-runner after Brandon McCarthy, the New York starter, walked Dioner Navarro.
Tolleson then stole second base to put himself into scoring position.
The game – the weekend series, really – was all about Jeter and what will be his Toronto swan song barring the unlikely scenario that both teams make the playoffs and face one another.
Before the first pitch, the Blue Jays staged an on-field ceremony for Jeter that included a one-minute video tribute highlighting his productive 20-year career as a Yankee.
Jeter, who will retire at the end of the season, has been getting a send-off from every city the Yankees play in.
As a parting gift, the Blue Jays presented Jeter with a three-night all-expenses stay for two at the Banff Springs hotel that will include accommodation in the 1,500-square foot royal suite, which rents out for a tidy $3,500 a night.
Jeter’s gift also includes a helicopter tour of the Rocky Mountains, a private cooking lesson with the hotel’s executive chef, a private mixology lesson, golfing or skiing.
“I will definitely use that one,” Jeter said afterward about the gift.
Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle and Bautista also presented Jeter with a $10,000 cheque for his foundation.
During the game, Jeter was afforded a hearty applause every trip he made to the plate.
In the first inning, after Brett Gardner got the Yankees going with a leadoff home run off Toronto starter J.A. Happ, Jeter singled up the middle and New York had the makings of a big inning.
But Happ wriggled off the hook, assisted by a big double-play ball off the bat of Martin Prado and would stick around through seven innings to earn the win (9-8), holding New York to three runs off nine hits.
On the heels of Saturday’s 2-0 victory over the Yankees, where starter Drew Hutchison and rookie Aaron Sanchez combined on a one-hitter, the Blue Jays came back to win the final two games and earn a 2-1 series victory.
For the Blue Jays, it marked their first series victory in their past nine attempts as they have seen their playoff hopes take a nosedive. With Sunday’s win, the Blue Jays are now five games back of the second wild card playoff berth in the American League East with 26 games left to play.
For Janssen, the save helped restore some confidence in what has been a rough second half. In Saturday’s win, Janssen was left stewing in the bullpen after Toronto manager John Gibbons elected to second Sanchez out in the ninth for his second inning of work.
Being able to get the save on Sunday at the expense of Jeter in his final Toronto at-bat made it all that much sweeter for Janssen.
“I guess that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor, he’s as clutch as they come. Being a competitor myself I embraced the opportunity to battle it out. He’s had a heck of a career and I’m glad the Toronto people appreciated him like they did because he’s one of a kind.”
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