The Oakland Athletics could be a American League playoff team not because they’re a great hitting club but because they’re opportunistic. Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons knows that “they make you pay if you don’t throw strikes.”
In beating the A’s 5-4 Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays did some of that themselves. Opportune offence gave them an early lead, then Jose Reyes’ solo homer in the seventh was enough insurance to help them snap a two-game skid.
The Blue Jays got only five hits, and three of them were from Jose Bautista, but they manufactured runs thanks to some walks and other Oakland mistakes.
“I think you’ve just got to take advantage of it,” Gibbons said. “Any time you can get those freebies, that puts extra pressure on a pitcher, you get guys on, he throws more pitches. All those little things add up over time.”
They added up to three early runs against A’s pitcher Sonny Gray, who was making his first career major-league start. Bautista’s 27th home run of the season in the first inning was a two-run shot because of Maicer Izturis’ walk, and Reyes’ fielder’s choice scored Brett Lawrie in the second after the third baseman got on thanks to a strikeout and passed ball.
“That’s why you always preach on the other side, ‘Don’t walk batters,“’ Gibbons said. “It puts you in a jam, and it also puts you in a bad frame of mind.”
Even if he wasn’t perfect, Gray didn’t implode, surrendering only three earned runs in six innings. But with another small-ball run in the third, the Blue Jays gave starter Mark Buehrle a cushion to work with.
Buehrle was efficient, if not spectacular, giving up three earned runs on seven hits and striking out five in 5 1/3 innings including a home run to A’s right-fielder Josh Reddick. The big lefty improved to 8-7 this season, as Gibbons called the performance “typical Buehrle.”
“I kind of feel like I stole the win today. It was one of those ones that you don’t feel like you deserve,” he said. “I feel like I’m not doing my job if I don’t go at least six innings.”
Buehrle got the hook in the sixth after allowing his third run and putting a runner on third. All-star lefty reliever Brett Cecil got Toronto hit a batter before recording two big outs to leave the game unscathed.
As Gibbons kept spinning the bullpen wheel, it kept working out for the Blue Jays. Aaron Loup for two outs, Sergio Santos for one and Darren Oliver for three got Toronto to reliable closer Casey Janssen.
“They all fell in line, did their jobs,” Gibbons said. “Great effort by the bullpen.”
Reyes’ line-drive home run gave that bullpen some breathing room, and Janssen needed the insurance run. Reddick led off the ninth with a homer, and the next two A’s batters reached.
“It got hairy there, no question,” Gibbons said.
With catcher Derek Norris’ back bothering him, backup Stephen Vogt pinch-hit with two on and no outs and couldn’t get his bunt attempt in the right spot. Janssen fielded it and threw to third to force out the lead runner, easily the biggest defensive play of the game.
“I don’t think that was a gamble,” Janssen said. “I think I field my position well. The bunt wasn’t good enough where my clock in my head said I had a chance.”
A flyout and a strikeout got a relieved Janssen his 21st save of the season.
“I had to grind, it wasn’t pretty, I didn’t draw it up getting a lead-off homer and then the first two guys on,” he said. “I think this was one of the more satisfying closes I’ve had this year.”