The Toronto Blue Jays’ already taxed bullpen was put to the test Saturday.
Eight relievers followed starter Mark Buehrle to the mound as Toronto edged the Texas Rangers 4-3 in an 18-inning marathon that tied the longest game in Blue Jays history.
Toronto’s bullpen has now pitched 237.1 innings, the most in Major League Baseball. The overuse has forced the Blue Jays to rely heavily on pitchers from triple-A Buffalo.
Watch: Jays 4, Rangers 3 (18 innings)
“These guys know what happens, it’s been happening all year, when we get depleted down there, ” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “It’s an 18-inning game and then the one we had last week (17 innings in San Diego). So you know what happens you get the merry-go-round coming from Buffalo you know but you’ve got to do it, we’re strapped.”
Right-hander Brad Lincoln pitched four innings in Saturday’s win — which ended on a two-out single by Rajai Davis in the 18th inning — but was sent down to triple-A after the game with a replacement to be named on Sunday.
“I’m not going to (let) what happened after the game, take anything away with what I did during the game,” said Lincoln. “The business side of it does kind of sting but playing two 18-inning (one 18 and one 17) games in a week you kind of expect it. I have a feeling I’ll be back soon.
“I just have to do down there and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Gibbons agreed with the right-hander’s assessment.
“That’s one of the crap parts of the game,” said Gibbons. “The guy goes out there and pitches all those innings, gives you a chance to win the game.”
Aaron Loup (3-3) pitched one inning after taking over from Lincoln to get the win for Toronto (27-34) after Casey Janssen blew his first of 13 save opportunities this season by giving up two runs in the ninth.
The 18 innings equalled both teams’ club records for a game. The Blue Jays defeated the Los Angeles Angels in 18 innings on July 28, 2005. Gibbons was the Blue Jays manager then, too.
It was the fifth time the Rangers have played 18, the last time coming June 24, 2004, against the Seattle Mariners.
Toronto is the first team to play two games of 17 innings or more in a span of eight days since the 1980 Padres.
Almost forgotten by the end were the seven-inning outings by Buehrle and Texas’s Yu Darvish.
Adam Lind had four hits for the Blue Jays while Colby Rasmus drove in two runs with a third-inning triple. Jeff Baker hit his eighth homer of the season in the seventh for the only run against Buehrle.
The victory before a crowd of 44,079 at Rogers Centre gave the Blue Jays their third win in a row while the Rangers (36-25) have lost three straight.
Emilio Bonifacio started the winning rally with a one-out single against Ross Wolf (1-1) who was pitching in his seventh inning.
Wolf threw wildly to first on a pickoff attempt with two out and Bonifacio reached third base and Davis singled past third base to end the game.
“I think that was the first time I threw one away to be honest with you,” said Wolf. “It doesn’t happen very often and it came at a bad time. I take the blame for that loss because it should’ve never happened, throw it away, especially with a runner on. Bonifacio, he’s fast, but the good thing is we had two outs.”
The 6 2/3 innings were a career high for Wolf.
Davis had entered the game as a late-inning defensive replacement in left field.
“Considering I got in in the eighth and still played a full game, it’s pretty remarkable,” Davis said. “I think it’s the longest game of my career.
“I had a feeling he was going to try and sink it in, just to get ahead. It seems liked that’s been his pitch and I was able to square it up enough.”
Buehrle left the game after seven innings with a 3-1 lead and stood to win but Janssen could not close it out in the ninth.
Three consecutive pinch hitters came through for the Rangers — Leonys Martin singled with one out, David Murphy walked and A.J. Pierzynski flared a single to right to score one run.
Elvis Andrus tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
Darvish allowed five hits, three walks and three runs (two earned) while striking out seven in seven innings and is winless in his past four starts for the Rangers.
The Blue Jays took a 3-0 lead in the third inning when Rasmus hit a two-run triple to right centre on a hanging slider and continued home on a throwing error on the relay by second baseman Jurickson Profar.
The two-out hit by Rasmus followed a one-out walk to Edwin Encarnacion and a single by Lind.
The Rangers had a threat in the 10th when they loaded the bases with none out but it ended on a double play on a thwarted sacrifice fly attempt.
Blue Jays’ right-hander Dustin McGowan who was making his first major-league appearance since Sept. 26, 2011, started the 10th by walking Lance Berkman. Third baseman Mark DeRosa who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the ninth committed an error on Adrian Beltre’s grounder and McGowan hit Nelson Cruz with a pitch to load the bases.
McGowan struck out Baker before being replaced by left-hander Juan Perez. Martin hit a fly out to right field. Berkman tagged up and tried to score but right-fielder Jose Bautista threw him out at the plate.
Notes: Rangers third baseman Beltre, who is being used as designated hitter in the series to protect his legs from the artificial turf, extended his hit streak to 13 games with a second-inning single. ...The Blue Jays designated left-hander Evan Crawford for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for McGowan who was activated from the 60-day disabled list for Saturday’s game. ... It appears that right-hander Chien-Ming Wang who opted out of his minor- league contract with the New York Yankees will start for the Blue Jays against the White Sox on Tuesday in Chicago. Wang, 33, made nine starts for the Yankees’ triple-A team at Scranton Wilkes-Barre and was 4-4 with a 2.33 earned-run average. ...Right-hander Josh Johnson (0-2, 5.40 earned-run average) will start the series finale for the Blue Jays on Sunday, his second start since returning from the disabled list. The Rangers will start right-hander Justin Grimm (5-4, 5.13 ERA). ...Left-handed reliever Darren Oliver (shoulder strain) has pitched two innings at single-A Dunedin and could be reinstated from the disabled list Sunday.