The eyes of John Gibbons narrowed as he shot his media interrogator an incredulous look while his Toronto Blue Jays were taking batting practice on Monday afternoon. If the Blue Jays manager had had a cheek full of chaw at the time, the cleanup would have been extensive.
“Is that a serious question?” Gibbons grumbled when asked about the paucity of the Blue Jays offence the last couple of games.
“It’s called good pitching,” Gibbons said, once composed. “They shut us down pretty good, that’s what they do.”
The Blue Jays needed a win just to calm everyone down, just to show that a minuscule losing steak in June is nothing to become all unhinged about. All that angst should be saved for September should the Blue Jays still be in contention. And while R.A. Dickey provided some early anxious moments, the Blue Jays managed to prevail in the first game of a series against the Minnesota Twins at Rogers Centre. But it was not easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Kevin Pillar provided the heroics, knocking a little blooper into right field in the bottom of the ninth inning that was just enough to score pinch runner Erik Kratz from second base for a walk-off 5-4 Toronto victory.
The Blue Jays appeared to have the victory locked up earlier, leading 4-2 heading into the top of the frame, but Toronto closer Casey Janssen allowed two runs off three hits that deadlocked the score.
Edwin Encarnacion played a large role in the Toronto win, knocking a three-run home run in the bottom of the first that provided Toronto with a 3-2 lead.
The Blue Jays, who as of Monday morning were still tied for third for the best winning percentage in all of Major League Baseball, were coming off back-to-back setbacks to the St. Louis Cardinals.
And not just your average, run-of-the-mill losses, but identical 5-0 drubbings in which the Major League leaders in home runs could not even deposit a ball into the seats unless it was in foul territory.
After a marvellous run, the Blue Jays were on the verge of accomplishing something they had not done for a month – losing three in a row. And the Toronto manager was clearly caught off guard by questions about what’s wrong with the Blue Jays and their high-powered scoring ways.
“I hope this doesn’t turn into ‘what happened to the Blue Jays offence the last two days,’” Gibbons said. “I don’t know how fair that would be to anybody.”
Gibbons has a point, but a win was nevertheless still needed to calm the masses and prove that the Blue Jays were still worthy of their first-place perch atop the American League East.
The Twins entered the series having lost three of their past four, and are in danger of becoming irrelevant in the tightly bunched A.L. Central. But they’re no patsies. The Twins have played tough against A.L. East opponents this year, carrying a 10-5 record against the division heading into Toronto, a trend the Blue Jays were hoping to buck.
You kind of got the sense that this would not be a good night for Dickey and his vaunted knuckleball when Danny Santana, the Minnesota leadoff hitter, stroked a 3-2 Dickey pitch over the right field wall for a home run in the top of the first.
And that thought was cemented when Brian Dozier, the next Minnesota batter, followed suit, lifting a 3-2 Dickey offering over the left field wall. Nothing like a quick 2-0 lead to further unsettle the unsettled and Toronto was required to play catch-up after that.
Enter Encarnacion was in a bit of a slump himself, not having hit a home run for Toronto in six whole games. With two runners on, Encarnacion walloped a pitch from Minnesota starter Ricky Nolasco over the wall in left field, his team-leading 20th home run of the season that vaulted Toronto in front 3-2.
Jose Reyes, who singled in the third inning to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, then clubbed his fourth home run of the year leading off the fifth to extend Toronto’s lead to 4-2.
Dickey managed to gather himself after his rocky first and allowed just one hit over the next four innings before things turned antsy again for him in the sixth. A one-out triple by Josh Willingham followed by a hit batsman and a walk loaded the bases for Minnesota and Gibbons summoned Dustin McGowan from the bullpen.
McGowan was able to pick Dickey up, getting Trevor Plouffe to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Janssen then came on in the ninth to try to record his 12th save but he fell short.
With two out, Kurt Suzuki punched a hit to left field that just eluded the glove of a diving Kevin Pillar. The ball went all the way to the wall for a double, scoring pinch runner Eduardo Nunez from second base.
Nunez would then score the tying run when Eduardo Escobar shot a little flare into shallow left that third baseman Brett Lawrie just couldn’t reach.
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