Should the Toronto Blue Jays go on to secure a playoff berth, baseball historians will point to this past weekend as the turning point of their herky-jerky season.
The starting pitching returned to fine form, Jose Bautista lived up to his old bat-flipping persona, and the Blue Jays were able to carve out a couple of dramatic wins to give their postseason hopes a huge kick in the pants.
The latest nail-biter played out Sunday afternoon during an emotional rollercoaster of a ride at a sold-out Rogers Centre, where a single by Edwin Encarnacion in the bottom of the ninth inning proved to be the difference in a wild 4-3 walk-off triumph over the woebegone New York Yankees.
“It was a great game today, well-played baseball,” Toronto starter Marco Estrada said. “We bunted a few times, which was huge. And I like seeing these things, you know. We don’t always need a homer to win these games.”
The setback was devastating to the Yankees, who have lost the first three of the four-game series against their American League East rival – and four over all – to essentially kiss off any hopes they had of making the playoffs.
Not so for the Blue Jays, who maintained their grip on the AL’s first wild-card berth and home-field advantage in a one-game playoff by winning their third in a row and improving to 86-69 with just seven games to play.
The Baltimore Orioles, with a 2-1 win over Arizona, continue to hold the second wild-card spot, 1 1/2 games back of the Blue Jays.
Sunday’s Jays game was full of twists and turns, worthy of a tense playoff battle as the regular season churns into the final week.
Bautista, Toronto’s veteran slugger whose season has been scarred by injury, staked the Blue Jays to an early 1-0 lead on a solo home in the fourth inning, his 21st of the season.
It was Bautista who sank the Yankees on Saturday. His three-run shot in the eighth inning provided the only offence the Blue Jays required in a 3-0 victory.
“Jose’s that type of player, he’s always doing that,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Bautista’s clutch hitting. “ I don’t care if it’s this year or last year.
“He’s a very motivated guy.”
For a while it appeared that a home run was all Estrada would need Sunday.
He efficiently worked through six innings and allowed just two hits to blank a stagnant Yankees attack that had failed to score a run in its previous three games.
That embarrassing power outage had stretched to 33 innings when Didi Gregorius stepped into the batter’s box leading off the seventh and took Estrada over the wall in right for a home run that deadlocked the score 1-1.
Bautista got busy again in the eighth, singling off reliever Dellin Betances, the New York flamethrower, which brought home Josh Donaldson from third base with the go-ahead run.
Gibbons then called upon Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays’ usually reliable closer, to shut the Yankees off in the top of the ninth. However, Osuna was leaky.
He was rocked with three singles and two runs that pushed New York back in front 3-2, setting the table for a wild Toronto comeback in the bottom half of the frame.
It started when Melvin Upton Jr., worked a leadoff walk after falling behind 0-2 to Betances.
New York manager Joe Girardi then called upon reliever Tyler Clippard to face Kevin Pillar and Pillar responded with a single through the middle that moved the speedy Upton to third.
With the sold-out gathering of close to 48,000 starting to roar, Ezequiel Carrera then laid down a perfect safety-squeeze bunt to the right side.
Clippard rushed in and tried desperately to scoop the ball with his glove toward home plate to get the oncoming Upton, but the ball squirted past New York catcher Gary Sanchez.
Upton crossed with the tying run and Pillar was able to move to third on Clippard’s throwing error.
“Zeke, he can handle that bat with the best of them when it comes to bunting,” Gibbons said. “We were fortunate it was one of those plays that they tried to flip it home and it really opened up the whole inning.”
After a strikeout and an intentional walk to Donaldson the bases were loaded for Encarnacion, one of the game’s most feared power hitters, but brute strength was not necessary on this occasion.
Encarnacion softly stroked a grounder to the right side towards second base that was enough to bring home Pillar with the winning run and provide the Blue Jays with their uplifting victory.Report Typo/Error
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