Edwin Encarnacion, once considered ill-suited to play third base, was making just his third career start in left field.
To make room, Melky Cabrera shifted over from left field to right, the spot normally patrolled by Jose Bautista, whose sore hamstring is limiting him to designated hitter’s duties.
And the starting pitcher was J.A. Happ, the man many continue to underestimate.
What appeared to be a recipe for disaster from the outset in their game against the Milwaukee Brewers turned into a winning mixture for the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon.
And as the retractable roof at Rogers Centre was rolling shut because of a pending storm, it was Encarnacion who provided all the thunder.
The soft-spoken Dominican belted a walk-off three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 7-4 Blue Jays victory to earn Toronto (47-39) a sweep in the two-game mini series over the team with the second-best record in the majors.
With runners at first and second and two out, it appeared entirely plausible that Milwaukee reliever Brandon Kintzler would intentionally walk Encarnacion, one of the most dangerous hitters in the game, after falling behind 3-1.
But Kintzler instead threw a slider that caught too much of the plate and, as it turned out, too much of Encarnacion’s big bat.
“We weren’t even trying to give him anything on the plate,” Kintzler lamented later. “He’s not the one that you want to let beat you.
“I should have just bounced a sinker and walked him or throw the slider away off the plate. It definitely didn’t go where I planned it.”
Encarnacion rocketed the ball over the wall in left field for his 26th home run of the season, raising his arms in jubilation as he rounded the bases and leapt into a pile of ecstatic teammates crowded around home plate.
The lively contest marked the conclusion of a so-so 5-4 homestand for the Blue Jays, who now head out on the road for a grinding 10-game road trip that will take them into the all-star break.
That is when trade talks traditionally heat up with the non-waiver trade deadline of July 31 just around the corner.
According to Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos, most of the clubs he has been in contact with are still in a wait-and-see mode as far as any player movement is involved.
“There’s very few, I think, true sellers right now, clubs that are willing to do something today,” Anthopoulos said before Wednesday’s game, adding he is prepared to upgrade at any position if the offer is to his liking.
It did not look promising for Toronto heading into the game when the starting lineup revealed that Encarnacion, usually the first baseman or DH, was installed in left field.
That was to allow the big bat of Adam Lind to get into the game at first base with Bautista, whose left hamstring is still too tender to allow him to take the field, assuming the DH duties.
All the moves worked to perfection as Encarnacion would not have to handle a single ball defensively in the outfield and Bautista would swat his second home run in as many games in the first inning to give Toronto the early lead.
The Brewers would come back to lead 4-1 in the top of the third before the Blue Jays responded with one run in the bottom of the frame.
They followed that up with a two-run home run off the bat of Juan Francisco in the fourth that tied things up.
In the eighth inning, both managers – Ron Roenicke for the Brewers and then John Gibbons of the Blue Jays – managed to get themselves ejected for arguing separate plays.
“I was maybe a little tired of looking at bunts not getting put down so I said go have a beer,” Gibbons cracked.
Gibbons was referring to a couple of occasions in the game where the Blue Jays failed to orchestrate a sacrifice bunt, the first time by Darin Mastroianni in the seventh inning with none out and runners at first and second.
Mastroianni would instead hit into a double play.
Anthony Gose then flubbed his attempt at a sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning, before Encarnacion’s home-run heroics.
Toronto closer Casey Janssen earned the win, entering the game in the top of the ninth inning of a tied ballgame to retire the side.
It was another solid outing for Happ, who left with a no-decision, allowing all four of the Milwaukee runs off six hits over seven innings of work.
Happ’s record remains a very respectable 7-4 on the year.
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