The Toronto Blue Jays had plenty of chances for a breakout inning Sunday against Baltimore.
When it finally came, it was light-hitting Munenori Kawasaki who delivered the knockout blow against Orioles closer Jim Johnson to give Toronto a thrilling 6-5 walk-off victory.
Kawasaki capped Toronto’s four-run ninth with a two-run double that pushed Mark DeRosa across with the winning run. The Rogers Centre crowd of 28,502 erupted while the Blue Jays raced out to second base to mob the Japanese shortstop.
The quirky Kawasaki — who had reporters in stitches as he joked around after the game — called it the best moment of his Major League Baseball career.
“I did it,” a smiling Kawasaki said as he flipped through a translation book. “And give me a hug.”
The affable 31-year-old shortstop has filled in admirably for Jose Reyes since the all-star went down with an ankle injury. Kawasaki has been steady defensively and came through with some clutch hits — a nice bonus from a player who started the season in triple-A Buffalo.
“He’s making the most out of it,” said manager John Gibbons. “You tip your hat to the kid.”
The Blue Jays got to Johnson (2-5) early in the ninth, putting runners on the corners with nobody out. Edwin Encarnacion got things started with a double and Adam Lind moved him to third with a single.
J.P. Arencibia followed with a single that scored Encarnacion to trim Baltimore’s lead to 5-3. Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., flew out and Anthony Gose walked to load the bases.
DeRosa grounded weakly to short to push another run across but forcing Gose out at second. With the outfielders playing shallow for the usually light-hitting Kawasaki, he drilled a Johnson pitch into the gap in left-centre field.
Steve Delabar (4-1) worked one inning of relief for the win as the Blue Jays salvaged a split of the four-game series.
“We should be getting on the plane with three wins here, but I can’t hang my head too long,” Johnson said. “It’s going to hurt for a little bit, and it should. We’ve got to get ready to play again tomorrow.”
Kawasaki, who was given the celebratory cream pie and Gatorade treatment by his teammates after the game, had three hits to raise his batting average from .228 to .247.
“When Reyes went down we were scrambling,” Gibbons said. “We didn’t know what we were going to do. We knew very little about him but he’s come up here and done a tremendous job for us. He’s played just a good brand of baseball.”
The dramatic finish was most welcome for the Blue Jays after they loaded the bases in the seventh and eighth innings but only had one run to show for it. Toronto left 13 men on base, one more than the visitors.
There was some drama in the Toronto dugout as well as on the field in the ninth inning.
Lawrie, apparently upset that Lind was held at third base on his fly ball to right field, exchanged words with Gibbons in the dugout.
“We’ve probably talked this year more than you guys will ever know,” Gibbons said. “I don’t want to say he’s like my son, we’re not that tight, but we do talk a lot. He got a little heated, I got a little heated. That’s over. It’s no big deal, those things happen.”
Lawrie didn’t go into details but said he got “caught up in the moment” as the Blue Jays were trying to chip away at the lead.
Adam Jones homered for the Orioles, who outhit Toronto 14-12.
The Orioles scored twice in the second inning and Jones hit a solo shot in the seventh for his 10th homer of the season. Baltimore (27-23) added a pair of runs in the ninth but the three-run lead wasn’t enough.
Toronto (21-29) will close out its nine-game homestand with a two-game mini-series against the Atlanta Braves beginning Monday night.
Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez turned in a steady performance on a sunny, comfortable afternoon. He gave up one earned run, four hits and three walks while striking out seven.
Toronto starter Chad Jenkins lasted five innings, allowing two earned runs, eight hits and three walks (two intentional). The Orioles were aggressive from the start against the 2009 first-round draft pick, who was making his second start of the season.
Nick Markakis singled in the first inning and tried to score when Jones doubled off the wall in left field. Melky Cabrera fired the ball to Kawasaki, who relayed it to Arencibia in plenty of time for the tag.
In the second inning, Chris Davis hit a ground-rule double and moved to third on a J.J. Hardy single. Davis jogged home on a double from Matt Wieters and Hardy made it 2-0 when he scored on a Danny Valencia grounder.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, kept the Blue Jays off the bases until Kawasaki reached on a bunt single in the third inning. Kawasaki moved to third on a Jose Bautista single but they were stranded when Encarnacion struck out.
Toronto halved Baltimore’s lead in the fourth inning.
Lind singled, moved to third on a double by Arencibia and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lawrie. Gose followed with a sharp drive to centre field but had an extra-base hit taken away when Jones made a nice running catch.
The Orioles loaded the bases in the fifth inning. Jenkins escaped by getting Hardy to line out to Encarnacion at first base.
Thad Weber relieved Jenkins in the sixth and Baltimore once again loaded the bases. This time it was Manny Machado’s turn to strand three runners, as he hit into an inning-ending double play.
Gonzalez was pulled with two out in the bottom of the sixth. Reliever Brian Matusz came on and Gose lined out to end the inning.
The Blue Jays loaded the bases in the seventh inning with two outs. Lind flew out to shallow centre field to end the threat.
Toronto made it a one-run game in the eighth inning when Kawasaki singled with the bases loaded to bring home Arencibia, who had reached on a single.
Cabrera then hit a grounder to first base but Lawrie was forced out at home. Bautista came up with two outs and hit a sharp comebacker that reliever Tommy Hunter bravely bare-handed before getting the out at first.
Delabar loaded the bases in the ninth inning. Wieters lashed a double to right field that scored Markakis and Jones.
Notes: The game took three hours 19 minutes to play. ... Jones has homered in four straight games. It is the first time in his career he has accomplished the feat. ... Mark Buehrle (1-3) is scheduled to start for the Blue Jays in the series opener against Atlanta. The Braves will counter with Tim Hudson (4-3).