From his vantage point on the mound, Darren Oliver didn’t believe the ball would get through the infield.
From his vantage point in the dugout, manager John Gibbons was pretty sure it would, if only because the way the game was going, more runs and another tie seemed inevitable.
From his vantage point at second base, Emilio Bonifacio didn’t have time to think at all. His only recourse was to react.
In a game dominated by the homer, Bonifacio made the difference in the end with his speed on the basepaths and quickness in the field for the Blue Jays first win of the season, 10-8 over the scrappy Cleveland Indians on Thursday night at the Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays (1-2) play host to the Boston Red Sox and former manager John Farrell on Friday. The Red Sox (2-1) and Ryan Dempster lost to the Yankees Thursday, after winning the first two games of the series.
The Jays scored their first eight runs on homers, including solo shots in the sixth inning by J.P. Arencebia off Indians starter Brett Myers, and by Colby Rasmus off reliever Cody Allen to break a 6-6 tie. Batting ninth in the order immediately after Rasmus, Bonifacio hit what seemed to be a routine single up the middle. Seeing centre fielder Michael Bourne retrieve the ball casually and flip it to the cutoff man rather than throwing it to the infield, Bonifacio took advantage by scorching into second base.
“I just had an opportunity,” said Bonifacio. “That’s part of my game.”
From there, he was positioned to score from second on Melky Cabrera’s infield grounder, when Allen failed to handle a toss while covering first. That gave the Jays a 9-6 lead.
“We had to keep pushing,” Bonifacio said.
The Indians scored a run in the seventh and another in the eighth against Oliver to make it 9-8. With Indians on first and second, Bonifacio dove to keep Michael Brantley’s grounder contained for an infield hit. Jason Kipnis, the runner on second, had to hold at third rather than score the tying run on the play. With two out and the bases loaded, Carlos Santana came to bat already with three hits on the night. He scorched a liner up the middle that Bonifacio fielded on a hop, spun, and threw so hard to first base that the momentum knocked him over backwards. That play preserved the one-run lead.
“When I go to throw the ball to second, I took a little bit of time to get my feet set and make that throw,” he said, laughing about the tumble.
“I thought he would get to it,” Oliver said. “But I didn’t know if he’d have enough time to throw him out at first.”
The Jays added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning, again using their speed. With runners on first and second, Jose Bautista grounded to shortstop. When the Indians attempted to turn a double play, Reyes rounded third and ran home on the relay to first, scoring as Bautista beat out the throw. He twisted his ankle but it wasn’t swollen after the game; he thought he’d be available to play the opening game of their three-game set against Boston.
“The only thing we lacked in the first couple of games (4-1 and 3-2 losses) was more base runners,” Bautista said. “Today we did a great job with that, and that’s why we won.”
Bonifacio, a dynamic yet least known of the players obtained from Miami in November, could win over baseball fans as Mookie Wilson and Roberto Alomar once did, with hustle. The Marlins season fell apart when he injured his thumb in mid-May and missed the bulk of the year with injuries – he still stole 30 bases in 64 games. Used as an outfielder in Miami, he is capable of tending four positions, Gibbons is deploying him as a second baseman and backup centre fielder.
By the eighth inning, Gibbons was “numb” in the dugout and his first reaction on Santana’s contact was, “uh-oh.”
“Just the way the game was going, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it got through there,” he said. “Bonny showed what kind of arm he’s got.”
Arencibia had chided reporters gently after the Jays lost the first two games to Cleveland, managing only nine total hits to produce three runs. He hit a pair of homers on Thursday.
“Everyone knows what kind of team we have, in this clubhouse,” he said.
Myers kept leaving his fastballs up in the strike zone, and the Jays kept hitting them out of the park. Bautista hit a two-run homer in the first for Toronto’s first lead of the season in its 21 inning of play, Arencibia a solo in the second, and Edwin Encarnacion a three-run homer in the fifth for a 6-3 lead.
The Indians tied the game with three runs in the next inning on a pair of doubles off Mark Buehrle, ending his night (5 and 1/3 innings, seven hits, six runs). He’d started the inning by issuing a walk and hitting Brantley with a pitch.
“Not acceptable,” he said, adding: “I threw a four-seamer [fastball] to Brantley, trying to put a little extra velocity on it, and that’s not me.”
Beuhrle, making his 397 career start, thrives by changing speeds and working hitters with sharp control and a quick rhythm on the mound. Also obtained from Miami, Buehrle couldn’t hold 3-1 and 6-3 leads in his debut for the Jays. The Indians worked him more patiently as the game proceeded.
Up two runs in the fourth, Buehrle gave up back-to-back solo homers to Santana and Reynolds.
“The wind was blowing out apparently,” Buehrle said, with self-deprecating humour. The Rogers Centre roof was closed.
In the sixth, Santana saw only curves and changeups and he stroked one of the latter into the left-field corner for a run scoring ground-rule double. Pitching coach Pete Walker visited as Steve Delabar warmed up in the bullpen, but Buehrle stayed, got an out, then gave up a two-run double to light hitting Lonnie Chisenhall to tie the game.
Steve Delabar, the first of five relievers, got two outs in the inning for the win, and Casey Janssen worked a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.