In the seventh inning, with the Rogers Centre crowd going wild, his Blue Jays teammates pushed shortstop Munenori Kawasaki out of the dugout to acknowledge the ovation extended to him for a game-tying two-run homer. He popped out, turned to the crowd, performed several Japanese bows, and returned to the dugout with a smile.
Watch: Blue Jays 7, Orioles 6
In the ninth inning, the crowd chanted his name as he came to the plate with one out, the game with the Orioles tied, and Maicer Izturis on third base representing the winning run.
“I was nervous,” Kawasaki would say in English afterwards, adding in Japanese that his legs were shaking.
On May 26, he’d hit a winning walk-off double against the same Orioles and already in Friday’s game, he’d driven in three runs, preceding his two-out home run with a two-out RBI single in the fifth.
This time, he fell behind in the count 0-2 before fouling off three pitches with two strikes, then hit a chopper on a 2-2 count to second baseman Ryan Flaherty. Mark DeRosa, who’d drawn an intentional walk as a pinch hitter, made a heads-up play to avert Flaherty’s tag and avoid an inning ending double play.
That action – “Huge!” GM Alex Anthopoulos would proclaim in the clubhouse, as he congratulated DeRosa – enabled Rajai Davis to come to the plate. Davis, who had previously hit a game-winning single to end an 18-inning game with Texas, drove a line drive to left field off Pedro Strop to bring home Izturis for a 7-6 decision in front of whooping and hollering crowd of 35,472. Izturis had led off the inning with a single, moved to second on a bunt, then to third on Kawasaki’s grounder.
“I’ve got to give credit to Kawasaki,” Davis said. “He had some big hits with men on base. My hit doesn’t happen without him.”
The victory, Jays ninth in a row, evened their record at .500 (36-36) for the first time this season as they kicked off a critical 10-game stretch against American League East teams. The record of every team in the AL East is now .500 or better. The Jays are expecting crowds of 40,000 this weekend and if they are anywhere near as energized as Friday night’s throng, the Rogers Centre will be a fun place to be.
On Saturday afternoon right-hander Chien-Ming Wang makes his home debut following two starts on the road. Several Taiwanese media are in Toronto to report on the occasion, and a large group of Taiwanese fans is expected.
The Orioles (42-32) and Blue Jays have played eight games this season, with six of them decided by one run and each side now having four victories.
Starter R.A. Dickey was on the hook for a loss after Chris Davis gave the Orioles a 5-3 lead with a three-run homer, until rescued by Kawasaki who deposited his first major league home run into the right-field bullpen, off relief pitcher Tommy Hunter for a 6-6 tie.
“I would say it’s no surprise, but that home run was a surprise, I’ve got to say,” Dickey said. “The Kawasaki legend grows, and rightly so.”
A slap hitter with a .229 batting average, Kawasaki concurred with Dickey’s expectation. The homer came in his 247th career at-bat.
“I didn’t expect to hit a home run at the time,” he said through an interpreter. “It was like a dream. In my head, it was just nothing.”
Brett Cecil threw two scoreless innings in relief of Dickey, extending his club-record streak of not allowing a hit to 40 at-bats. Casey Janssen (2-0) pitched the ninth inning.
“Every day he’s just so happy to be here,” Janssen said of Kawasaki. “He grinds every at-bat. That was a pretty special sight to see, and the fans gave him what he deserved. That was pretty awesome.”
Kawasaki is replacing Jose Reyes, who played in Buffalo on Friday night on the last leg of his rehabilitation assignment.
“I am just enjoying the playing of baseball,” Kawasaki said.
Manager John Gibbons said the club hasn’t decided what to do with Kawasaki, once Reyes returns.
Toronto took a 2-0 in the first inning on Adam Lind’s 10 homer, and J.J. Hardy hit a solo homer in the top of the second. Toronto extended their lead to 3-1 in the fifth on Kawasaki’s two-out single, but Baltimore rallied for four runs in the top of the sixth, capped by Davis’s three-run homer. Toronto closed the deficit to 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth on Edwin Encarnacion’s moonshot, his 20th. Baltimore’s No. 8 hitter Flaherty hit his third homer of the season in the top of the seventh for a 6-4 lead.
The crowd was in it from the beginning, lustily jeering Baltimore manager Buck Showalter as he argued a decision in the second inning. He was ejected after plate umpire Angel Hernandez first ruled that Davis had fouled a strike-two pitch, then reversed the ruling to punch out Davis when Gibbons appealed and Hernandez consulted the other three umpire in his crew.
Showalter reacted with a red-faced screaming fit, finally got the hook from Hernandez, and before departing, pointed to each of the base umpires individually and figuratively threw them all out of the game with the umpire’s ejection signal.
In Detroit earlier this week, Showalter had argued another base-running play without being ejected and the hometown Baltimore Sun published an article describing him as a mere shadow of the infamous Earl Weaver as an arguer with umpires. The newspaper wrote “at least one base would have been thrown and dirt kicked on both umpires,” if Weaver was involved.
Weaver, Baltimore’s manager for 17 years, got ejected 96 times in his career. Showalter, in his 15 season managing and fourth with Baltimore, earned his 25 career ejection and first of the season. It was classic Weaver.