When it comes to epic baseball games such as the one the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers played on Sunday, a lot of sparkling plays can be forgotten in the long-awaited rush of a walk-off win, but the Blue Jays can take one essential truth to Seattle, where they open a series against the Mariners on Monday night.
Sunday’s 19-inning, 6-5 win that came after a club-record 6 hours 37 minutes of play may have been emotionally and physically draining for a team that is dealing with the absence of some of its best hitters, but in a way it was exactly what the Blue Jays needed.
With a lot of players playing out of position or out of their comfort zone because of the injuries, coming from behind for the second time in as many days in the ninth inning and then outlasting the Tigers over another 10 innings to pull two wins out of nowhere gave this makeshift lineup the confidence it needs to put a tough week behind it and make up some ground in the American League East race against yet another team with a formidable cast of pitchers.
“That showed what we can do,” said Jays centre fielder Colby Rasmus, one of a long list of heroes with consecutive circus catches in the 18th and 19th innings that stopped the Tigers.
“It’s huge any time you can beat a team like this. They’re first in their division, and we’re trying to get there. These are teams we’ve got to try and push some wins over on. Thank the good Lord we were able to do that.
“We had to dig deep. This is a tough part of the season for us. We got these two [wins] out of these guys and going out to Seattle is going to be a long ride out there but that’s the mark of a good team. We do what we got to do to try and win.”
And, yes, it will be even harder to keep the two-game winning streak going against the Mariners considering the marathon game and the five-hour flight afterward, Rasmus acknowledged, but “you just got to keep going, drink some Red Bull or something.”
Energy drinks aside, the Blue Jays should get a lift from knowing that scratching their way back from a 5-0 Tigers lead brought them solo possession of second place in the AL East again, five games behind the Baltimore Orioles. And they still may be a game and a half out of a wild-card spot, but the bleeding was halted there as well.
In addition to Rasmus, the list of Blue Jays heroes included Jose Bautista, who forged a couple of defensive gems at an unfamiliar first-base position and then drove in the winning run with an opposite-field single in front of what was left of a sellout crowd at Rogers Centre, relief pitcher Chad Jenkins, who went the last six innings for the win, two more innings than he pitched in all of July, and manager John Gibbons, who won two appeals at second base on video replay, the first one keeping Anthony Gose on base so Jose Reyes could drive him in for the tying run and start the extra-inning tension.
Finally, there was the Toronto bullpen as a group, which did what their battered Tigers counterparts could not and shut out the visitors over 15 2/3 innings. By the time Jenkins came in to pitch the 14th inning, the Jays had already gone through starter Mark Buehrle, who was rocked again, Todd Redmond, Aaron Sanchez, Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan, Aaron Loup and Casey Janssen.
“I knew, sitting there, I was the last one,” Jenkins said. “I was like, well, I’m it.”
While Rasmus pulled Jenkins out of two tight spots with his catches in centre field, the reliever helped himself a lot as well, such as getting Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter on a comebacker to the mound to set up a double play at the plate with the bases loaded. Jenkins also struck out Andrew Romine in the top of the 19th to clear the way for Bautista’s winning hit. How he felt at that point was no surprise.
“Exhausted,” Jenkins said. “The last inning I knew what I wanted to do. I got [Romine] with two strikes. I figured I had two pitches left and [planned to] throw fastballs. Hopefully he misses one of them and sure enough, he swung right through it.”
After the game, the Blue Jays optioned infielder Ryan Goins to their Buffalo farm team. They called up pitcher Brad Mills, and slugger Adam Lind is expected back from the disabled list on Monday.