Like many a big-league pitcher this season, Ryan Borucki has felt the sting of the mighty bats belonging to the Boston Red Sox.
Consider it a lesson well-learned for the rookie.
After getting eaten alive in his first encounter against baseball’s best back in July, Borucki rebounded in strong fashion on Thursday night at Rogers Centre, doing just enough to help Toronto gain at the very least a measure of respect from the runaway American League East leaders.
Borucki only went five innings, but they were all fraught with intrigue that he somehow managed to survive, like a surfer who was riding the big one.
Borucki would go on to earn the win as Toronto (52-62) pulled off a topsy-turvy 8-5 victory to avoid a three-game sweep at the capable hands of the Red Sox (81-35), who were gunning for a seventh straight win.
Boston lost despite lead-off hitter Mookie Betts hitting for the cycle, getting a home run in his final at bat against Toronto closer Ken Giles in the top of the ninth to round out the scoring. Betts went 4-for-4 with a walk.
In improving to 2-2 in his rookie season, Borucki served up nine hits over his five innings – but held the Red Sox to a respectable four runs.
And when his teammates scored three times in the bottom of the fifth inning to break a 4-4 deadlock, highlighted by a two-run home-run swat by Randal Grichuk, his second in as many nights, it provided Borucki with his sweet revenge.
“He battled all night,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “It’s tough, these guys are swinging it, there’s not many outs in that lineup. And they’re hot right now.
“But he’s got that knack and I think there’s something special about the kid. He just keeps attacking.
Grichuk would account for three of the Toronto runs while Teoscar Hernandez also chipped in with a homer, his 18th on the year.
Before Thursday’s game, the Blue Jays welcomed 24-year-old pitching prospect Thomas Pannone to the 25-man roster, up from Triple-A Buffalo.
A ninth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2013 who arrived in Toronto in a July 31 trade deadline deal last year, it marked his first trip into a major-league setting.
And it felt pretty satisfying considering that Pannone is just recently back after serving an 80-game suspension levied by Major League Baseball after testing positive for a banned performance enhancing drug.
For the time being, Pannone will be used out of the bullpen but he still figures as a starter in the long term. In fact, Gibbons said that Pannone is a candidate to start Monday’s game against the Kansas City Royals.
In a season where the Blue Jays starting pitching plans were mostly torn to shreds, Borucki has come on to be a bit of a revelation.
He was summoned to the big-league club in late June with the Blue Jays in need of a starter what with Jaime Garcia and Aaron Sanchez both on the disabled list.
He made his major league debut on June 26th against the Houston Astros and distinguished himself despite a 7-0 setback to the defending World Series champs, surrendering just two of the runs off six hits over six innings of work.
And he has never looked back.
The Blue Jays' top lefty pitching prospect has gone on to pitch six or more innings in all but one of his seven outings since then heading into Thursday’s contest, pitching to a desirable 2.30 earned-run average along the way.
And, of course, that one rotten outing came on July 13 against the Red Sox, who humbled the 24-year-old for seven runs (four earned) off eight hits in just three innings of work.
“If he’s on though, he’ll be tough,” Gibbons predicted before the game about Borucki’s coming Red Sox challenge. “They’re hot right now too, you know.
“Maybe just what we need.”
It didn’t start off that great as Boston struck for two quick runs in the first inning after the Red Sox loaded the bases with two out.
But Toronto picked Borucki up in the bottom half of the inning, scoring twice to tie the game off Boston starter Rick Porcello, who entered the game sporting a 14-4 mark.
The 2016 A.L. Cy Young Award winner was uncharacteristically off, issuing two walks to the first two batters he faced. He was gone after four-plus innings.
Then the hot-hitting Justin Smoak stepped into the batter’s box and extended his hit streak to 13 games when he singled to right field to cut the Boston lead in half. Smoak would finish the game with three hits and two RBIs.
Toronto’s second run came across after Grichuk hit into a fielder’s choice.
Toronto then surged in front 3-2 in the second after Boston third baseman Eduardo Nunez flubbed an easy grounder off the bat of Kevin Pillar for an error that allowed Russell Martin to scamper home from third.
Hernandez’s home run in the third increased the Toronto lead to 4-2 before the Red Sox struck for two in the top of the fifth where slugger J.D. Martinez smoked his major league leading 35th home run.