It was not exactly the kind of jaw-dropping, edge-of-your-seat confrontation that would ever stir the imaginations of Toronto Blue Jays fans in the latter stages of the regular season.
After all, the Blue Jays (56-69) and the Baltimore Orioles (37-88) were a combined 83 games back of first place in the American League East when they locked horns for the first of a three-game set at Rogers Centre Monday night.
That represents a lot of bad baseball with about five weeks of presumably more bad baseball remaining in the season.
Sit back and strap on those seat belts – the ride will likely remain a bumpy one.
It was against this bleak backdrop that these two clubs took to the field Monday – and it didn’t prevent Kendrys Morales from putting on a show, cranking two home runs and driving in four as Toronto hung on to topple the Orioles 5-3.
Morales hit No. 15 of the year in the third and then No. 16 in the four-run Toronto fifth, a three-run blast to right that went a long way toward deciding this one.
For the veteran switch hitter, who is now hitting .252 on the year, it continues a solid push back after a lousy first month and a half of the season. By mid-May, Morales was nearly invisible with a .146 batting average and just three dingers.
“You try to write this guy off after the first month of the season,” said Toronto centerfielder Kevin Pillar. “But you look at the back of his baseball card, he’s been a good hitter his whole career.
“Some guys just start off slow and after that slow start he got off to he’s been pretty consistent. And that’s kind of what you expect from him.”
The win followed a lousy 2-5 Blue Jays road trip that included a three-game sweep in New York at the hands of the Yankees.
About the only bright spot for Toronto is that it has manhandled Baltimore this season – hasn’t everybody? – now having won in 10 of 11 meetings.
Toronto manager John Gibbons showed he was willing to let bygones be bygones, utilizing a batting order that had Pillar hitting out of the two-hole for just the third time this season.
Pillar, normally a middle-of-the-order batter, was publicly chewed out by Gibbons in the dugout on Sunday in the Yankee finale after he made the third out at third base on a steal attempt in a game Toronto was trailing 6-2 at the time.
That is something you never do, a no-no that is drummed into the heads of little leaguers when they first take up the game.
Pillar accepted his dressing down by Gibbons, and the manager said that’s the end of it as far as he’s concerned. He said he never even considered benching the centre fielder as some were calling for.
“Thank God we didn’t punish him,” Gibbons said with a twinkle in his eye after Pillar responded Monday with two doubles.
Moving Pillar up in the batting order made sense as he came off the road trip riding a six-game hit streak, going 10-for-23 over that span (.435) with seven runs batted in.
Also, second baseman Devon Travis, who has been Toronto’s No. 2 hitter for just more than two weeks, had a root canal Monday morning and was not available to play. Gibbons expects him to be available for Tuesday’s game. “Dentistry is so much better these days,” he noted.
Starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez, on the shelf with a bruised finger on his pitching hand since June 22, was to get a start in Double-A Monday night. If all goes well, the Blue Jays anticipate he will start for them on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Top pitching prospect Sean Reid-Foley was optioned back to Triple-A on Monday to make room for the return of catcher Luke Maile, just off the paternity list. Gibbons anticipates Reid-Foley will be back up by the start of September at the latest.
The Orioles first broke through in the third inning when back-to-back singles and a walk off Toronto starter Marco Estrada loaded the bases with one out.
Chris Davis then lifted a lazy fly ball to deep right that easily scored the tagging Jonathan Villar for a 1-0 Baltimore lead.
Estrada would get the win, allowing three runs off seven hits over 5.1 innings to improve to 7-9 and likely improve his trade value heading into the Oct. 31 trade deadline.
The Blue Jays finally got on the board in the fourth when Morales turned on an Andrew Cashner fastball, guiding the ball just inside the right field foul pole for his 15th home run of the season to tie things up.
Rookie catcher Danny Jansen later lashed a ground rule double to left for Toronto and has now collected hits in each of his first six major league games, just the fourth player to do so in franchise history.
In the fifth inning it was Mr. Redemption time again as Pillar swatted his second double in as many at bats to score Richard Urena from third to put the Blue Jays in front 2-1 before the second home run by Morales.