The ending strained the imagination.
Catcher J.P. Arencibia, benched in favour of Henry Blanco at the start of the game, hit a 2-2 pitch with two out in the ninth inning for a two-run home run, capping a comeback from a seven-run deficit as the Blue Jays defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7 on Monday night.
At Tropicana Field, where Jays have fared poorly over the years, losing eight of nine last season, the Rays had never before blown a seven-run lead. For the Jays, the comeback was the team's largest in six seasons, as they recorded back-to-back wins for the second time this season.
"This is huge," Arencibia said. "You've got to tip your hat to the effort of our guys tonight to go down 7-0, especially the way it's been to shut them down after that, it's a real positive. … If guys keep on coming to the clubhouse every day with positive attitudes, it's going to turn."
Beginning a critical seven-game road trip to play American League East foes Tampa Bay and the Boston Red Sox, starting pitcher Mark Buehrle gave up seven runs in the third inning, highlighted by an Evan Longoria grand slam and Luke Scott's two-run homer.
He stayed in the game, working six innings as the Blue Jays (12-21, last in the AL East) chipped away at the Rays (14-17, fourth place). Colby Rasmus's two-run homer and a run-scoring single by Melky Cabrera closed the gap to 7-3, in the fourth inning off starter Jeremy Hellickson. In the sixth, manager John Gibbons sent Mark DeRosa in to pinch-hit for Munenori Kawasaki, and he responded with his second homer in as many days, narrowing the gap to 7-5. DeRosa, a third baseman, remained in the game at second base.
The comeback seemed to have been snuffed out in the seventh when Jose Bautista got thrown out at the plate by second baseman Ryan Roberts with none out, on an apparent baserunning error. In the eighth though, Arencibia singled and eventually made third on an error by former Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar, a defensive replacement in the game. Bautista brought him home with a sacrifice fly, 7-6.
In the ninth, Adam Lind drew a leadoff walk and Emilio Bonifacio came into the game to pinch-run. Bonifacio was available on the bench because Gibbons had held him back, using DeRosa at second instead of him. He stole second and advanced on a throwing error. Rasmus struck out, and Maicer Izturis hit a grounder to a drawn-in infield for the second out.
Arencibia had replaced Blanco in the sixth inning. He deposited a Fernando Rodney fastball over the left-field fence, and Casey Janssen worked the ninth for his eighth save. Five of Arencibia's nine homers have been go-ahead shots.
"He throws hard," Arencibia said. "So I'm waiting for his fastball and wanted to just hit it. Was able to put a good swing on it and when I hit it, saw it was going to get out of the park. … I was so happy. I was fist-pumping. I don't know if I did a combination of Kirk Gibson's fist-pump, almost fell a few times rounding the bases, just so excited we were able to get the lead."
The reference was to Kirk Gibson's home run for the Dodgers off Oakland's Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. While the consequences on Monday were trivial by comparison to a World Series game, the Blue Jays crave such moments after tripping out of the start gate this season.
"I really don't know to describe this one," Gibbons said. "In a lot of ways, we're due, you just don't expect it to happen that way."
Blanco, 41, has been used primarily as knuckleballer R. A. Dickey's personal catcher. "I just want to run one game like that and see," Gibbons said. "You know, with Mark, it's been a tough go for him, so just want to change up the catcher and see if that does anything."
In his seventh start, Buehrle's ERA elevated to 7.02, up from last season's 3.74. Certain media critics have cited Buehrle's supposed decline in velocity as evidence of his decline. His fastball clocked consistently at 85 and 86 mph on Monday, compared with an average of 84.9 last season.
In the first two innings, 20 of his 31 pitches were strikes but in the third, No. 9 hitter Sam Fuld started with a single, Desmond Jennings drew a walk on four pitches, and Kelly Johnson hit a 2-0 pitch to the warning track that centre fielder Rasmus appeared to lose in the dome's white-tarp ceiling for a RBI single. Roberts loaded the bases with a check-swing tapper down the first base line that Buehrle allowed to roll, in the forlorn hope it would go foul.
He looked at the tape afterwards and realized he could have had Roberts at first. With first base open, he could have worked around Longoria. Instead, Buehrle started Longoria with three consecutive fastballs, falling behind 2-1 in the count before leaving a changeup high in the strike zone. Longoria drilled it into the left-field seats for his seventh home run.
James Loney, a platoon player awarded his first start against a lefty following his seventh three-hit game on Sunday, stroked an 85-mph fastball on an 0-1 count into the right-field corner for a double. One out later, Blanco called for consecutive curveballs to left-handed hitter Scott. He hit the second, an 0-1 pitch, into the bleachers for a two-run homer.