The Blue Jays continue to live by the home run this season as late-game bombs from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Marcus Semien kept their near-death playoff hopes alive on Friday.
Gurriel smashed a no-doubt grand slam to left to spearhead a six-run rally in the eighth inning, and Semien followed with a walk-off three-run shot down the left-field line in the ninth to push Toronto to a dramatic 11-10 victory against the Oakland Athletics in the opener of a critical three-game weekend series.
The come-from-behind win kept the Blue Jays (71-62) five games behind the Boston Red Sox, who defeated Cleveland 8-5 on Friday, in the fight for the second wild-card spot in the American League. The Athletics (74-61) are three games behind Boston.
“Every win is so important right now,” Semien said. “Just to be able to swing the bat and give us the win, it’s huge. It was the biggest comeback of the year. Hopefully, we can just build off this score, smaller runs tomorrow and see what happens.”
The Blue Jays found themselves down 8-2 after the Athletics scored two runs apiece in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Even after Gurriel hit a two-out first pitch from Oakland reliever Yusmeiro Petit into the second deck to tie the game 8-8, the Athletics grabbed a lead in the ninth with a two-run homer from outfielder Mark Canha.
Canha’s homer hit the left-field foul pole off Blue Jays receiver Jordan Romano, who had not allowed a run in his previous 11 appearances.
But to lead off the ninth, Breyvic Valera singled and advanced to third on George Springer’s double to set up Semien. He smacked his career-high 34th down the left-field line against the Athletics, a team he played six seasons with before signing with Toronto last January.
“A lot of guys were dragging their heads and dragging their bats,” Toronto starter Alek Manoah said. “He’s going out there like ‘I’m gonna win a ballgame.’ So if that tells you anything about his heart and competitiveness. He wants to win, and he never gives up on anything. So when he goes, we go.”
Teoscar Hernandez tied the game 2-2 in the fourth inning. The three homers gave the Blue Jays an AL-leading 200 for the season and a fifth walk-off win.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo described the state of the clubhouse afterwards as pure “happiness.”
“I wish you guys could see it,” he told reporters in his Zoom postgame conference.
Manoah was in the clubhouse long before his teammates authored the comeback. After giving up a two-run homer to Tony Kemp in the sixth inning for a 6-2 Oakland lead, he exited.
Oakland punished the rookie pitcher for his patch of wildness. With the game deadlocked at 2-2, Manoah opened the fifth by hitting Josh Harrison in the arm and Starling Marte in the head.
Marte stayed down as the Athletics training staff attended to the fallen centrefielder. He remained in the game and, along with Harrison, scored on Matt Olson’s double to right field.
“Whenever you hit somebody in the head, it’s pretty scary, very dangerous,” Manoah said. “I felt really bad at that moment. I had some troubles with the mound early on.”
Marte stayed in the game to score, but he was pulled to start the bottom half of the inning.
Manoah also issued three walks, two strikeouts, five hits and six runs.
Oakland starter Sean Manaea pitched on six days rest because Frankie Montas had visa issues to cross the border into Canada. So Athletics manager Bob Melvin moved Montas to pitch in Manea’s spot in Detroit on Thursday.
Manaea was effective. He went seven innings, striking out nine, allowing only five hits.
With Oakland leading 6-2, young Blue Jays pitcher Nate Pearson was summoned from the bullpen. He was promoted from Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday, where he has spent the past three months rehabbing from groin problems.
Pearson was not sharp, surrendering two more runs.