Sometimes you just give thanks for the story. Sometimes you just give thanks for small miracles like Munenori Kawasaki. With one lash of his bat on Sunday, the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop made it all turn out all right, delivering a walk-off win and saving Brett Lawrie from once again being a storyline for all the wrong reasons.
Truth is, this could have been a gut-wrenching loss. Down 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth and losers of two of three games despite collecting 30 hits in the losses, while leaving the bases loaded in the two previous innings with cleanup hitter Adam Lind and slugger Jose Bautista at the plate? That is certainly not how the 2013 Blue Jays were built to lose.
But with two out, Kawasaki sent Jim Johnson's 3-2 pitch into the gap in left-centre, doubling in J.P. Arencibia and Mark DeRosa for a 6-5 win and a split of a four-game series in which the teams combined for 102 hits, setting a record for a four-game set between the American League East rivals.
The hit set off a celebration unlike any seen at Rogers Centre in some time – Kawasaki flinging his helmet in the air rounding second base, then commandeering the microphone from Sportsnet's Arash Madani for a post-game on-field interview, in which he introduced himself as "Munenori Kawasaki, I'm from Japan. … I am Japanese!" and then pulled out a notebook in which he'd written several clichés, saying: "My teammates gave me the opportunity, so I wanted to do something about it."
At that point, he was ambushed by Emilio Bonifacio and two other teammates, drenched in Gatorade and clobbered by a shaving cream pie.
Kawasaki is no Jose Reyes. He is, frankly, all uncertainty and quirkiness in the field but since he's joined the Blue Jays he has reached base safely in 25 of 35 games and has had an on-base plus slugging percentage of .664. "He plays a good brand of baseball," manager John Gibbons said. "He gives you a great at-bat. Makes them throw a lot of pitches … extends some innings … gives us opportunities. I don't know where we'd be without him. Still, you don't expect him to run a ball up the gap."
Kawasaki and Arencibia had three hits each – Kawaski drove in the Blue Jays' second run with a single – as the Blue Jays won a game in which they trailed by three or more runs after eight innings for the first time since Opening Day, 2012. Kawasaki's hit spared a lot of blushes – starting with Lawrie, who with runners on the corners and a run already in drove a line to Orioles right-fielder Nick Markakis in the ninth. Third base coach Luis Rivera wisely held Adam Lind at third, and Lawrie stared at the two of them for much of his trot back to the dugout. He and Gibbons exchanged words before Bautista stepped in and Lawrie headed to the far end of the dugout.
"Brett's a very intense guy," Gibbons said. "We probably talk more than you guys will ever know. He got a little heated in the dugout. A little competitive, but we got it hashed out."
Gibbons walked past Lawrie in the Blue Jays clubhouse 15 minutes later, made a fist-pump gesture in his direction that was returned with a nod and wink. Lawrie said he "got caught up trying to score runs," and when he was asked what is normally said between the manager and himself in their talks said simply: "That's between me and John."
Lawrie was not about to spoil the day's narrative. "It couldn't happen to a better guy," he said of Kawasaki's heroics.
Kawasaki did his post-game media scrum in the clubhouse holding an English phrase-book and mugging for the camera. However, when he was asked about his welcome through a Japanese writer serving as an interpreter, his answer was long and sincere, and translated into "everybody's given me an opportunity to play here … I'm very comfortable."
In a year of limited returns, Kawasaki is one story that is a pleasure to write.
Atlanta Braves (30-18, playing Sunday night) at Toronto Blue Jays (21-29)
Monday, 7:07 p.m. (EDT): RHP Tim Hudson (4-3, 4.98 earned-run average) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (1-3, 5.90)
Tuesday, 12:37 p.m.: LHP Paul Maholm (6-4, 3.38) vs. RHP Brandon Morrow (2-3, 5.50)
Notes: As a member of the Miami Marlins last season, Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buerhle had an earned-run average of 5.91 and a walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of 1.5 in his four starts against the Atlanta Braves. … Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes has started running drills as he continues to push the envelope in his recovery from a severely sprained left ankle. … Blue Jays manager John Gibbons announced that RHP Esmil Rogers will start Wednesday when the team opens an inter-league series in Atlanta against the Braves. "He has a big arm, so we want to give him a shot at it," Gibbons said. "He's been stretched out in his last two outings and looked good on the side today [Sunday]." … Blue Jays designated hitter Adam Lind has reached base safely in 24 of his past 28 games. and is 10-for-19 … Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista has reached base safely in 18 of his last 28 plate appearances. … Braves RHP Tim Hudson has seen his earned-run average jump by more than a run in the month of May, chiefly due to 11 earned runs in back-to-back starts before his last outing, a rain-interrupted five-inning stint against the Minnesota Twins. … The Braves are expected to carry three catchers (Evan Gattis, Brian McCann and Gerald Laird) through the Blue Jays series and go with a six-man bullpen. One of those catchers will likely serve as a designated hitter. … One of the Braves relievers is RHP Cory Rasmus, the brother of Blue Jays centre fielder Colby Rasmus. … The Blue Jays will start a run of eight games against National League teams on Monday and are 2-0 in inter-league play after beating the San Francisco Giants in a series earlier this month at Rogers Centre.