The ball rocketed off Josh Donaldson’s bat, down the left side of the baseball diamond, and sent Adrian Beltre, the Texas Rangers’ fine third baseman, leaping skyward.
But the cowhide was on him in the blink of an eye and the best Beltre could do was to deflect the ball with his glove and slow its trajectory into left field. That was all that Ezequiel Carrera, the Toronto Blue Jays runner at second base, needed to see as he was able to lope all the way home to score the first run of the game, in the third inning.
There was more to come, much more.
Nine batters went to the plate in that telltale inning, scoring five runs and rapping out four hits – all at the expense of Cole Hamels, the Texas starter who was nowhere close to living up to his pedigree as one of the game’s top playoff performers.
That crooked inning was all the Blue Jays needed to subdue the docile Rangers, churning to a shockingly one-sided 10-1 triumph to secure a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
“We have a lot of respect for Cole,” said Troy Tulowitzki, the sublime Toronto shortstop who had three hits and drove in three runs.
“You see what he’s done in the postseason. I’ve faced him quite a bit in those postseasons. He’s a special pitcher.
“But I think he made a few mistakes.
“I think he’d be the first one to say that. It’s unlike him. I’m sure if we see him again he won’t do that.”
Once Donaldson got things going in the third, the Rangers were powerless to stop the trajectory of the Blue Jays offence, which has gone missing in so many games this season.
Not on Thursday and especially not in the third, when the Jays seemed to have a golden touch. They scored all of their runs with two out.
Edwin Encarnacion stepped into the batter’s box after Donaldson and Hamels stabbed his glove at the ball he lined up the middle.
Like Donaldson’s, the ball careered off Hamel’s glove and glided softly over to Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Andrus could do little more than pick it up and stare forlornly with Toronto base runners now at the corners.
Next up was Jose Bautista, reviled in these parts as the bat-flip maestro from last year’s ALDS, who silenced the catcalling from the capacity crowd at Globe Life Park when he shot a single into centre field, scoring Donaldson.
“I’m not trying to make it about myself,” said Bautista, who later piled on with a three-run homer in the ninth. “But helping my team win feels good.”
After a Russell Martin walk loaded the bases, Tulowitzki launched a long fly to right-centre that Ian Desmond took off after.
It appeared Desmond had a chance at making the catch near the wall, but he bailed out at the last moment as he approached the warning track.
The ball fell in for a bases-clearing triple, which scored three runs and elevated the score to 5-0 for Toronto.
“It was a great at-bat,” said Kevin Pillar, the Toronto centre fielder. “He’s one of the best players in the league showing up in a big moment. It was awesome to see.
“That was kind of the big hit that we needed that just put us over the top a little bit.”
So beset was Hamels at this point with what would be his worst outing in 16 postseason starts – seven runs (six earned) off six hits in 31/3 innings – that he one-hopped an easy throw to Mitch Moreland at first base for the third out of Pillar.
It was the sort of rout the Blue Jays needed as they headed into the game not expecting to have closer Roberto Osuna at their disposal.
Osuna, with 36 saves this season, injured his right shoulder in Tuesday’s wild-card victory over Baltimore.
While the Blue Jays don’t think it is serious, Gibbons said he had to keep it in mind when deciding on his 25-man roster for the series, which includes 12 pitchers and 13 position players.
As a result, Dalton Pompey, who was an effective base runner in last year’s playoff run, was left off the roster. So, too, was utility infielder Ryan Goins.
“With Osuna’s situation, we think he’s going to be fine, but you’ve got to cover yourself,” Gibbons explained before the game. “And really that’s what it came down to.”
Carrying a player primarily for his base-running skills “is a luxury,” Gibbons said, adding that Melvin Upton Jr., when he is not in the starting lineup, and Darwin Barney can get around the bases.
“It’s not ideal but we’ve got to cover ourselves in that bullpen,” the manager said.Report Typo/Error
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