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The Globe and Mail

Blue Jays’ makeshift lineup guts out tough win over Reds

Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis (29) hits a two run home run against Cincinnati Reds in the seventh inning at Rogers Centre, May 31, 2017.

Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

It is early, you are constantly reminded, that a series played in the infancy of a long season couldn't possibly have much significance in the grand scheme of things.

With the way things have transpired for the Toronto Blue Jays, though, people are willing to make an exception for the New York Yankees, in town for what is shaping up to be a key four-game set, beginning Thursday night.

The Yankees have their old swagger back and are perched on top of the American League East, the biggest surprise in baseball after winning 30 of their first 49 games.

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The Blue Jays, after enduring what seemed like a never-ending litany of injuries, seemed to have turned a corner to take solid aim at what they hope will be a third consecutive postseason berth.

A 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Rogers Centre on Wednesday afternoon, to complete a three-game sweep of the National League club, has not altered that belief.

And now the red-hot Blue Jays, who have won eight of their past nine, have an opportunity to deliver an early season statement to the Yankees that they are not a team to be trifled with.

"There's no doubt we're playing good baseball," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, whose team has pulled to within one game of .500 at 26-27 after being buried by as many as 11 games under on April 28.

"We anticipate it will be a tough four games, they're the front-runners," Gibbons said. "We've played them many times and had some pretty good battles with them.

"It would be nice to continue playing well right now. I mean the timing would be perfect."

The Blue Jays concluded their three-game series against the Reds on a winning note despite a rather makeshift lineup that did not include two of their best players in third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

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The pair is just off the disabled list and Gibbons is still in an ease-'em-in phase, especially in a day game following a night outing.

As a result, No. 1 catcher Russell Martin made his fifth start of the year at third with backup Luke Maile crouching behind the plate. Ryan Goins started at short, filling in for Tulowitzki, and Kevin Pillar was on the bench with Ezequiel Carrera starting at centre.

And with emergency starter Mike Bolsinger on the mound, Wednesday's game had the potential to go sideways quickly.

While Bolsinger, who allowed three runs on four hits, four walks and seven strike outs, was a tad ragged in his fifth start with the Blue Jays, he lasted into the sixth inning and departed with the score deadlocked 3-3.

He allowed a two-run home run to Toronto native Joey Votto, his second homer in as many games, in the first inning to put the Blue Jays in an early hole.

"Bolsinger gave us just enough," was how Gibbons summed up the pitcher's performance.

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Gibbons's decision to start defensively sound Maile behind the plate paid unexpected dividends when the light-hitting catcher stroked a huge two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to erase a 3-1 Reds lead.

Maile had entered the game hitting a minuscule .058.

"I don't care what your reputation is defensively, you want to help, swing the bat from time to time at the very least," Maile said. "To finally hit something that was really meaningful and bring us back in the game a little bit meant a lot."

The game remained 3-3 until the bottom of the seventh when Toronto second baseman Devon Travis concluded a gritty nine-pitch at-bat with a two-run home run the opposite way to left off Reds reliever Wandy Peralta.

The Blue Jays carried their 5-3 advantage into the ninth when they called on closer Roberto Osuna to seal the deal.

But Osuna was rudely greeted by Scott Schebler, the Reds first batter, who cranked the first pitch over the wall in right field to cut Toronto's lead to one.

A one-out single to Tucker Barnhart increased the drama.

The tension was then magnified considerably when the normally dependable Goins flubbed a tailor-made game-ending double-play ball by Jose Peraza and it scooted under his glove into the outfield.

"I was kind of stunned, oh crap," Gibbons said was his reaction after witnessing Goins's error.

With runners at second and third, Osuna struck out the final two Cincinnati batters to halt the Reds in their tracks.

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