Steve Delabar punched out four batters in one inning, and his Toronto Blue Jays teammates landed the knockout blow soon after in a dramatic 3-2 walkoff victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Only 16,828 bothered to show up Monday for the opener of the four-game series at Rogers Centre, but they were treated to an odd bit of history after Delabar entered the game in the 10th inning with the score tied 2-2.
The recently acquired reliever proceeded to strike out the first batter he faced (Dayan Viciedo). Next, Tyler Flowers was able to run to first base safely after his swinging third strike squeezed past Toronto catcher Jeff Mathis for a passed ball.
Delabar then regrouped to strike out Gordon Beckham and Alejandro De Aza – marking the first time a Jays pitcher had recorded four Ks in one inning and the first time in major-league history it happened in extra innings.
"That's tough to do," an admiring Casey Janssen, the Toronto closer, said of Delabar's accomplishment. "He was nails tonight."
Delabar continued to deal in the 11th, striking out Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rios to finish with six strikeouts in the two innings he worked to record the victory.
The game headed into the bottom of the 11th inning where Cooper came up with runners at first and third and stroked a solid line drive into right field that brought home Kelly Johnson with the winning run from third.
"I guess there's all kinds of records out there that guys can set," Delabar said. "I'm just privileged to be part of it."
Janssen tasted failure for the first time as the Toronto closer this season, entering the game in the ninth inning with the Blue Jays leading 2-1.
Janssen, who was 15-for-15 in save situations this season, served up a first-pitch home run to Adam Dunn, his second of the game, that tied the game.
That Blue Jays lead had been provided by Moises Sierra who stroked his first Major League home run in the seventh inning.
Sierra had two hits in the game and is hitting .387 through 11 games.
Carlos Villanueva started for Toronto and delivered another solid effort, holding the White Sox to just five hits and one run over seven innings where he struck out eight.
Chicago starter Jake Peavy was none too shabby himself, restricting Toronto to two runs off five hits through eight innings.
The Blue Jays came into the game with almost a third of their 25-man roster – eight players – composed of rookies. Three of them – David Cooper at first base, Anthony Gose in centre and Sierra in right field – were in the starting lineup.
For the five rookie position players, it hasn't exactly been a smooth transition, Sierra's numbers notwithstanding. Collectively the group was hitting .201 with 80 strikeouts in 295 at-bats heading into the Chicago game.
Gose had struck out 27 times in 62 at-bats followed closely by Yan Gomes with 25 whiffs in 74 at-bats.
"Just talking about the young guys as a group, they're clearly still getting their feet on the ground," Toronto manager John Farrell said.
Still, despite the youthful infusion, Farrell said when some of his walking wounded start drifting back into the lineup, in particular starting pitcher Brandon Morrow, he sees no reason why Toronto can't make another run at .500.
The Blue Jays are now five games under the break-even point.
Morrow will make another start in Double-A for New Hampshire on Tuesday as he inches his way back from a strained oblique muscle that has kept him sidelined since June 11th.
Morrow will have one more minor-league tuneup after that before the Blue Jays will consider calling him back up, a development that conceivably could happen as early as next week if all goes well.
"Time will tell," Farrell said when asked about the feasibility of his team being able to close to the .500 mark.
"There's no reason to think we can't."