After walking off the mound for the last time this season, J.A. Happ couldn't help but reflect.
From struggling in spring training with back problems and starting the season in the bullpen, the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander closed his year on a high Saturday, throwing 6 1-3 innings of four-hit baseball in a 4-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
"It's pretty unbelievable," Happ said of the difference between the way the season started and ended. "It's kind of hard to imagine yourself in that position when you're in some tough circumstances, sometimes it's tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"You've got to keep having faith and keep working, it pays off. It felt good to walk off the mound today with the fans cheering the way they were, and to have the lead in the game. It was great."
Happ (11-11) recorded a quality start in each of his final seven outings at Rogers Centre this season and had a 2.47 earned run average over that stretch. He believes staying healthy, altering the angle of his arm on pitches and being able to adjust to hitters throughout a game have been keys to his success.
"I feel like I've showed, over the second half especially, when healthy I'm able to make adjustments," Happ said. "That's the biggest part of the game, I think, is constantly trying to be comfortable and make the adjustments that the hitters are making to you."
Asked if he thinks he's made a strong case for the Blue Jays picking up his US$6.7 million option for the 2015 season, Happ said: "Yeah, I hope so."
Toronto manager John Gibbons said he's certainly going to make the case to Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous to keep the 31-year-old veteran with the team for another season.
"I like everything about him," Gibbons said. "I think he's really come into his own."
Other than giving up a run in the second inning on a triple and a single and surrendering a booming solo home run to Adam Jones in the sixth inning, Happ was in command. He struck out four, walked two and threw just 93 pitches. He lowered his ERA to 4.22 for the season.
"He was really good today but he's been really good all year," Gibbons said. "He really kicked it in after the all-star break. He's proven he's a pitcher that can go pretty deep into games.
"It couldn't happen to a better guy. He's a real pro. He's really dedicated and he really works at it.
Happ and the Blue Jays (83-78) benefited from some sloppy defence by the American League East champion Orioles (95-66), who committed three errors which led to two of Toronto's runs.
Wei-Yin Chen (16-6) took the loss, yielding three runs, one of them unearned, over six innings.
Toronto left-fielder Kevin Pillar had two hits and scored a pair of runs, including an insurance run on a head-first slide in the seventh inning that was originally ruled an out but was reversed on a replay.
"It was one of those in-between fly balls and kind of playing with nothing to lose," Pillar said of the play that made it 4-2. "The home plate collision is a real fine line and with catchers not trying to block the plate and staying out of the way. He didn't give me much of a lane, just a little bit of a lane.
"I'm trying to avoid sliding head first but sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do."
Jose Reyes, who supplied the sacrifice fly for that insurance run, had another run batted in, driving home Steve Tolleson with a double in the fifth inning to put Toronto up for good at 2-1.
Aaron Sanchez had 1 2-3 innings of hitless relief and Casey Janssen worked a perfect ninth for his 25th save as the Blue Jays picked up their second straight victory.
Toronto closes out the season Sunday afternoon looking for the three-game sweep of Baltimore.