Drew Hutchison has tantalized his team and his fans with his talent, sometimes hot, sometimes cold this season, but a perfect storm blew in just in time for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Given Hutchison's showing in his last three starts – not making it past the third inning in two of them – there was no reason to expect the 23-year-old pitcher to put in the kind of night the Blue Jays needed to both stop a four-game losing streak and get back in their big series with the leaders in the American League East Division, the Baltimore Orioles. Then again, Hutchison had showed well against the Orioles this season despite his struggles.
A few hours later, Hutchison had the crowd of 33,054 at the Rogers Centre on its feet and roaring as he struck out the first two batters in the ninth inning and stared in at Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, hoping to seal a 5-1 Jays win and register his second complete game of his young Major League Baseball career. When Markakis got away with a walk, the only one allowed by Hutchison in 8 2/3 innings, Jays manager John Gibbons was showered with boos as he came out to lift the right-hander for Casey Janssen, who recorded the final out to officially halt the losing streak and even the series with Baltimore at one win each.
But as the fans acknowledged with a standing ovation for Hutchison (8-9) as he walked off the field, the night was his. He allowed just one hit in a masterful performance that saw him retire 22 consecutive batters after his only mistake of the night, a solo home run to Orioles first baseman Chris Davis in the second inning. He struck out eight batters.
"Perfect timing," Gibbons said of Hutchison pulling a magical performance seemingly out of nowhere. "We were struggling a little bit. It's a good ball club [and] we needed that. He was good. He has pitched good ball games for us this year, but perfect timing for us tonight."
Hutchison gave a little shake of his head after he turned the ball over to Gibbons in the ninth, unable to hold in some frustration at not being able to try to finish the game. But with the youngster just two years removed from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, Gibbons was not going to take any chances once he hit 115 pitches.
"It's a great start but it's a little frustrating to walk the last guy," Hutchison said. "You don't want to be too picky."
Gibbons, for one, thinks more of the same lies ahead for Hutchison.
"That's just a glimpse of what we think he's going to be down the road," he said. "He has a chance to be a real good one."
So does Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, who drove in three runs with his 22nd home run of the season and a single to keep Hutchison comfortably in the lead almost all night.
"I don't think it's any surprise," Bautista said. "He's certainly capable of doing what he did [Wednesday] on a consistent basis.
"He had a great tempo, he kept throwing strikes and kept people off-balance. I was hoping he would be able to finish it off and get the complete game but maybe that's something to shoot for in the next start for him."
What was keeping the Orioles off-balance was Hutchison's slider and change-up, which he was setting up with his fastball. In four starts against the Orioles, Hutchison has allowed just three earned runs over 27 2/3 innings with 25 strikeouts and only four walks.
"I was locating my heater down, which is more important, and the slider comes off of that," Hutchison said. "I thought my changeup was really good.
"You approach them all the same. I've just had good success against [Baltimore]."
The Blue Jay offence contributed to the sense of the unusual by scoring all five of their runs through the first six innings with two outs. That kind of clutch hitting has also been a rare sight for Blue Jay fans over the last few months.
After the Orioles got two outs in the first, the Blue Jays rapped out three consecutive base hits, from DH Nolan Reimold, catcher Dioner Navarro and first baseman Danny Valencia, to take a lead they never surrendered.