Manager John Gibbons knows first-hand that you can never take anything for granted in the baseball playoffs.
Last season, many were prepared to give his Blue Jays a standing-eight count after they lost the first two games of their playoff series against the Texas Rangers, an indignity played out on their home field in Toronto.
But the Blue Jays picked themselves off the canvas to win the next three games to dispose of the Rangers in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
Now the Blue Jays have turned the tables, winning the first two games of this season’s ALDS rematch in Texas, including an edgy 5-3 win at overcast Globe Life Park on Friday afternoon.
The series moves to Toronto’s Rogers Centre where a win on Sunday night will propel Canada’s team into a second consecutive AL Championship Series.
While gloating is not in Gibbons’s nature, he was already feeling pretty good about Toronto’s chances heading into Friday’s game with 20-game winner J.A. Happ on the mound.
Now, with burgeoning ace and 2016 AL earned-run leader Aaron Sanchez slated to take the ball Sunday, the Toronto manager likes the odds of his team advancing.
“It bodes well for us,” Gibbons said heading into Friday’s game, speaking of the formidable arms available to throw against the Rangers.
“No guarantees, but you know what, it gives us a chance.”
“We feel good about where we’re at right now,” Happ added.
Sanchez, 15-2 this season with a 3.00 ERA, will face Texas veteran Colby Lewis, 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA in nine playoff games, including eight starts.
The Blue Jays were outhit 13-6 Friday but four of their hits were home run bombs, beginning with a two-run blast by Troy Tulowitzki in the second inning, which provided Toronto with a 2-0 lead.
For Tulowitzki, who had three hits and three RBIs in Toronto’s 10-1 win Thursday, the postseason homer was the fourth of his career.
In the pivotal fifth, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Edwin Encarnacion each hit solo shots off Yu Darvish, the rattled Texas starter, and Toronto’s lead was a formidable 5-1.
The Blue Jays had never before hit that many home runs in a playoff game.
Pillar said Toronto went to Texas to make a statement. Consider it made.
“That’s what we had in mind,” he said. “We came here to play baseball. We came here to get some wins and we took care of business. That’s what we expected.”
Happ earned the win, but it was an outing fraught with danger as he allowed at least two Texas base runners in each of the first four innings but only surrendered one run.
Happ pitched five-plus innings and allowed just one run. He scattered nine hits and had five strikeouts.
“We gave ourselves opportunities, didn’t get the hit when we needed it,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said.
Texas left 13 runners on base and was 2-for-18 hitting with runners in scoring position.
“You go into the game knowing that at some point they’re going to get their hits,” Happ said. “Some of them were hard, some of them were soft. I think the key was keeping the ball in the ballpark.
“But yeah, it was a battle. It seemed like a long five innings for me.”
Things got tense in the Texas eighth when the Rangers scored two runs that were credited to Toronto reliever Francisco Liriano, which cut the score to 5-3.
Gibbons then called for Roberto Osuna, the Toronto closer who has been sidelined with a sore right shoulder since Toronto’s wild-card win on Tuesday over Baltimore. After surrendering a hit to Ian Desmond that carded the third Texas run, Osuna blew an 85-mile-an-hour slider past Carlos Beltran to end the inning.
Returning to the fray in the nervous ninth, Osuna allowed a leadoff hit by Adrian Beltre to left field where the ball hit the bottom of the wall and then careened back through the legs of outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. Beltre wound up at second with a double.
Osuna then gathered himself to retire Rougned Odor on a strikeout, Jonathan Lucroy on a pop-out to second, and Mitch Moreland on a fly-out to centre to earn the save.
Afterward, Osuna said it felt great to prove he was feeling no ill-effects from his shoulder injury.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That brings me a lot of confidence. I don’t feel any pain or anything. Looking forward to the next game.”Report Typo/Error
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