The Toronto Blue Jays will face the Texas Rangers in the ALDS for the second consecutive season. Edwin Encarnacion‘s three-run, walkoff home run in the 11th inning off Baltimore Orioles reliever Ubaldo Jimenez lifted the Jays to a 5-2 victory in the winner-take-all Wild Card game at the Rodgers Center in Toronto on Tuesday night. Blue Jays reliever Francisco Liriano got the win, and Jimenez took the loss.
Encarnacion’s Walkoff Blast Sends Jays to Texas
Jays Strike First
Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista got the scoring started early with a second-inning, 3-1 solo shot off Orioles starter Chris Tillman. Baltimore right fielder Mark Trumbo hit a two-run home run in the fourth off Toronto starter Marcus Stroman for the Orioles only two runs. Ezequiel Carrera recorded an RBI single in the fifth, one of two hits in the game for the Jays left fielder, scoring DH Michael Saunders from third and tying the game at two.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter immediately pulled Tillman from the game, and reliever Mychal Givens induced a ground ball double-play from Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis on his first pitch, ending the inning and stranding two baserunners. There would be no more scoring until the end.
Tillman finished with a line of 4 1/3 innings, two runs, four hits, one walk, and four strikeouts. Stroman went six innings, giving up runs only on Trumbo’s homer, four hits, no walks, and six K’s. Neither starter factored in the decision.
Things Get Ugly in the Seventh
A fan threw what appeared to be a beverage can from the seats and nearly hit Orioles left fielder Hyun Soo Kim as he pursued pinch-hitter Melvin Upton Jr.‘s fly ball for the final out of the bottom of the seventh inning. Center fielder Adam Jones was visibly furious, as he ran toward the left field wall and was shouting at the fan. Showalter also complained to the umpires.
Showalter Genius… or Not
Showalter is renowned for his tactical skills and bullpen management. He was on full display tonight, as two Blue Jays hitters hit into crucial, inning-ending double-plays. In addition to Travis’s off Givens in the fifth, Showalter also inserted side-arming righty Darren O’Day into a jam in the bottom of the ninth and had it work out perfectly. After allowing a lead-off double to Josh Donaldson and an intentional walk to Encarnacion, Brad Brach struck out Bautista, bringing up Jays catcher Russell Martin. Showalter went to O’Day, and, on his first pitch, O’Day got Martin to hit one directly to third baseman Manny Machado, starting a 5-4-3 double-play to send the game to extra innings. But then, things got interesting.
Orioles closer Zach Britton was arguably the most effective reliever in baseball this season. He was a perfect 47 for 47 in save opportunities. He allowed just four earned runs all year, for a ridiculous 0.54 ERA. He had an 81 percent ground ball rate, one of the highest ever. He struck out 13.9 batters per nine innings. He did not pitch on Tuesday night.
Britton warmed up briefly in the ninth, but left the bullpen. There was speculation that he may have injured himself while warming up, but Showalter later confirmed that Britton was healthy and available.
O’Day pitched a scoreless 10th. Brian Duensing pitched to one batter to start the 11th, striking out Carrera. Showalter then went to Jimenez, who had an ERA over five this season. Jimenez did not record an out. Travis and Donaldson hit back-to-back singles, setting up runners on the corners with one out. This brought up Encarnacion, who ended the game on the first pitch he saw, blasting it over the left-field fence. The ball traveled 440 feet, and set up the Blue Jays series against the No. 1 seed Rangers.
Game One is set for Thursday afternoon at 4:30 ET at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Many fans remember last post-season’s best-of-five ALDS between Toronto and Texas, capped by Bautista’s memorable three-run homer and bat flip in the seventh inning of Game Five in Toronto. Tensions carried over into this season, as the two teams engaged in a brawl in the final regular season game between the clubs in Arlington back in May. Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor landed a hard punch to Bautista’s jaw, clearing the benches and bullpens. Toronto won the season series, four games to three.