Encarnacion Hits 11th-inning Walkoff, Jays Advance to Face Rangers
The sudden-death wild-card game ended in sudden victory, not with a Jose Bautista bat-flip homer, but with a resounding three-run Edwin Encarnacion bomb with hands thrown into the air and bat dropped behind him. He knew it was the winner as the ball headed into the second deck in left field giving the Blue Jays a 5-2 victory at the Rogers Centre. If Encarnacion is going to be leaving the Jays as a free agent in November, he wants fans to remember him and after that, they will.
The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. The Jays will be moving on to play the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s vitriolic American League Division Series, but the biggest concern after the win over the Orioles at Rogers Centre was the immediate future of closer Roberto Osuna. The 21-year-old bullpen ace pitched the ninth and one out in the 10th before the dugout responded to a distress call.
It looked like it may have become a victory of which King Pyrrhus would be proud. The battle won and the war in doubt. But after the game the report was a shoulder issue and the Osuna will be all right in a couple of days. Francisco Liriano was the winner Tuesday and there may be bigger things for him in the immediate future.
It was a total team effort, as the much-maligned Blue Jays’ bullpen worked five no-hit innings in besting the Orioles’ relief corps that went into the night without using its ace closer Zach Britton.
Second baseman Devon Travis was frustrated by his own offensive performance throughout most of the game, grounding into two key double plays early. But facing Ubaldo Jimenez in the 11th, the young second baseman lined a single to left. Josh Donaldson singled behind him setting up a Buck Showalter mound visit. The Orioles decided to pitch to Encarnacion and the rest is another iconic moment in Blue Jays history. Travis was joyous.
“It’s pretty crazy to be a part of, for sure,” Travis said in another champagne-soaked clubhouse. “Last year (when Jose hit his homer), I threw the remote at the ceiling (rehabbing at home). This time I threw my hands up in the sky. It’s just incredible.
Travis was happy to redeem himself in the 11th. “I was pretty upset. I try not to show too much emotion on the field. I was pretty upset and every single guy on this team patted me on the back and said I’d get another opportunity and thankfully I did.”
The Blue Jays had not played any elimination game since losing to the Royals in Kansas City in the Game 6 of the ALCS last season. Even down the stretch in 2016, this team was never at risk of having no tomorrow.
But on Tuesday, somehow having earned home field for the wild-card game, advancing to the next round was there for the taking. Of all the home fields in the league, with 49,934 roaring Jays fans at Rogers Centre and a rare AL artificial surface, this home-field advantage should have been huge. Turns out it was.
“Both teams played so well, both teams deserved to win that game,” manager John Gibbons said. “There’s something to having that last at-bat. That’s why you love the chance to play at home.”
With starter Chris Tillman firing fastballs of suspect velocity from what had always been his career norm, Jose Bautista approached the plate to lead off the second inning. Tillman moved him off the plate with a fastball in the general direction of his knees. Then on a 3-1 pitch, Bautista launched a high fly that was never in doubt, settling in the Jays’ bullpen for a 1-0 lead.
But the Jays’ one-run lead lasted merely into the top of the fourth inning. Marcus Stroman had retired the first nine Orioles in a row when Adam Jones led off the inning with a line drive single to right. Jones stole second, which set up the defensive play of the game by Kevin Pillar. MVP candidate Manny Machado laced a line drive to right centre that appeared destined for the wall and a run-scoring double, but Pillar laid out to make the catch, leaped to his feet and launched a one-hop throw to Josh Donaldson, holding Jones at second base. Potential game-changer.
The emotional Jays right-hander needed to take advantage of the play that would have been on highlight reels forever except for what happened next. Stroman looked out to centre to applaud his teammate, hands above his head. Then he climbed back up to the top of the mound and with his adrenaline still flowing on the defensive gem, he surrendered a two-run homer to Mark Trumbo.
But the bottom of the order came through in the clutch for the Jays in the fifth. With one out, Michael Saunders sliced a double down the left-field line, one-hopping the stands. Pillar, who has never seen a pitch he didn’t want to hit, slashed a nose-high fastball towards the right-field corner. Bourn fanned on it racing at full speed, but Saunders was heading back to tag up, got into bad footwork mode and was only able to make it to third. Ezequiel Carrera saved everyone’s bacon with a single to centre scoring Saunders. That was it for Tillman.
Jays fans are enthusiastic, but some can be idiots. In the seventh inning, Hyun-Soo Kim retreated to the -ield wall to catch a fly ball by Melvin Upton, Jr. As he hauled it in, a beer can whizzed by his head. That gives Rogers Centre the bad reputation it has accrued for fan behaviour. O’s manager Buck Showalter went to the outfield and chatted for the entire between-innings period with the umpires.