Blue Jays rally, move closer to home-field advantage
By Gregor Chisholm and Todd Karpovich
MLB.com |@gregorMLB |
BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays moved one step closer to locking up home-field advantage throughout the postseason by rallying with two runs in the eighth inning and one run in the ninth to steal one from the Orioles, 4-3, on Monday night at Camden Yards.
The Blue Jays are now a full game ahead of the Royals for the American League's best record after Kansas City lost, 1-0, to the Cubs. The Jays own the tiebreaker over Kansas City by virtue of winning the season series between the two clubs, and with the AL having won the All-Star Game, they are in the driver's seat for home-field advantage throughout October.
Additionally, Toronto took a five-game lead in the AL East when the Yankees lost, 5-1, to the Red Sox. The Blue Jays' magic number to clinch the division is two, meaning they can clinch Tuesday if they beat the Orioles and the Yankees lose to the Red Sox. If Toronto wins the AL East, it is guaranteed home-field advantage in the AL Division Series.
"I think it's great; I've been here a while and this is something that as a team we've been trying to play for, for a long time, and finally I feel like all the pieces fit," said Blue Jays reliever Brett Cecil, who picked up the win with a scoreless inning of relief. "I can't tell you how great of a team this is, personality-wise, in the clubhouse, away from the field. Just a great group of guys and we're having a lot of fun."
Toronto appeared destined for a loss as it entered the eighth trailing, 3-1. That quickly changed after Orioles starter Chris Tillman was pulled with one on and one out, as reliever Darren O'Day promptly surrendered three consecutive singles to tie the game. The Blue Jays then took the lead in the ninth as singles by Dioner Navarro and Kevin Pillar were followed by an RBI fielder's choice from Justin Smoak.
Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada pitched into the eighth, but didn't receive a decision. His lone blemish came in the second when he surrendered a three-run homer to Ryan Flaherty. Estrada quickly bounced back and at one point retired 12 consecutive batters.
"I don't think we have, lately," Estrada said when asked if he has been keeping tabs on the second-place Yankees. "We did come in today and it was on, so obviously I'm going to watch. But like I said, we can't control that stuff. Whatever happens, we just have to go out and win."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Chipping away: The Blue Jays' comeback started in the eighth, but it was the ninth when they took the lead for good. Navarro and Pillar hit a pair of singles to lead off the inning and were then bunted into scoring position by Ryan Goins. Toronto then scored the go-ahead run in unorthodox fashion as Smoak hit a weak ground ball down the first-base line. Chris Davis fielded the ball cleanly, but the grounder was too slow and as a result the throw home was late and had to be rushed. Pinch-runner Dalton Pompey scored with ease, but Pillar -- who earlier added an incredible diving catch to his highlight reel -- was tagged out trying to score on the errant throw.
"We can win any way possible; this team is unbelievable," Smoak said. "A great bunch of guys who fight until the end. We were down [Sunday], down today late and being able to come back and win ballgames like that, that's what you have to be able to do at this time of the year." More >
Eighth-inning encore: The league's best offense was held mostly in check until the eighth when Goins sparked a rally with his leadoff single. Goins advanced to second on a little dribbler in front of the mound and came around to score on a single by Ben Revere. Two batters later, Jose Bautista tied the game with an opposite-field single, but the rally was cut short when Bautista tried to advance to second on the throw and was caught in a rundown for the second out of the inning. Chris Colabello then stranded Josh Donaldson at third with a strikeout.
"It was a tough ballgame. I tip my cap to our guys," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "They hung around and made a run late. Tillman was good tonight, he has been one of the better pitchers in baseball and he was on, had his curveball going, so it was a tough go."
Tillman contains Jays before bullpen falters: Tillman was 0-4 with a 15.50 ERA in four starts against the Blue Jays this season. It appeared those struggles would continue after he allowed a homer to Encarnacion in the second. Ten of the 20 homers Tillman has given up have come against Toronto. From there, though, he settled down and eventually retired 10 of 11 batters before allowing a leadoff single to Pillar in the eighth. He was lifted one batter later for O'Day, who gave up a pair of RBI singles that tied the game and denied Tillman a chance to even his record at 11-11.
"I thought it was better," Tillman said. "I was locating my offspeed stuff from the get-go, and I think that's a big positive against this team. They're a good fastball-hitting team, and if you're making mistakes with your offspeed and your fastball, then it's not a good recipe for success. And from the get-go I was able to, for the most part, command both." More >
O's end scoring drought: A three-run homer by Flaherty in the second snapped the O's streak of 29 consecutive scoreless innings. That was four short of the franchise record set in 1957. Three of Flaherty's eight home runs have come in the past month. Those were the only runs Baltimore would manage as the club had just four hits.
"He's a good pitcher," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Estrada. "He's been a great addition for them. Guys who can command a fastball and a changeup play real well in the American League. We've seen a lot of that lately."
"It's important for the Orioles to win a game every night regardless of what the consequences are. It's important for us every night to win a game." -- Showalter, on Toronto potentially clinching the AL East at Camden Yards
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Donaldson (41), Bautista (39) and Encarnacion (36) have combined to hit 116 home runs, the second-most in one season by a Toronto trio in franchise history. Jose Canseco (46), Carlos Delgado (38) and Shawn Green (35) hold the record with 119 in 1998.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Right-hander Marcus Stroman (3-0, 1.89 ERA) will make his fourth start of the year when the Blue Jays and O's continue their four-game series Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. This will mark the first time that Stroman has faced Baltimore since he was suspended last year for throwing above the head of catcher Caleb Joseph.
Orioles: Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (9-11, 4.85) will be activated to start against Toronto. Gonzalez has been on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis and hasn't pitched since Aug. 30 in Texas. If all goes well, Gonzalez would be in line to start Sunday's season finale against the Yankees.