Blue Jays alone in first with offensive outpouring
By Alykhan Ravjiani and Dhiren Mahiban
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' offense finally came back to life on Friday, recording 15 hits in Toronto's 15-8 rout of the Twins.
The win, combined with the Red Sox's loss to the Royals, puts the Blue Jays in sole possession of first place in the American League East, one game ahead of Boston. Toronto also gained an additional game on the Orioles, who lost earlier in the evening at Yankee Stadium.
Justin Smoak and Russell Martin led the charge by going deep and driving in five runs apiece, while Josh Donaldson added his 30th home run and three RBIs. Every Toronto starter scored at least one run, while six Blue Jays finished with multiple hits.
"I feel like, day in and day out, we've got a good approach," Smoak said about Toronto's potent lineup. "As a team, we just haven't really got it going and caught on fire. Hopefully this will help us out a little bit."
Despite being far from perfect, left-hander Francisco Liriano picked up his first win as a Blue Jay, tossing five innings and allowing four runs (three earned). Liriano struck out seven batters but battled his command all night. The 32-year-old walked four and tossed 102 pitches.
"Walks are never good in this game," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "They don't always, but they have a tendency to come back and haunt you. You can get into those kind of grooves, too, just like you can get into a nice groove where you can stick it wherever you want to, you know? Sometimes it can desert you, and that's tough to overcome sometimes, too."
Twins starter Pat Dean was saddled with the loss after allowing six earned runs on eight hits over three innings. The Minnesota bullpen didn't fare much better, surrendering nine runs (eight earned) over five innings. Kurt Suzuki finished with three RBIs, while Trevor Plouffe and Eddie Rosario each added a pair for the Twins, who lost their eighth consecutive game.
"We threw him out there in a tough environment," said Twins manager Paul Molitor. "He hadn't started [in the Majors] for quite a while. He was around the plate, he threw a lot of pitches that were just missing, which you know, cause him to have to come in there a little bit."
"I think the home runs in the second, both on three-ball counts, where he had to throw strikes -- they didn't miss 'em. It's just one of those things he's got to learn to continue to trust that he has to change speeds a little bit more. A lot of things, coming in there around the same speed even with the cutter and the fastball."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Smoaking hot: The Blue Jays exploded for five runs in the second, with Smoak providing the big blow and slamming a three-run home run off an 89-mph fastball. The hit gave the Blue Jays a 3-1 lead and snapped Smoak's 0-for-29 skid with runners in scoring position. Toronto's first baseman finished his evening 3-for-5 and recorded five RBIs for the first time since 2011.
"For me, facing a lefty with ... right-handed being my natural side, I somewhat feel pretty comfortable going up against a lefty," the switch-hitting Smoak said about his home run from the right. "I felt great tonight, and as a team, we put some runs on the board. Hopefully we can keep doing it." More >
Blowing it open: With the Twins mounting a comeback, having scored a pair in the fourth and another in the sixth to cut the deficit to 6-5, Martin hit a three-run double in the bottom of the sixth off Pat Light, blowing the game open. Light allowed two earned runs on a hit in one-third of an inning. The 25-year-old reliever had pitched three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, since being acquired from the Red Sox. Martin later iced the game with a two-run homer in the seventh and tied the Blue Jays' record for most RBIs in a month with 20.
"I think we stayed with the game for the most part. It's tough when you give up 15, lose by a touchdown so to speak, but we had a lot of guys have good at-bats, even until the end, good approaches," Molitor said. "At one point, when we got to 6-5 and had the tying run and go-ahead runs out there, we just couldn't get a hit to get us over the hump."
It's raining milestones: Donaldson extended the Blue Jays' lead to 5-1 with his second home run in as many games, a two-run shot in the second. Donaldson became the first third baseman in Blue Jays history to record back-to-back 30-homer seasons. The reigning American League MVP also became the eighth player in Blue Jays history to record back-to-back seasons with 100-plus runs scored.
Leading early: Plouffe got the Twins on the board in the first inning, taking Liriano's 2-1 offering to left-center for his eighth homer of the season. The home run improved Plouffe to 4-for-6 with three dingers off his former teammate.
Twins: Ervin Santana (6-10, 3.33) takes the bump on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre with first pitch set for 12:07 p.m. CT. The 33-year-old righty has posted a 1.91 ERA over his last 11 starts and is 5-3 in that span.
Blue Jays:Marcus Stroman (9-5, 4.47 ERA) gets the ball against the Twins at 1:07 p.m. ET. Stroman has allowed one earned run in three of his last four starts and has struck out 34 batters in 25 2/3 innings since the start of August.