Carrera ignites Blue Jays in leadoff role

Carrera ignites Blue Jays in leadoff role

TORONTO -- With the Blue Jays taking on their nearest competitor for the top American League Wild Card spot, it was an unlikely source who played hero on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.

Ezequiel Carrera stepped into the leadoff spot for the injured Devon Travis and gave Toronto the spark it needed in its crucial 5-1 win against the Orioles.

The 29-year-old Carrera came into the season as a fourth outfielder and pinch-runner, at best, on a team with options at every spot.

On this night, Carrera was thrust into the top spot in the lineup, and the Venezuela native finished 2-for-3 while reaching base three times, scoring three times, and hitting a home run to push the Blue Jays two games ahead of the Orioles atop the Wild Card leaderboard, with a magic number for clinching a postseason spot of three over Detroit, which is one game behind Baltimore.

Carrera opened the game with a leadoff walk and came around to score on Josh Donaldson's home run to give Toronto an early lead. In the third inning, Carrera would mash a solo home run to extend the Blue Jays' lead, and the fan favorite would finish his offensive outburst by coming around to score after his run-scoring single in the fifth.

Carrera's RBI single to left

"That's huge, man," said starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez, who pitched six innings of one-run ball to pick up the win. "He got it started for us really early, and you try not to look back. That's what it's going to take. You need 40 men to come in here and help contribute."

Tuesday's outing was the second time in the past three games that the Blue Jays received a well-timed effort from Carrera, as the outfielder's safety squeeze helped Toronto squeak out a win Sunday against the Yankees.

The man known to his teammates as "Zeke" starred earlier in the year during Jose Bautista's two stints on the disabled list, and he has made an array of important plays all throughout the year for the Blue Jays, including a game-saving catch in June against these same Orioles, and a four-hit game in April against the A's. Carrera has been a valuable piece to Toronto's roster configuration.

"It's something that we expressed in Spring Training," Sanchez said about team depth and the contributions of Carrera. "It's unfortunate that some other guys kind of went down like they did, but it gives somebody else the chance to step up, and what a better night for Zeke."

Despite being slowed down by an Achilles injury in August, Carrera's six home runs this season are not only a career high, but also more than he hit in his previous five Major League seasons combined. The soft-spoken outfielder was quick to point out that no matter where he hits in the Blue Jays' lineup, he lets the flow of the game dictate his approach.

"I just try to stay focused every time I go out there," Carrera said through an interpreter. "I try to make adjustments depending on what the game is telling me or what the pitches are telling me. I just try to get on base."

Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.