By Gregor Chisholm and Brittany Ghiroli
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are going back to the American League Division Series. Edwin Encarnacion made sure of that.
Encarnacion hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the 11th inning on Tuesday night to send Toronto to a 5-2 victory over the Orioles in the AL Wild Card Game. In a battle of AL East rivals, between two teams that have been evenly matched all season and finished with identical 89-73 regular-season records, it was the Blue Jays who survived, and their reward is a matchup vs. the AL West champion Texas Rangers.
Encarnacion stepped to the plate with runners on the corners vs. Baltimore right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. He swung at the first pitch he saw and sent it over the wall in left field for the second postseason homer of his career. This was the 10th extra-inning winner-take-all postseason game, and the home team has won all but one of those. It was also the first walk-off homer in a winner-take-all game since the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 6-5, in Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series.
"I was looking for a fastball, and I was trying to put a barrel on it," Encarnacion said after the game. "A little bit in front of it because the infield was playing in, and I actually got it. ... I was really happy, mostly because it was an extra-inning game. It was just a very special moment for us."
The Blue Jays' rally started when Devon Travis came through with a one-out single to left field. Josh Donaldson followed with a single to set up Encarnacion's heroics. Last year, Jose Bautista took the baseball world by storm; this year, it was Encarnacion's turn to move into the spotlight as the crowd chanted "Eddie, Eddie" while the Blue Jays stormed the field.
Orioles closer Zach Britton, who posted the lowest ERA in the Majors, never got the call to the mound in one of the game's biggest head-scratchers.
"He was fine," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Britton. "I considered a lot of things during the course of the game, but our guys did a good job getting us to that point. We just couldn't finish it off. Yeah, he was available."
Toronto now advances to the ALDS for a best-of-five rematch vs. the Rangers. Texas will host Game 1 of the series on Thursday afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET (TBS in the U.S., Sportsnet in Canada) at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Blue Jays went 4-3 against the Rangers this season.
Encarnacion's home run went a projected 440 feet, tied for his third longest this season and the seventh longest in the postseason during the Statcast™ era, which dates to last season. It was the sixth time this year that Encarnacion has hit one at least 440 feet.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman came away with a no-decision after he was removed from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. He allowed two runs on four hits and one walk while striking out four. Tillman survived a second-inning homer by Bautista, but he could not escape a jam in the fifth after Toronto pieced together three consecutive hits.
"Any way your season ends, if it's not with a World Series ring on the end of it, it's going to hurt," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "It was a tough game. Both teams battled, it was a hard-fought game that really could have gone any way. They were just able to have the last swing and Edwin put a good swing on it."
Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman also did not receive a decision. The Blue Jays' Opening Day starter allowed two runs while scattering four hits and striking out six. He did not walk a batter and threw 53 of his 81 pitches for strikes before turning things over to the bullpen.
"From the second I walked out of the dugout, I got chills from the entire crowd just standing up and cheering," Stroman said. "This crowd is unbelievable, the fans are unbelievable. They bring a ton of passion and I love it, because that's everything I need and kind of everything I work off of."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Redemption time: After grounding into two double plays earlier in the game, Travis showed why he was the Blue Jays' only .300 hitter this season. Travis started the game-winning rally with a one-out single off Jimenez and then advanced to third after Donaldson's base hit was mishandled by Nolan Reimold in left field. Toronto's second baseman jumped for joy as he came around to score on Encarnacion's walk-off home run and then joined his teammates in a massive celebration across home plate.
"Both teams played so well," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Both teams deserved to win that game. I said many times, there's something to having that last at-bat. That's why you love the chance to play at home."
Paging Britton: A perfect 47-for-47 in save opportunities this year, Britton was nowhere to be found in some of the O's biggest spots. He didn't come out for the ninth inning, as Showalter instead went with Brad Brach for a second inning. Brach gave up a leadoff double and intentionally walked Encarnacion, making way for … Darren O'Day. While O'Day got out of the jam with one pitch, Showalter's decision was costly later as he turned to Jimenez.
"It's frustrating," Britton said. "You watch the guys battle and you want to go in there and do the same. You want to give your offense a chance to win, especially knowing that if we don't win, there's no tomorrow. Like I said, it was tough being down there and having to watch it and not being able to get into the game." More >
Bautista bomb: Bautista seems to live for the big moments, and he proved it once again. Toronto's cleanup hitter lifted an 88-mph fastball from Tillman and sent it over the wall in left field for his fifth homer in 12 career postseason games. According to Statcast™, the solo shot was projected to travel 357 feet and left his bat at 101 mph. The home run had a launch angle of 37.8 degrees, which was higher than all but two of his 22 homers during the the regular season. In last year's postseason, only one home run had a higher angle (38.4 by Chris Colabello on Oct. 12 vs. Texas).
"Just looking for a fastball in the zone," Bautista said. "I was surprised he challenged me with a second fastball, but I was leading off the inning, so I didn't expect anything else. It's just a lot of time you get ready for those pitches and they end up not being there. That one was, and I didn't miss it, so I was happy to contribute." More >
Trumbo's opening act: Playing in his first career postseason game, Mark Trumbo gave the Orioles a temporary lead with a two-run homer in the fourth inning in his second at-bat of the game. The blast also gave the O's some momentum following Kevin Pillar's fantastic grab on Manny Machado's fading liner.
"I couldn't be more proud of the guys in there," Trumbo said. "That is what makes it so difficult, how good a team this is really is, not just on the field but the people. When you are in the foxhole with the guys the entire season and all the work that gets put on behind scenes, it is really tough right now."
Trumbo sent Stroman's offering into left field with an exit velocity of 101 mph and a launch angle of 25 degrees, according to Statcast™. It was projected to travel 354 feet. More >
Rally time: Down 2-1 entering the bottom of the fifth, the Blue Jays scratched and clawed out a run while knocking Tillman out of the game. Michael Saunders blooped a one-out double and Pillar followed that with a double of his own on a ball that was misplayed by right fielder Michael Bourn, causing Saunders to remain at third.
Ezequiel Carrera brought Saunders home with a single to center field, forcing Showalter to turn to reliever Mychal Givens. The right-hander escaped the threat with a double play off the bat of Travis.
KIM'S CATCH AND AN ON-FIELD TOSS
Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim made a catch in deep left field to end the bottom of the seventh despite being startled when a fan tossed a beer can onto the field several feet away. Adam Jones came running over from center field and was visibly upset, pointing his finger into the stands and yelling. Showalter also headed out to the field to express his concern.
"I didn't see the person that did it. Because I was looking at Kim catch the ball and then I saw the beer hit the ground, literally a foot from him," Jones said. "And I looked in that direction and then I told them all how I felt. That's just not part of baseball, man. Cuss us out, we hear it everywhere we go. But to do that, I hope they find the person and I hope they prosecute him. To do that, it's illegal." More >
Working in his second inning of relief, Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna left the game with one out in the top of the 10th inning and was replaced by winning pitcher Francisco Liriano. Osuna, who retired all four batters he faced, left following a visit from head athletic trainer George Poulis and Gibbons, after getting Chris Davis to fly out to right field to start the inning.
"Front part of my shoulder," Osuna said when asked what the injury was. "It was like a stretch. When I threw the fastball up and away, it went like this, like a pretty big stretch and it started bothering me. So I threw one more pitch and it got bigger and I was like I can't do it anymore. … The doctor told me that I was going to be fine. I just need a couple of days off." More >
Blue Jays: The Jays will now travel to Arlington for the first two games in a best-of-five ALDS matchup with the Rangers. It's a rematch of last year that Toronto won in five games thanks in large part to Bautista's three-run homer in the finale. The Blue Jays have yet to announce a starter for Game 1, but the club likely will go with either left-hander J.A. Happ (20-4, 3.18 ERA) or right-hander Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48).