Sweet relief: Blue Jays' bullpen stands tall vs. O's

Sweet relief: Blue Jays' bullpen stands tall vs. O's

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' bullpen has taken its fair share of criticism throughout the season, but it came through in a big way in Toronto's 5-2 victory over Baltimore in Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game.

After six innings of two-run ball from Marcus Stroman, five relievers combined to throw five innings of near-perfect baseball, allowing one walk over that span to help vault the Blue Jays into the AL Division Series vs. the Rangers starting Thursday in Texas at 4:30 p.m. ET (TBS in the U.S., Sportsnet in Canada).

Toronto became the first team to reach the postseason with 30-plus losses from its bullpen. Blue Jays relievers finished the season with 32 losses, while their bullpen also ranked fourth in the AL in blown saves (22) and 12th in ERA (4.11).

Date Result Highlights
Oct. 4 TOR 5, BAL 2 video

Toronto relievers especially struggled down the stretch, with a 4.55 ERA in September. By contrast, Orioles relievers led the AL with a 3.40 ERA -- 1.89 in the season's final month -- and ranked 14th with just 14 blown saves all season.

"We have confidence in everyone," Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar said about the team's bullpen, "whether they're rookies or veterans. You're here for a reason and you're going to go through your ups and downs. It kind of happened all at once in September but we didn't do a good enough job offensively to help them out. We have confidence in them going forward."

Toronto's bullpen did not get by without in-game adversity Tuesday. Already having lost Joaquin Benoit to a left calf injury after September's benches-clearing fracas with the Yankees, manager John Gibbons was forced to pull Roberto Osuna with one out in the 10th after the young closer felt "a stretch" in his right shoulder.

Grilli fans Jones

With setup men Joe Biagini and Jason Grilli, as well as lefty specialist Brett Cecil already having pitched in the game, Gibbons turned to Francisco Liriano, who took the ball from Osuna and went the rest of the way with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Liriano picked up the victory after Edwin Encarnacion's walk-off home run in the 11th.

"Just keep pitching and not try and do too much," Liriano said about his mentality in relief. "It's a tight game, so I just wanted to attack the strike zone and get ahead in the count. They swung early and the defense was unbelievable tonight. That was the mentality, just go out there and attack the zone."

The situation wasn't exactly new for Liriano. The 32-year-old was initially in consideration to start Tuesday's game, in part due to his performance in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game against the Reds. In that outing, Liriano went seven innings and surrendered one run to help Pittsburgh advance to the NLDS.

Liriano was also effective all through September for the Blue Jays, allowing four earned runs over his final four starts. Included among them was a no-decision against the O's last Wednesday, during which he fanned 10 batters over 6 1/3 scoreless frames.

"I was trying to do the same thing as last time," Liriano said. "I was trying to mix pitches and go fastball-slider. Even though I came from the bullpen, I used all my pitches, attacked the zone and executed."

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.