The Braves have won five straight games and seven of the eight since a season-high eight-game losing streak. Their depleted lineup is healthy again and their defense has significantly improved since the arrival of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who has displayed advanced instincts during his first full week in the Majors.
Simmons drew a sixth-inning balk by alertly moving toward an unattended second base and showed patience while facing veteran reliever Francisco Cordero with Heyward on second base in the 10th inning.
"[Cordero] threw me a slider," Simmons said. "I started chasing. I was thinking he saw me chasing so he's going to try it again. I was looking for that slider and sure enough, he threw it. But I saw Jason start running. I thought he had a good jump, so I just took it. The catcher made a mistake of even throwing because he had the base already stolen."
Heyward sparked the 10th with a leadoff infield single and advanced to second on Jack Wilson's sacrifice bunt. With Simmons at the plate, the right fielder gained a sense of Cordero's timing and opted to take off toward third. As he slid toward the bag, he saw that catcher J.P. Arencibia's throw was heading toward left field.
"I saw [the ball] over my right shoulder," Heyward said. "Once I saw that, I knew it was over and we won. It was rewarding. You take a gamble right there and that is why you do it."
Since enduring a 38-game stretch in which he batted .194 (25-for-129), Heyward has found some success over the past few days. The 22-year-old right fielder hit two home runs on Thursday night and has seven hits in his past 17 at-bats.
Heyward has benefited from a more aggressive approach this year. He has been successful with four of his five attempts to steal third.
"It's a fun way to win," Atlanta starter Brandon Beachy said. "Jason has been playing unbelievably the last few nights. It's a lot of fun to watch."
This was certainly a unique way to win. Left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty allowed the Blue Jays to tie the game in the eighth with Edwin Encarnacion's leadoff double and a pair of groundouts by former Braves Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar. This erased the lead the Braves had gained in the sixth with a balk called against right-handed reliever Chad Beck.
Dan Uggla drew one of his four walks to open the sixth and Heyward followed with a game-tying double that chased Toronto starter Kyle Drabek. After drawing a walk to put runners at the corners, Simmons took off toward second base as right-handed reliever Chad Beck stepped toward third base and then turned toward what was a vacant first base.
With shortstop Yunel Escobar caught off guard and not covering second, Simmons reached second uncontested. But as this was unfolding, first-base umpire Dan Bellino called a balk that automatically moved both baserunners ahead one base, scoring Heyward with a run that gave the Braves a brief lead.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell did not come on the field to argue the call. But after the game, he told reporters that he did not believe a balk had been committed.
The productive sixth was much appreciated by Beachy, who allowed two earned runs and three hits while issuing five walks in just five-plus innings. Despite issuing 13 walks over his past four starts, the right-hander possesses a Major League-best 1.98 ERA.
Though Beachy surrendered just one hit through the first five innings, the 92 pitches he totaled during this span provided a better indication that he was struggling to put hitters away. Three walks and the five foul balls Arencibia compiled in his nine-pitch fourth-inning at-bat helped spike the pitch count.
Beachy persevered without his best stuff until his good fortune expired as the Blue Jays gained a lead with their two-run sixth. Jose Bautista began the inning with his 16th home run and Encarnacion followed with a single that put him in position to score a go-ahead run on Escobar's RBI groundout.
Two weeks ago, the Blue Jays' two-run sixth might have crushed the Braves. But they have seemingly distanced themselves from the struggles of that eight-game skid.
"That's why they say keep your head up," Heyward said. "This is a baseball season, not a baseball week or a baseball slump. Especially this point of time, the first half of the season. You have to play tough and hang in there."