Small ball helps Blue Jays win in 11 innings

Small ball helps Blue Jays win in 11 innings

Small ball helps Blue Jays win in 11 innings
OAKLAND -- For the second straight game, the Blue Jays had trouble cashing in on scoring opportunities all day. For the second straight game, they managed to tie the game in the ninth off A's closer Ryan Cook.

After catcher Jeff Mathis did it on Friday night, designated hitter David Cooper pulled it off with a solo shot on Saturday afternoon.

But this time, Toronto managed to harness its newfound energy into a win, defeating Oakland, 3-1, in 11 innings.

An error by A's catcher George Kottaras trying to throw out first baseman Edwin Encarnacion on a steal attempt at third base allowed Encarnacion to score the go-ahead run. Right fielder Moises Sierra followed with an RBI double, and left-hander Darren Oliver's perfect 11th mercifully kept the game from approaching the length of Friday night's 15-inning marathon.

As hard as the Blue Jays fought to come up with big offensive plays during their season-high six-game losing streak, leave it to an error to be the defining play in them getting back to their winning ways.

"I think that's the beauty of this game," starting pitcher Ricky Romero said. "You've got to stay with it. As much as it [stinks] to lose sometimes, you've got to think that it's going to turn around somehow, some way, and guys in this clubhouse have been positive.

"I don't think anyone's taken a step back. You've just got to continue to move forward and continue to fight, and that's what we've been able to do."

While the wins have been scarce for Toronto recently, manager John Farrell echoed Romero's sentiments before Saturday's game, emphasizing that his players have continued to maintain a "competitive spirit" throughout their struggles.

It's that attitude that's kept the Blue Jays in it these last two games, even with their almost complete lack of offense nearly leading to losses both times.

With five regulars now missing from the lineup after injuries befell Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus on Friday, the firepower is lacking more than ever. That means the team's hitters have to rely on small ball and scrappiness to scratch out whatever runs it can.

Even that ability has been missing, but everything finally came together in the 11th inning on Saturday. Encarnacion stole two bases and left fielder Rajai Davis swiped one, as well, after getting on base via a walk. Those hustle plays allowed them to take advantage of Kottaras' error and Sierra's double.

The aggressiveness paid off.

"Calculated chances," Farrell said. "We felt like there were some situations that presented themselves to us, with either reads on certain pitches or some unloading times that might have been a little above average. ... We gambled on a couple pitches that we felt we could take a pitch [and run], and we did.

"We felt like we had to roll the dice and create something, and we got lucky."

Like all extra-inning games, Saturday's affair came down to the bullpens -- but at radically different times for each team.

A's starter A.J. Griffin was forced to exit with right shoulder stiffness in the second inning, turning the game over to his team's tired 'pen. The Blue Jays' relief corps was certainly thin, too, but not quite as much as Oakland's, thanks in part to the addition of callup Jesse Chavez before the game.

Plus, Toronto's bullpen had much less ground to cover, courtesy of Romero's performance. The left-hander lasted seven innings, and the one run he allowed was the lowest total he's permitted since he also gave up one run four starts ago.

It was a sign of progress from a starter who hasn't pitched up to his potential for most of the season. Other than rough spots in the second and fifth innings, Romero was solid all afternoon.

"I told myself today after working that marathon last night, got to grind it out and get as deep as possible," Romero said. "I'm happy I was able to do that."

When Romero did exit, a Blue Jays bullpen bolstered by recent trades proved plenty capable -- a bit more so than Oakland's -- of keeping its team in the game.

The relief pitching has been a constant during the series against the A's. While the offense certainly hasn't been, even in Saturday's win, the bats were finally able to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Blue Jays' solid pitching.

"Especially [good] under the conditions and circumstances, last couple games going to [Oakland]," Davis said. "They've been strong these last couple days, and we're looking forward to starting a new [winning] streak."

Ben Estes is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.