Maicer Izturis hit the go-ahead solo homer during the top of the ninth inning to lead Toronto to a 6-4 victory over Tampa Bay in a game that was marred by a scary head injury suffered by starter J.A. Happ.
"It seemed like for a couple of innings there right after it happened we couldn't get our focus on the game, but we found a way to do it, and some guys came through with big hits," Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista said. "It's a great win tonight."
The incident involving Happ took place during the second inning and overshadowed the rest of the game. Tampa had already scored one run in the frame when Desmond Jennings stepped into the batter's box with runners on second and third.
Jennings got ahead in the count 3-1, then sent a blistering line drive up the middle which struck Happ on the left side of his head. Happ immediately crumpled to the ground as the ball bounced past first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and down the right-field line.
Happ remained motionless and the Blue Jays medical staff had to wait for the play to be over before they could run onto the field. Eventually, the ball was retrieved in right field as two runs came around to score and Jennings ended up on third base.
Happ was eventually removed from the field on a stretcher. He was listed in stable condition at Bayfront Medical Center, where he was scheduled to undergo a CT scan and other medical evaluations. The Blue Jays said Wednesday morning that he was responsive and doing well after suffering a head contusion and a laceration to his left ear. The team said it anticipated that he would be discharged later in the day after further testing.
"You've just got to take what happened and think about it and then just put it behind you and still go out there and compete and play the game," said Blue Jays reliever Brad Lincoln, who assumed Happ's spot on the mound.
"Unfortunately, that's part of the game. Stuff happens like that. Thoughts and prayers go out to him, but you've still got to go out there and compete and play the game."
The Blue Jays did the best they could, and were given a chance to get back into the game thanks to a resilient effort by the bullpen. Four relievers -- Lincoln, Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar and Casey Janssen -- combined to throw 7 2/3 scoreless innings after Happ left the game.
That gave Toronto an opportunity and the offense began to do its part in the top of the seventh. Adam Lind got the rally started with a leadoff double, which was immediately followed by a two-run homer off the bat of Colby Rasmus to bring the Blue Jays within 4-3.
Toronto applied more pressure in the eighth, as Melky Cabrera and Bautista recorded back-to-back doubles to tie the score at 4-4 and set the table for the dramatic ninth-inning homer by Izturis.
The light-hitting infielder became the unlikely hero as he stepped into the batter's box against Rays right-hander Joel Peralta and promptly sent the first pitch he saw just over the wall in right field.
"I was aggressive going into that at-bat," Izturis said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "I needed to be aggressive with the guy and I was lucky. I got a fastball and put a good swing on it.
"I feel like sometimes when I am aggressive and put a good swing on it, the ball jumps off my bat and that's what happened tonight. I wasn't looking to hit a home run."
The win was another example of the Blue Jays' offense finally starting to live up to its potential. Toronto averaged just 3.5 runs through the first 31 games of the season, but has now scored 28 over its past three.
The production has helped ensure that Toronto won't lose a road series against the Rays for the first time since 2007. The streak of 17 consecutive series losses was the third-longest in the history of the American League, trailing only a pair of marks set by the St. Louis Browns against the Red Sox and Yankees back in the 1940s and 50s.
Bautista has maintained all season that it was only a matter of time before the offense began turning things around, and for at least one week he appears right.
"I wasn't really worried about that at all," Bautista said. "The waters were going to go back up to their level at some point. We had a lot of guys -- and still do -- that are not playing up to their capabilities and that's not going to last forever.
"More importantly, the pitching was giving us chances to win games and now we're just finding a way to score those runs."