So. Here we are. 162 games, and it all comes down to this. Game 163, if you will. Win, and you get to play the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. Lose, and we’ll see you in the spring.
The Jays and Orioles finished the year with identical records, 89-73. The game is in Toronto because the Jays came out on top in their head-to-head matchups this season.
Marcus Stroman and Chris Tillman were announced as the starters on Monday. Not exactly the headlining matchup of Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard that would pitch in the National League Wild Card game, but an interesting pairing nonetheless. Given the nature of these two teams, I expected one of two outcomes – a close, high-scoring affair with dingers left and right, or a low-scoring one where the Blue Jays offense continued to flounder like they did throughout September but their pitching did a good job of shutting down the Orioles. Conversely, because this is baseball and sometimes baseball veers as far as possible from your predictions, part of me thought a blowout was equally likely.
I’d forgotten how jarring and weird it is watching a broadcast that’s not the one you’re used to. The voices, the audio quality, all the crowded on-screen graphics… Everything just seems wrong.
Stroman gets an out on literally his first pitch, a flyout to center from Adam Jones. Good start. A groundout and an infield pop-up later, he’s out of the inning untouched. Time for the bats to get started.
Devon Travis, leading off in his first ever playoff game, gets a little pull-happy and sends a foul ball flying into a videoboard down the left field line – breaking it.
Travis hit that foul ball so hard he knocked out the ad board. 😂 pic.twitter.com/VWep9o2Z0Q
— Tom (@nxtom) October 5, 2016
Just as uneventful for Stroman: groundout, flyout and a strikeout, his first of the night.
Jose Bautista leads off the 2nd inning with a home run to left field that followed almost the same familiar path as his home run in Game 5 of the ALDS last year. Putting the Blue Jays ahead early, it’s his fifth home run in 12 career postseason games. Of all the people to do it, it was pretty fitting that it was last year’s playoff hero (and a man with no love lost for the Orioles).
Both pitchers have a perfect inning, with Stroman getting two more strikeouts. The game is speeding along up to this point – 35 minutes for the first two and a half.
Perfect his first time through the O’s lineup, Stroman now allows a single to Adam Jones. I’m fully confident he could get a double play to eliminate him, or just leave him there – even more so when Kevin Pillar makes a spectacular diving catch in right center field to make the second out of the inning.
Then Mark Trumbo comes to the plate. And, as Mark Trumbo is wont to do (he led the AL in home runs this year), he homers. First pitch, 2-1 Baltimore.
When you have a one-run lead, you’re well aware of how fragile it is. When the other team has the one-run lead, and your team has only managed to get one guy on base, it seems insurmountable. At least Pillar’s catch saved them another run. Bautista walks, with two outs. He is the Jays second baserunner of the game (after also being the first). He gets left at first base.
Thank goodness they have the defense to back up ground-baller Stroman. Tulowitzki makes a ridiculous diving play on a Jonathan Schoop ball that seemed destined to leave the infield.
Apparently that one-run deficit wasn’t so insurmountable. After Michael Saunders doubles with one out, Kevin Pillar swings at one of those weirdly high pitches he likes, and somehow catches it with the end of his bat. It pops into right field, finally somewhere that Bourn can’t reach it.
— Ruhee on Rails (@ruhee_) October 5, 2016
Because he wasn’t sure if it would be caught, Saunders held up and didn’t get past third base. Luckily his hesitation doesn’t cost them, as Ezequiel Carrera sends a 1-1 pitch on a line drive into center and Saunders scores easily. Tie game. Buck Showalter decides that three straight hits off Tillman are enough, and calls for Mychal Givens. Givens immediately gets Devon Travis to ground into a double play. One pitch, two outs. So much for the rally.
Stroman again allows a single to Manny Machado with two outs. It went past Encarnacion, Travis picked it up, and nobody covered first base. Once again Stroman escapes. This would prove to be his last inning.
Got Trumbo out of the way for the next inning… Interesting strategy
— Emily – RIP JF (@JaysGirlEmily) October 5, 2016
The heart of the Blue Jays order has no challenge for Givens, going down in order with two strikeouts. Oh boy, it really is one of those games.
“Give me the lefty,” says John Gibbons, as Stroman is done with 2 ER, four hits, no walks, five strikeouts and having thrown only 81 pitches. Brett Cecil, the aforementioned lefty, gets Matt Weiters to ground out before walking Chris Davis. Gibbons asks for another righty, and Joe Biagini strolls out of the bullpen to strike out a pair. Schoop goes down on five pitches, Bourn on three.
Martin pops out, Tulowitzki stikes out, Buck Showalter comes out. He wants a lefty too. Michael Saunders was the scheduled batter, but once Donnie Hart is brought in, the Jays counter with Melvin Upton, Jr. Upton’s ball to deep left field is caught on the track by Hyun Soo Kim, in spite of an errant beer can some idiot in the stands throws onto the field. Twitter collectively groans. Here we go again, with Toronto fans behaving badly and giving the rest of us a bad reputation.
The inning over, Kim and Adam Jones stay on the field where Jones is yelling at some fans in the area above the bullpen. I’m not sure what he’s trying to accomplish, as I also doubt they could hear him. Showalter’s also on the field, yelling at an umpire. I’m not sure what he is trying to accomplish, either. Eventually the umpires have to tell all three to go back to their dugout.
Jason Grilli pitches a flawless inning, which includes a strikeout of Jones and a ground ball to first. I’m finding myself grateful I haven’t bought groceries this week, because at this point I’d be stress-eating everything in the fridge.
Brad Brach is brought in to face the bottom of the Jays order. Carrera gets his second hit of the game before most of the team even has one – a single into right. He is immediately erased when Devon Travis grounds into his second double play of the night. Again, first pitch. I really wish he’d stop doing that.
Roberto Osuna is brought in, making everyone a little nervous, because what if the Jays can’t score? What if it’s forced to extras? Who will pitch then?? He strikes out Trumbo and Weiters. It’s great, as is the TBS announcer’s decision to “let the crowd tell you what happens” on the last pitch of Weiters’ at-bat. Quite the dramatic moment.
Rather than bringing in his much-feared, yet-to-blow-a-save closer Zach Britton, Showalter opts to leave Brach in the game. Interesting. Josh Donaldson wastes no time hitting a double, then Showalter decides to intentionally walk Encarnacion, which I accept, but a little quizzically. I mean, yes, it’s EE, and an additional baserunner doesn’t really matter in a walk-off situation, but he’s still more likely to make an out than to get a hit, right? Also, walking him to get to Jose Bautista seems a little risky, no? Anyways, thanks for the free runner, Buck.
Bautista strikes out looking. Showalter makes a pitching change – but rather than Britton, it’s Darren O’Day we see running in from the pen. Showalter’s third odd choice of the inning – also it would’ve been more fun if he’d let O’Day face Bautista, but no matter. Russell Martin grounds into a double play. On O’Day’s first pitch. HOW DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING?! It suddenly occurs to me why Showalter intentionally walked EE.
Two men on with nobody out. The Jays can’t score. It’s forced to extras. Who will pitch now??
The answer is ‘Osuna, still’. But then after Chris Davis flies out for the first out of the inning, Encarnacion beckons John Gibbons and George Poulis out of the dugout. He wants them to check on Osuna. Something is wrong. Oh no. Some of the 49,934 fans seem to have left, their hearts sinking with the removal of Osuna from the game. The announcers mention the Tommy John surgery he had at age sixteen. Oh no. Francisco Liriano comes in, making an appearance in the game many of us thought he would start. Two quick groundouts for him, and it’s back to the offense to try and end this.
Still no Britton? Maybe now they can win it. Tulowitzki flies out in foul territory, and makes a face as though he’s slowly being driven insane. I think many of us can empathize with that, at this point. Justin Smoak, pinch-hitting in the DH spot, works an 8-pitch strikeout. Kevin Pillar flies out to center on the first pitch.
I need a new scoresheet.
Liriano makes quick work of the Orioles – two ground outs and a three-pitch strikeout of pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold.
Blue Jays came up to bat, and Britton… Still is nowhere to be found. Bryan Duensing comes in instead, to face Carrera. Carrera strikes out. Another pitching change, this time for Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez was one of the candidates to start the game, and here he’s trying to finish it. Devon Travis can’t ground into a double play this time around – there’s no one on base. Instead he settles for a single into left field. Josh Donaldson hits the first pitch, an inside fastball, into left. Travis goes to third. There’s one out, and the tying run is ninety feet from home. The Skydome collectively holds its breath. They’ve seen this before, they still remember the 9th.
Encarnacion comes up. He was intentionally walked his last at-bat. No such luck this time around. First pitch. 91 mph fastball. Middle of the plate, a little below the center of the strike zone. Encarnacion swings. He connects. The ball sails to left field. Up, up, still up – gone. Walkoff. Pandemonium. Travis runs home, nearly forgetting in his excitement to touch home plate. Donaldson scores, making an impressive split-leap as he comes down the third-base line. Tulowitzki somehow jumps 40 feet into the air. There are hugs all around.
They’ve done it. THEY’VE DONE IT!!! After a thoroughly lackluster September, an improbable final weekend just to get to this game – the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays are in the ALDS.
Wow. This was a perfectly emblematic of their whole season against Baltimore. They had the exact same record, and their head-to-head record was as close as it could be considering they play an odd number of matchups. So for this game to be tied through ten innings, and for neither team to have more than a one-run lead until the end, seems a fair representation. Plus, of course, it all came down to the home runs. A home run was the first run of the game. A home run gave Baltimore the lead. Then (after Ezequiel Carrera’s RBI single was the only run not driven in by a homer) a home run was what ended it all.
There were a lot of great noticeable parts to the game-ending celebrations, but Tulowitzki’s leaping was my favourite part.
Another angle of Tulo’s height. pic.twitter.com/jWPcapmG3k
— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) October 5, 2016
The last time the Jays faced Jimenez, he one-hit them and didn’t let them score. This time, he gave up three hits (and three runs) without even recording an out. Baseball is funny like that.
And I’m not saying I predicted certain players would do well in this game, but:
Here’s a thing that happened: I keep old fortune cookie fortunes on my desk. Found one yesterday. Among the lucky numbers? 6
(Also 2 and 37)
— Emily – RIP JF (@JaysGirlEmily) October 4, 2016
Here we come, Texas.
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