This weekend series against the American League East divisional rivals Baltimore Orioles has brought with it the first sense of pennant race fever to Toronto this season. The Jays and Orioles were separated by half a game for first place coming into today’s action. It would be Jays killer Yovani Gallardo against lefty JA Happ, who is having a career year.
Gallardo came into this start with a record of 4-0 and a 1.78 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays during the regular season. He struggled with a 28-pitch first inning, loading the bases with one out, but was able to get Troy Tulowitzki to pop out and Russell Martin to strike out to get out of the inning unscathed. However in the fifth inning, with Baltimore leading 1-0, he wouldn’t be as lucky and the Blue Jays would finally solve the Gallardo mystery. With one out, Devon Travis would hit a game tying home run, followed by two walks, a run scoring double and an intentional walk which would end Gallardo’s day. He would leave the game with the bases loaded and the Jays up 2-1. Then Orioles reliever Mychal Givens came in and added gasoline to the fire. He gave up a bases loaded walk to Tulowitzki and two-run doubles to Martin and Kevin Pillar to make it a seven run fifth for Toronto. Gallardo’s final line would be 4.1 innings, five hits, five runs, four walks and five strikeouts.
Happ has dominated major league hitters since being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates a year ago. Today he would pitch one of his best starts of the season. Besides the Pedro Alvarez solo homer in the second inning, he did not allow a baserunner to reach second base. Happ would strike out 11 Orioles, scatter three hits and three walks over seven innings. After a lead off single to J.J. Hardy he would exit the game to a loud standing ovation by the sold out Rogers Centre.
Since being traded to #Pirates a year ago, J.A. Happ has a 2.73 ERA in 194.1 innings #BlueJays
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) July 30, 2016
The Jays would add two more runs in the seventh off the Orioles bullpen, and Joe Biagini, Brett Cecil and Jesse Chavez would finish the game for Toronto. The Jays won 9-1 to take over sole possession of first place, for the first time since April 5th.
TOP PLAY OF THE GAME BY WPA
In the bottom of the fifth inning, with runners at first and second, one out and the game tied, Edwin Encarnacion came to the plate. He lined a double into left field to score Jose Bautista and give the Jays a 2-1 lead, a lead they would never relinquish. This increased the win expectancy for Toronto by 17.8 percentage points.
BOTTOM PLAY OF THE GAME BY WPA
The Orioles were up 1-0 heading into the bottom of the third inning. Josh Donaldson led off the inning with a single but was immediately erased on a double play off the bat of Encarnacion. This play dampened a potential rally for the Blue Jays and reduced the win expectancy by 9.1 percentage points.
Twice in today’s game Kevin Pillar came to the plate with runners on second and third and two out and was able to deliver running scoring doubles each time. These extra runs are always important when facing the potent line up of the Orioles, and they also allowed manager John Gibbons to rest his high leverage relievers today. Pillar over the past week has hit .333 with an .893 OPS, producing in the bottom of the order, and he continued that today.
The Blue Jays will look for the sweep of the series tomorrow and both teams will send their best starters to the mound. The Orioles will send Chris Tillman (14-3, 3.47 ERA), having a bounce back season, and the Blue Jays will send Aaron Sanchez (11-1, 2.72 ERA), who hasn’t lost since April 22. First pitch is at 1:07 PM EST.
LEAD PHOTO: Dan Hamilton-USA Today Sports